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How to Select a Trainer

GRRA highly recommends you take any newly adopted dog to a training class. Aside from the obedience skills you hope to teach, you and your dog will learn how to communicate and read one another, solve problems and most importantly, it is a great way to build mutual trust and bond.... if you have the right trainer.

Don't Be Fooled By Titles

Since dog training is an unregulated industry; anyone can print a business card and become a dog trainer, behavior consultant, behaviorist, dog psychologist, human-canine relationship counselor, and many other titles.

Certification and ‘degrees' from training schools can mean little else than the student satisfactorily completed the requirements of the program. This differs from an independent assessment of the student’s general knowledge and ability as a trainer, so you need to do some research before signing up.

Regardless of what they call themselves, these 'trainers' offer a variety of skill sets, educational backgrounds, and degrees of experience. There are lots of schools that offer education in dog training, many of which provide students with a certification upon completion of a fee-based program.

These certifications are merely the program’s way of acknowledging that the individual completed a course. Many gifted and talented trainers hold no formal certification at all, yet they successfully change the lives of dogs and their owners for the better on a daily basis, so it is important to do some research

A Competent Training Professional Will:

  • Have a solid understanding of dog behavior and learning theory, a commitment to continuing education and a visible love of dogs.

  • Be well-versed in humane, dog-friendly training techniques, promote a relationship based on mutual trust, understanding, and respect, not one based on fear, dominance, or submission.

Look Around and Ask Around

Ask friends, family, your vet, or even folks at your local dog park for references. Ask the owners of the best-behaved and happiest-looking dogs you meet where they went for training and if they were happy with the experience.

Steer clear of recommendations from owners of dogs that comply with their requests slowly and with tucked tails, lowered heads and ears, and averted eyes. These may be signs that the dogs are being trained with force- or fear-based training methods.

If, in contrast, the dogs comply cheerfully, ears and tails up, eyes bright and interested, their owners may have been taught to train with truly positive methods.

Beyond Basics

If you are looking for training beyond basic obedience such as therapy dog work, competitive obedience, or agility, make sure they have experience in (or sufficient knowledge of) the activity to successfully guide your training.

If you’re seeking help with a behavior issue such as fear, anxiety, or aggression, find out if the trainer has successfully worked with similar cases in the past. These issues may be beyond the ability of a novice trainer. Matters can quickly be made worse in even a single short session with someone who lacks the education and experience to succeed with an aggressive, deeply fearful or anxious dog. Ask for references.

Are You Positive You're 'Positive?'

You want to use a trainer that truly has a positive, non-punitive approach. Unfortunately, the term "positive" is widely used and abused. Ask the trainer what they mean by 'positive'. Some trainers use the term because they use treats for correct behavior, but they use physical corrections for unwanted behavior. If a choke, pinch or remote collar are among their tools, move on.

Positive trainers use plain, flat collars, well-fitted martingales and no-pull body harnesses. Science has proven dogs think and learn just like toddlers. The question to ask yourself if in doubt is, "Would I use that technique with a child?"

Modern, educated professionals agree that when working with aggressive or fearful dogs, fear and pain-based training methods make matters worse, not better. NEVER meet aggression with aggression.

A reputable trainer will allow you to attend a class to observe. Look for a controlled, happy group, interaction with the instructor and appropriate collars and leads (no retractable leashes!!)

Involve your family in the lessons so training is consistent. Find out any age restriction or other special rules or requirements for children attending the training class.


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