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From teaching your dog basic obedience to advanced training for dog sports, a great dog trainer can make all the difference. That’s particularly true for new dog owners. But even if you have years of experience with dogs, a professional trainer can help you troubleshoot problems and hone your abilities. Plus, group classes have the wonderful benefit of socializing your dog. But how do you know when you’ve found the right dog trainer?

Dog training is an unregulated industry. Anybody can print business cards and charge for their services, regardless of background, education, or experience. It’s essential to evaluate potential trainers before trusting them with your hard-earned money and your precious pet. Don’t simply pick the closest training school. Do your research to determine if a potential trainer is the right fit for you and your dog.

What to Look For in a Dog Trainer

First, ask the trainer about their methods and training philosophy, and make sure you’re comfortable with their approach. Look for a trainer who uses positive reinforcement training — rewarding the dog for appropriate behavior with praise or treats and teaching alternative behaviors in place of inappropriate ones. These techniques are based on the science of animal learning and have the bonus of strengthening the dog-owner bond and fostering a love of learning in dogs.

It’s also important to determine what you need from a trainer. Are you dealing with a problem behavior like jumping on guests or does your new puppy need to learn to “sit” and “stay”? Find out if a particular trainer provides classes or private training that meet your needs. Not all trainers offer the same services. Usually, a class environment with other dogs provides the added benefit of socialization and distraction training. But sometimes, your dog will learn best in a one-on-one situation, especially if other dogs overstimulate them or make them anxious.

©Jana Behr -

Private training can be done at the training school, in your home, or out in the world. For certain issues, this can be ideal. Some dogs simply aren’t ready for a classroom, or perhaps your dog’s problem only happens at your front door. However, not all trainers offer services outside their own facility, and you can expect to pay more for someone to come to you.

What to Ask a Potential Dog Trainer

Ask a potential trainer about their education and any credentials they may have. Some trainers have learned through apprenticeships and years of experience, whereas others have taken a more academic route in building their skills. Certification with an organization like the Certification Council of Professional Dog Trainers isn’t mandatory for trainers, but it shows dedication to the profession and an interest in continuing education.

Speak with the trainer to get a feel for their personality before making a decision. It’s not enough to read the brochure or website. Dog trainers teach people, so you’ll need to make sure you’ll feel comfortable being their student. Look for someone who uses the same positive reinforcement with their human pupils that they use with the dogs. A dog trainer should be patient, encouraging, and respectful. Try to observe a training class. Watch the dogs and students as much as the trainer to ensure they are all enjoying themselves. In addition, ask for references from former students.

German Wirehaired Pointer being trained with a clicker.
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Beyond the Basics

Look for a trainer who provides more than just the basic training techniques. Dogs and humans have different ways of looking at the world. The more you understand your dog’s perceptions, the better equipped you are to meet their needs and live together happily. Training lessons should include information about dog behavior, dog communication, and how dogs learn. The importance of socializing is key for a good puppy class, and advice on grooming and handling is an added perk.

Great trainers understand that their job is to train you to train your dog. Although they may want to work with one adult at a time depending on a dog’s issues, at some point in the process, they should welcome the entire household — kids included. First-rate trainers understand the importance of getting the whole family on board for consistency.

Find a Trainer

There are many places to get a recommendation for a trainer, from people at the dog park to your knowledgeable neighbor. You can check out the AKC’s list of approved CGC evaluators. You might also try the CCPDT directory or The Association of Professional Dog Trainers’ trainer search. Regardless of how impressed other dog owners are with a trainer, don’t skimp on your research. The trainer needs to be the right teacher for you, your dog, and your individual needs. An excellent trainer is a wise investment and will help ensure a lifetime of happy and harmonious living with a well-behaved dog.

Related article: How to Find & Choose a Pet Sitter
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