Finding the Best Dog Trainer for You

The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.  -William Arthur Ward

Boots and Bee Photography - By Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – By Brittany Graham

So Fido chewed your new shoes.  Or maybe Fifi decided she wants to kill every dog she sees.  Perhaps you’ve stepped in a puddle on your new rug (barefoot, of course).

What do you do?  Onto Google.  Searching for “a dog trainer near me.  Local dog trainer.  Dog whisperer.  Dog shouter.  Dog guru….”  anything to help you out.  But you need to ask yourself, are you actually helping yourself, or are you stepping into an even worse pile than you just stepped in?  How do you know if the person you are hiring to help you with your dog is actually going to help or hurt your dog.  Here are some important questions to ask yourself.

1. Initial Contact. 

Perhaps a phone call, email, or even a text.  How quickly did they respond (bearing in mind weekends and evenings…dogs trainers have lives too, ya know).  But did they get back to you within a reasonable time?  The saying goes that if a professional has immediate availability, it’s usually because nobody else wants them either.  Yes, perhaps you may need to take an appointment that is a week or so out, but did they show you enough courtesy to return your call?  If they don’t return your calls with questions before they have your money, how readily do you think they’ll call you back once they’ve cashed your check?

2.  Questions.  

Did they answer the question you asked during initial contact, or did they give you some vague, one-size-fits-all answer.  Every dog trainer and dog behaviorist of course has their general speech (myself included) that goes over fees, what to expect, and our techniques.  But if you ask a specific question, are they able to answer it, or do they stumble back into the same speech?

Along these lines, make sure you ask the correct questions.  What methods do you use?  How does a training session break down?  What will we be covering?  It helps to have a list of behaviors you feel are important to address, but a good trainer will be able to spot problems without your bringing them up.  For example, I had a client mention that her dog counter-surfed and would run around like a maniac during the day.  She failed to mention that the dog was horrible when answering the door, jumping and barking, but I knew already that would be added to the list.  This ain’t my first rodeo, as I”m fond of saying.  I know what behaviors travel together, and when you mention one behavior, I know I’ll be addressing accompanying behaviors as well. Like Lannisters and, well, other Lannisters, some things just go together.

3.  Ask about follow-ups.

You aren’t going to understand every single concept your trainer presents to you.  There’s just no way.  You may think you understand what you’re doing right after your training session, but once reality hits…it may be a different story.

Yeah, you definitely worked on Rover’s dog-reactivity during your training session, but now you’ve forgotten what to do when you pass by two other dogs. Maybe you don’t remember if you’re supposed to let your dog on your bed or not.  Whatever your question is, your trainer should be available for answers.  Ask what their policy is on follow-up questions, and if they’re available for phone calls, emails, texts, etc.  after your training session.

4. Reviews.

Do a simple Google search of the trainer’s name and/or company.  What do the reviews say?  Pay attention to negative reviews, but remember to put them into context.  For example, I personally have 2 negative reviews through one source.  All the other fifty are 5 out of 5 stars.  The two negatives?  Both were people I’d never worked with before.  One was left by someone who didn’t like the fact that I stick up for pitbulls, another by another trainer.

When reading negative reviews, keep an open mind.  Same goes for the positive reviews. Did 6 out of 7 positive reviews happen within a 1 month period of time?  Odds are someone asked their friends to leave a review.  If you’re concerned about a specific review, ask about it when you contact them.  Check a few different source materials, as well.  Facebook, Thumbtack, even Google all have their own reviews.  See what’s out there.

5. Methods.

Ooooh….this is where it gets tricky.  You’re asking for help from someone about your dog because you have no idea how to deal with your dog’s behaviors.  If you knew what method was best, you wouldn’t be looking for a dog trainer/behaviorist, now would you?  How are you supposed to know which method is best?  I personally think the PAW Method is best, but I may be a little biased.  Of course I think my method is the best.  If it weren’t, I’d be using another method.  

But I’m sure other trainers think the same thing about their method.  So while I prefer using the PAW Method, there are plenty of other methods utilized to train a dog.  Shop around.  See what makes sense to you.  If you don’t feel a certain method is right for you, move on.  What’s right for one person may not be right for you.  Even my method has adapted and changed over the years.  What I did ten years ago may vary slightly from what I do now, because you learn and grow.  If a method is inflexible and immutable, it won’t work.  No method is perfect, and therefore, room to improve must be acknowledged.  Ask your trainer what they do differently now vs. when they first started.  If they say, “nothing”, move on, because they have stopped learning.

Regardless of what trainer you use, using what methods, it all comes down to one thing:  will you follow through.  Because the most frustrating thing is when a client tells you “it isn’t working”, and when you ask them which part, all they can tell you is that they aren’t sure because they haven’t really followed through. Dog trainers and dog behaviorists aren’t here to pour magic potions on your dog to make them “good”.  News flash:  your  dog is already a good dog.  He’s perfect, as a dog.  He just sucks at being a human. Always remember that when going into training.  You aren’t training your dog to be a good dog, you’re training them to be a good human.

And you’re learning how to be a good dog.

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

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