Don’t Hire a Dog Trainer Without Reading This: How to Choose the Best Trainer for your Pet

by Jan 6, 2019Pet Lifestyle

Dogs have always been man’s best friends. A companion to share all moments of joy and sorrow. But like all friendships, sometimes we find it difficult to relate to their feelings. An inability to understand their incessant bark and one too many failed snoot challenge attempts later, don’t you wish for you two to have slightly better communication? Some training can easily bridge the gap for you! So if you’re looking to hire a pet trainer or training them yourself, here’s a complete guide on how to go about the process.

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Why do I need to train my dog?

The key to the success of any relationship is communication. This applies to your relationship with your dawgie too. While you cannot learn how to speak his tongue, you can definitely help him understand your actions and sounds in order to establish better communication. Training your pet bridges the communication gap between you two. It helps your pet learn basic commands like sit, stand, stop, go and helps you train him for the same. These do sound insignificant at first, but can be of massive help in the long run.

Training for dogs, is as important as education for humans. It helps avoid an unruly grown pet who wouldn’t listen to anyone. It also helps build your pet’s social skills and confidence. Given that we stay in an urban society, that may or may not be very open to accepting your pet, an obedient pet is always a plus.

When do I need to start training my puppy?

Some believe that the right time to start training a puppy is at 6 months of age and not before. In reality, your pet starts training or learning things as soon as it opens its eyes. They start picking up habits and behaviors by observing their surroundings – deciphering habits that lead to positive feedback as good, and those that are followed by an unpleasant reaction as bad. Which means that your pet is set to have a disciplined training as soon as possible!

The initial few months in a pet’s life are highly formative, just like in humans. And waiting for them to be a certain age before training has the potential to make the process more troublesome. Habits learned during these formative months are hard to reverse. Also, the development of character and personality may always make them stubborn to learning new commands or detaching from a seasoned habit. That said, it is not impossible to train older pets. It is definitely a longer process than training a puppy. But some patience, discipline, and dedication can enable you to train the toughest ones.

Some pet parents may have foregone training their pets. But there are times when they may face issues that lead to believing that they and their pet need some training. This signal better not be ignored. The frustration caused by an unruly pet can lead to a strained relationship between them and the family; which isn’t a great scenario for either of the parties to witness. Aggression, anxiety, phobias, and many more issues that create a stressful atmosphere can be fixed with the right training.

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How to choose the right Dog trainer

The process of choosing a dog trainer can be nerve-wracking. There is a plethora of people claiming to be dog trainers – how legit, no one knows. You could end up losing a lot of valuable time (yours and your pet’s formative years), money (let’s face it, hiring a trainer isn’t cheap) and effort. Worse you could end up doing more harm than good to your pet’s habits with the wrong trainer.

There are absolutely no regulations or certifications legally required in India to qualify as a dog trainer, behaviorist, guru or any other fancy title one gives himself. Anyone, really anyone could call themselves a dog trainer and get started! Such unorganization makes it all the more important for YOU to research before you decide to invest in a trainer.

Let’s do a step-by-step run through of how you can make an informed choice.

Step 1: Understanding Your Dawgie

Understanding your problem or requirement is a crucial part of making the right choice of trainer. Different types of training modules exist for every need. These are some general classifications. Don’t be baffled if you hear a jargon that isn’t mentioned here. It’s a free industry! Trainers learn through experience and come up with newer ways often.

  1. Basic Training & Socialization
    Basic obedience training is the foundation of dog training. This is the training that teaches your puppy daily commands like sit, stand, roll over, stay, etc. These commands go far beyond show tricks. You’ll be thankful you trained your pet when you genuinely need them to obey in a situation. Moreover, a course in obedience training helps establish a very essential level of communication between you and your pet.
  2. Behavioral or Case-specific Training
    As the name suggests, this type of training helps with behavioral issues that are very specific to your pet. It could be uncalled aggression, separation anxiety, incessant barking, chewing or anything else. If there is a situation that requires special address, behavioral training is what you are seeking
  3. Professional/Vocational Training
    If you want your dog to do rescue work, or therapy, or any other dawgie vocation, you can opt for a trainer that specializes in training for that particular vocation. These professions require your pet to be trained in ways different than a stay-at-home pet does. Hence, finding a specialized trainer is key to attaining success with such training.

Training is generally conducted in two formats – Private Sessions and Groups. You can choose the right alternative for you depending on the attention your pet needs and the peculiarity of your need. For instance, if you are only looking for basic training a group class should perfectly suffice. If you’re looking at something more specific, like behavioral training for your aggressive pet, you may want to go with private or personal training instead.

Once you’ve gone through Step 1, you should be able to complete the following statement:
“My pet needs ______ (basic/behavioral/professional) training because I wish to ______ (the habit you wish to change/inculcate in them). For which I need to find a ______ (general/specialized) trainer. A ______ (group/private) session will suit my pet and me the best.”

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Step 2: Deciding the Logistics of Training

Now that you’ve understood your needs, we must evaluate your means to accommodate a training course. Considering the exact logistics of the training you want to opt for helps you make a choice with a clear mind and helps avoid confusion. Following are the factors that will determine the nature of training and the kind of trainer you should choose to suit your convenience and ability.

  1. Location
    Dog training does not involve only training the pet! Training courses do and should always involve you as much as the pet. For developing a communicative relationship between the two of you, you both need to be present, trained and involved. DO NOT sign up for a training programme that does not involve you. Programmes like Board and Train may sound very frilly, but can completely ruin your communication with your pet. All of this, in turn, means you must attend all the sessions with your pet.Training sessions are generally held at one of the following places:

    • Your Home
      If you’ve chosen a private training session for your pet, you will have the option to have the session conducted at your home. This option is highly convenient if you want to save on the travel time. However, you should expect a higher price tag for a private session at your home, compared to the other available options.
    • Trainer’s Facility
      A lot of trainers you come across will have their own facility or training school. If you choose to have your sessions there, you will have to visit the location to attend the sessions on the determined days with your pet. These sessions will generally cost lesser than a private session at home. Both private and group sessions are conducted at training schools.
    • A Community Park, or any other third-party location
      Trainers also conduct sessions in community spaces so that the location is accessible to more people living in the same neighborhood. Group sessions are usually conducted in such locations. They tend to cost lesser than the other two options.
  2. Time
    Signing up for a training course is a big commitment of time. A course could span anywhere from a few weeks to months depending on various factors. No trainer can assure you the time it is going to take to successfully complete the training. However, it’s important that you take an estimate of time, so you can plan your availability accordingly. A training session without you (the handler) in it, is almost pointless. The following factors affect the time taken for your pup’s training course:

    • Subjective
      Time varies from dog to dog and issue to issue. A basic obedience course may take lesser time than one that works on a behavioral issue. The time taken also depends on how quickly your pet picks up the lessons. Some breeds are more receptive to certain training routines, while some are not. Some dogs take time to understand and ingrain a habit while some may be really fast learners.
    • Effort
      The amount of effort put in by the whole team determines how long it takes until your pet is ready to conquer the world. You, your pet and your trainer are the trio that needs to be highly dedicated and disciplined to ensure quick progress. It is extremely important that you practise the lessons with your pet even after the session ends. This help him to include these learnings in his everyday behavior sooner.
    • Trainer’s Skills
      How skilled your trainer is in the type of training you’re obtaining will affect the time it takes to yield results. And hence, choosing a trainer that specializes in your preferred training is key. But if there comes a point where you begin to feel you’ve invested a lot of time without any significant progress, feel free to have a conversation with your trainer about it. If you do not get a convincing response, a second opinion can always help.
  3. Cost
    The price of hiring a trainer is going to depend on all the factors listed above. That include, the type of training you want to attain (professional and behavioral trainings cost more than a basic course in obedience training), whether you want a private (expensive) or group (cheaper) class, your location of choice (home sessions cost higher than the others) and of course the span of time your training will last. The price of a trainer also rises according to their specialization, experience and popularity or demand.Remember there are no regulations on how much a trainer can charge you. Also, the price a trainer quotes is not based on their skill or experience solely, they have complete freedom to quote you whatever price they feel fair. All of this said, know that a higher price does not always mean better training quality or experience.

At the end of Step 2, you should be able to ascertain that:
“My pet needs ______ (basic/behavioral/professional) training because I wish to ______ (the habit you wish to change/inculcate in them). For which I need to find a ______ (general/specialized) trainer. A ______ (group/private) session will suit my pet and me the best. I am looking for sessions that can be conducted at ______ (my home/the trainer’s school/a community space).”

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Step 3: Finding a Trainer

Now is when you are set to go ahead and start looking for a trainer. This is the step you cannot goof up! Here’s a way to ensure you make the safest and best choice. Know that seeking multiple recommendations is always a good idea. Each pet is an individual in themselves with different shortcomings. And what worked for another dawgie may not work for yours.

  1. Web Search
    A simple Google Search should be able to provide you with contact numbers, information and reviews of multiple dog trainers. Take your time to go through a few and then shortlist your best finds. Note them down somewhere.
  2. Recommendations by Other Pet Professionals
    Ask your veterinarian, groomer or even a local shelter around you. Speak to them about your need and get suggestions as to who they believe would be able to help best. By this point you will start observing some repetitions in the names you’ve heard. It’s either because they are genuinely good trainers or just great marketers.
  3. Word of Mouth
    Every pet-parent has a circle of pet-parents. Ask your people whom they trained with and how their experience was. You can also connect with past customers of your shortlisted trainers and ask about their experiences.

You will now have a list of potential trainers that will suit your cause. You must also consider that no matter the amount of praise you’ve heard for a trainer who trains service dogs, he may not be the best choice to train a pet suffering with separation anxiety. For specific cases, look for a trainer who can provide your need.

By the end of Step 3, you should know what you are looking for and who are the potential trainers you can begin conversation with.

Step 4: Get Some Answers

It is important that you thoroughly go through some questions with the prospective trainers to understand whether or not they suit your requirement. With your list from Step 3, start making calls to each of the trainers and tell them exactly what you’re looking for (your observation after Step 2). Once they confirm that they’ll be able to provide you with their services, go through the questions mentioned below with them.

  1. What type of training psychology do you follow?
    Dog training has been constantly evolving through the years. People have, through this journey, formulated certain methodologies that work. Knowing the training psychology your trainer and his institute follows is important to understand what you and your pet are getting into. Also, depending on your pet’s personality some methods may or may not work out in your pet’s interest. Two of the most popular methods of pet-training are reward-based or incentive-based training and dominance or disincentive based training.
  2. May I contact your past clients with a similar issue to mine?
    If you are looking out for behavioral training, it’s always good to know if the trainer has encountered a pet and parent with a similar issue to yours in the past and how things panned out then. If the trainer shows hesitation introducing you to his past clients, know that something is up. No professional shies away from showing off successful testimonials for their work.
  3. May I watch you train?
    Watching the trainer train should help you get an experience of how you can expect your session to be. You will also understand how skilled he is with his ways of teaching and how pets generally respond to his methods. Remember, making an informed choice is key! Any trainer should ideally be open to let you come and watch a training session.
  4. Can you guarantee results?
    This question is super important! If they answer you with a straight yes, thank them for their time and hang up. No trainer can guarantee results! Dogs are unpredictable and versatile beings. Though humans believe they have mastered their psychology, there is no guarantee that the ways of a trainer will work on your pet. Understand that at the end of the day, learning skills or not depends entirely upon your pet’s will. Behavior cannot be forced, and hence results cannot be guaranteed.
  5. How long have you been training professionally?
    Trainers will usually churn up fancy numbers for their experience. They may tell you they’ve been training for 13 years, when in reality they may have trained their own pet for 10 and started training professionally only in the last 3 years. So make sure you ask them how long they’ve been training professionally (not their own pets) for.
  6. Will you need to speak with my vet?
    Getting to know a pet’s medical history is very important before a trainer starts with their training. There’s a lot that could go wrong otherwise. Ask them if they need to have a conversation with your veterinarian before you proceed, a no is an indicator of nothing but forthcoming trouble.
  7. Do you pursue continuing education?
    As we mentioned earlier, anyone, absolutely anyone can call themselves a dog trainer and begin their practice. But there are many independent institutes that provide courses for dog trainers. There are also seminars and webinars held constantly to speak about the newer discoveries in the field of training. A trainer needs to be up to date with the developments in the field and hence along with having received formal education, needs to pursue continuing education. If they say yes, ask them when was the last time they attended any such session. It’ll help you differentiate the hoax from the truth.
  8. What do your titles mean?
    You may see trainers call themselves fancy titles that you’ve never heard before other than the regular Dog Trainer. Dog Behaviorist, Dog Whisperer, Communicator, Guru/Master, or something else. Unlike in the case of doctors where a degree allows them to use the title, these may not have any backing achievement or logic. They are all made up and anyone can call themselves anything they please. When you come across a name you cannot understand, feel free to ask them what it stands for.

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This conversation will clear up a lot of the air about whom you need to go ahead with. While you should make note of all the information they give you, there are also some red flags that you need to look out for. The following are some statements from a trainer are complete red flags and indicators that you need not proceed with them.

  1. Guarantees outcomes
    As discussed earlier, no trainer can guarantee you results and how long it will take for them to manifest. Another variation of this can be claiming that there is no dog they cannot fix – which in reality is impossible!
  2. Does not allow you to watch a session
    There is no reason why a trainer or institute should not allow you to see a session before you enroll. If they deny you a visit without a reasonable explanation, you are in for a blind dive without knowing what to expect.
  3. Brags about bite scars
    You may come across many trainers that will brag about the number of times a dog has bitten them. In reality, a good trainer understands the psychology of a dog and should be able to avoid most, if not all dog bites. When you find one that has none, or at least does not brag about having them, that’s your person!
  4. Does not enquire medical history
    Training does more than just affect your pet’s psychology, it affects their physical condition and their lifestyle as a whole. Any good trainer should want to ask you or have a conversation with your vet regarding your pet’s medical history to know if there’s anything they must take into consideration during the training.
  5. Makes medical, dietary or holistic suggestions without a vet’s consultation
    A trainer is not a medical professional, they have not studied medicine or animal nutrition and are hence in the wrong place to make any suggestions to you about related things. They need to always refer you to a vet or pet nutritionist who has studied the related field.
  6. Has no certification, formal training or does not continue education
    As mentioned above, receiving initial formal training and also continuing education thereafter is very important for the trainer to be updated and aware of the newer revelations and realizations to do with training dogs. If the trainer you are speaking with does not practise either, it may be a good idea to not go with them.

You should hopefully have enough information to choose the right trainer for you and your pet by this point. You can now go ahead, make your decision and begin training towards a smoother, more easier span with your pet. Some tips to ensure you are maximizing your investment in the training process include:

  1. Reward the good
    A really simple way to help your pet understand what they did was praiseworthy is rewarding them for it. Very similar to humans, the pet will understand that it is this desirable action that he performed that led to good feedback. You can use treats as rewards, but DO NOT overfeed your pet with treats during training. He may learn his skills, but you will have another problem to deal with at the end of the training. Graduate from treats to only actions like petting and verbal feedback like telling them what a good child they are.
  2. Remove the good to stop the bad
    Similarly when your pet behaves in an undesirable manner you can simply remove the good from the equation. Removing the good, however, does not mean depriving them of basic necessities like food, water or air. It means taking away attention when a destructive act is performed for attention.
  3. Timing is key
    Training is all about timing! Remember to reward the good exactly when it’s done. If you delay the response there could be miscommunication where your pet may assume you praised them for a latter action. Like if they did not eat the piece of cake you asked them not to, and you served them their food and praised them after, there is a possibility they’ll believe you praised them for eating their food, not for not eating yours.
  4. Provide appropriate outlets
    While the training continues to ensure your pet gets enough exercise and other mental stimulation too. Training is not a replacement for regular exercise. Do not worry about tiring them out. A tired dog is a happy dog.
  5. Management
    Dog training is not only for your pet. It is training for both of you. Ensure that you attend all your sessions in the determined intervals. Follow up these sessions with a lot of practice and homework. This will speed up the process of learning for both of you and make for a smoother, shorter course.

Unlike schooling for humans, training is not the same for all canines. Your pet may need different ways of teaching to learn better. Your trainer should be happiest to impart knowledge to you and your pet in the best way possible. Still, there are some actions you must not tolerate during the training period. If you see your trainer execute any of these, it’s time to bid them farewell.

  • Hanging, choking or helicoptering the pet
  • Grabbing and lifting the pet by a part of their body
  • Forcing anything down their throat
  • Forceful and uncomfortable restraining
  • Hitting, biting, kicking or throwing the pet around
  • Applying any substance to cause pain or illness
  • Rubbing the pet’s face against anything
  • Electric shocks or currents
  • Depriving of basic needs like food, water and air

Not all your experiences with trainers are going to be negative, there are many trainers out there who are extremely skilled at what they do and will ensure your concerns are resolved by the end of the training. But remember, you are as crucial a part to the success of this process as the trainer.

For a smooth run and success with your trainer, always keep very clear communication. If you have observed any changes in your pet, keep them updated. If you do not understand the motive of certain things, ask them! But maintain transparency at all times and communicate with your trainer. Let them know of your expectations and inform them of progress constantly. Good communication will help you build comfort and trust in your trainer.

Know that they are the best at what they do. And until they display one of the above mentioned or any other harmful acts, you can believe them. At all points ensure you are being trained to train your pet and the trainer makes you a part of the exercise. With the right trainer and discipline, your team should be able to ace the training process.

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Can I train my dog myself?

Yes, you can! If you just want to train your pet to be able to respond to basic commands, you can definitely train them yourself. People have experienced situations in the past where when they hired a professional trainer, the dog would listen only to the trainer and not to them. Well, this explains two things – 1. Dogs obey the person that trains them; and 2. Training dogs is actually about training people.

Moreover, if you train your dog at home it can be a lot of fun. You will establish a very satisfying means of communication with your dog. There is a lot of information available on the web on how you can go about the process, or you could read the book “Don’t Shoot the Dog” by Karen Pryor where she talks about the clicker or marker method of training.

You will surprisingly notice that your pet will begin to process and understand what you’re trying to teach him a lot sooner than the time you will have to invest in reading books or watching videos to start training them.

To be on the safer side, go with positive methods of training. Do not resort to choke collars or any other equipment that require training before use. If you choose the positive route to train your pet, you may, at maximum, end up being unsuccessful. But at least you won’t cause any harm to them.

Training can help develop a beautiful communicative relationship between you and your pet. It will also bring in much needed discipline in your pet’s life. So feel confident to go ahead and find a professional to train the two of you or do your research and begin training them yourself.

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