How do I find the right dog trainer for me?

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So, you have a new dog who has never received training, or you have a dog who is not exhibiting the behaviors you would like to see.  You’ve tried everything you can do yourself, but nothing has resulted in the desired behavior.  The next step is to consider hiring a professional dog trainer.  But, what kind of dog trainer should you hire, and what type of training should you use?  There are many factors to consider to make sure you have the right dog trainer.

First, there are different types of training environments to consider. Here are some options, and the pros and cons of each:

Board and Train: This means that your dog will be sent to a boarding facility full-time for days, weeks, or even months - depending on the type of training needed.  Once the training is complete, the dog will be returned to you. 

Pros:  The dog is typically trained faster because a professional trainer will be working with the dog on a daily basis, and should be applying the training techniques on a consistent basis.  A professional dog trainer should also have more in-depth insight into the dog’s personality and how to customize the training to effectively address the behavior.  Board and Train is a good option for owners who don’t have the time to train, or for those who are going to be traveling, because their dog will be cared for and boarded while receiving training.

Cons:  The expectation that a dog will return perfectly trained is not always met.  Training is an ongoing process.  At the end of the training period, the trainer should provide the owner with a summary of what that was worked on along with instructions on how to continue the process. A board and train will not be a good investment for you if you do not take the time to provide consistent training 100% of the time.  In addition, because the training was done by someone else, your dog may ignore you or not bond with you upon return.  Lastly, handing your dog over to a facility for an extended period of time can be risky.  Not every facility will treat your dog well or even train them daily.  It is imperative to research the facility thoroughly before handing your dog over to them, especially since it will be for an extended period of time. Check references and online reviews and visit the facility to observe the staff in action before you decide.

Daycare Board and Train:  Daycare Board and Train is similar to Board and Train except that you will drop your dog off for boarding in the morning and pick him or her up in the evening. During the day, a dog trainer will spend about an hour privately training your dog.

Pros:  Since there won’t be a long-term separation, the bond between you and your dog will remain strong.  If you’re going to be boarding your dog anyway, there is a sufficient amount of time at the boarding facility to also receive training.

Cons:  Most boarding facilities do not hire certified dog trainers.  Many of these trainers have little, if any, dog training experience at all.  Money you spend to have someone you believe to be an experienced, professional dog trainer work with your dog will be money wasted if the trainer is ineffective or if the training doesn’t even occur.  Researching a daycare’s Board and Train service is imperative.  Ask the management what certifications the dog trainer has.  Ask if they are cutting down time by training multiple dogs at once instead of offering private training, if that is what you have requested.

Dog training by a trainer in the trainer’s home:  This is similar to Daycare Board and Train, but the training happens at the dog trainer’s home.  The dog will stay at the trainer’s home for a day or longer if needed.  The day will mostly include normal daycare with 1-2 training sessions interspersed throughout the day.

Pros:  More focused training since there will typically be fewer dogs.  Having the dog live with the trainer will reinforce the 100% consistency in behavior that is being modified.

Cons:  If you have a long-term training request, the trainer might not have room for your dog.  Or the trainer may not follow through with the commitment to train.  Lastly, the trainer may not be qualified, and thus not provide effective training or quality daycare.

Training a dog in the owner’s home:  Having a dog trainer visit the owner’s home is the ideal situation in most cases.  The dog will be in its home environment and will exhibit more natural reactions and behaviors.  The owners should also receive training exercises to practice between training sessions.

Pros: The trainer can include the whole family in the training session to assist with providing consistent signals and messages to the dog 100% of the time.  The trainer can also observe the dog’s behavior in its own environment to identify any triggers that cause undesirable behavior.

Cons: If family members are not committed to practicing the weekly homework provided by the trainer, previous lessons will have to be repeated.  There could also be a lack in momentum if the owner or the trainer frequently needs to reschedule the training session.

Private Dog Trainer - Once you decide what type of environment would work best for your situation, you should investigate who will be training your dog and what services they offer.  When looking for a trainer, ask them how they charge.  Will the fee be hourly-based? Will it be based on the objective you are trying to accomplish (like curbing the dog’s jumping), or will it be based on a contract?  Any trainer should first meet with you, and ideally, the dog, to scope out the needs in order to estimate how much training time will be needed.

Per hour training is the most flexible and can be continually customized to your needs.  Paying by objective could end up like a balloon loan in that you’re paying X amount to curb the dog’s jumping (or whatever it is that you want), but if the dog accomplishes the objective after the first lesson, then you will have overpaid.  On the other hand, if it takes weeks or months to curb the dog’s jumping, then you will have saved money.  Paying per dog-training contract is the one to be most wary of.  First of all, per contract is costly and usually ends at a pre-defined time, whether your dog’s behavior was modified or not.  Also, if you are not satisfied with the trainer after the first session, there is little to no recourse since you signed a contract and paid in advance.

For any dog trainer you are considering, the most important questions to ask are about certifications and insurance. What types of certifications do the trainers hold?  The most common are ABCDT, CCPDT, and IPDTA.  (Don’t be afraid to ask the trainer for proof of their certification.)  Also, ask the trainer if they are insured.  If they are not, look for another trainer.  If they are, ask them what type of insurance they have and to provide you proof of insurance.  Lastly, always ask for references.  If a trainer says that they can’t provide that due to some type of confidentiality clause, look for another trainer.  A trainer can always ask a previous or current client if they would be willing to provide a reference.