How to find a great dog trainer

Training your newly adopted dog often begins with finding a great dog trainer, but not all are created equal. Our partner Andrea Arden, host of various hit shows on Animal Planet and frequent Today Show contributor, shares how to find a great trainer for your dog so that Fido is a well-mannered member of the family.

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Choosing a trainer to assist you in teaching your dog to become a great canine companion is an important and sometimes daunting prospect for pet parents. There are loads of trainers to choose from, lots of methods being employed by those many trainers, and little industry regulation in regards to quality of training or service provided. Andrea Arden dog training

Add to all of this that many people begin their search when they are already experiencing a behavior issue with their dog and you will find the vast majority of pet parents are confused and panicked. 

In an ideal world, you should give yourself some time to do a bit of research prior to engaging the services of a professional dog trainer so as to avoid frustrating and potentially costly mistakes. This can start by asking your veterinarian, groomer, local pet store and neighborhood dog people for recommendations. Once you have a short list of potential candidates, be prepared with a list of questions for those trainers. Typically, the most common questions people ask are: How far? and How much? While the cost and distance of a particular trainer are certainly important, you might fair far better to go a little further distance and spend a little more it means working with a more experienced trainer who can most successfully lead you down the path to training success.

Some other questions to consider asking:

1. What are your methods and/or philosophy?
At one time dogs were trained using repeated harsh jerks on a choke collar and lots of shouting. Avoid trainers who use the methods of ‘force-training.’ This is not only unnecessary, but it is generally not nearly as effective as a more modern, motivation based approach. Force based training may also exacerbate a problem (especially fear and aggression issues) and may damage not only your dog, but also your relationship with him or her. Ask for some dog training book recommendations, which will give you an even better idea of what approach they prefer.

2. How long have you been a professional trainer and what is your background?
Consider the length and quality of their experience working with dogs and other animals. Did they attend/apprentice with a particular school? Do they attend ongoing workshops and training seminars, if so where and by whom?

3. Do you have any certifications or training awards?
As professional dog training is a largely unregulated industry, it can be hard to distinguish between credentials. Most pet parents can’t readily distinguish between those which may be quite meaningful within the industry (i.e. amongst professional dog trainers), but this will again provide you with insight into their approach as you can research where they have received training or certification and see how you feel about that organization’s mission statement.

4. May I observe a class?
This is perhaps one of the most important steps in choosing a trainer. Whenever possible, you should try to watch the dog trainer in action. Consider both human and canine students: Are they having fun and do they seem to be learning useful concepts? Is the facility clean? Is there adequate room? Are the trainers professional, clear and compassionate?

visual dog training command

5. Do you have references I can speak with?
Speaking with a reference for a professional dog training business can’t hurt. But keep in mind that a training school is unlikely to give you the contact information for any client other than those they know will give them a glowing review. So references are really best found from local pet businesses and pet parents and from visiting a school to get a first hand idea of how current clients seem to feel about their experience.

6. Do you offer a guarantee?
While it might give someone a sense of security when a training school offers a guarantee, there really are too many factors beyond the trainer’s control to do so. Most specifically, how well a client follows through on the training advice offered. In fact, the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) specifically states that trainers should refrain from offering guarantees for training services. This is not to be confused with finding a professional dog trainer who is committed to excellence in regards to client satisfaction. 

With list in hand, you are now ready to embark on your search for just the right dog trainer for you and your pup. In a nutshell, they should be experienced, employ science based methods which focus on motivating your dog to want to learn, and should take great joy in helping you and your dog build a better relationship based on cooperation and fun!

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For more articles on dog and cat training, behavior and socialization, visit Andrea’s Petiquette with Andrea Arden: Good Manners for Good Pets blog at Pets for Patriots.

About Andrea Arden

Andrea can be seen on Animal Planet's shows Dogs 101, Cats 101, Pets 101, America's Cutest Dog and America's Cutest Cat. She is the author of numerous best-selling books on animal behavior and training. Andrea is thrilled to be a part of Pets for Patriots' efforts to help its members successfully adopt and share their lives with shelter pets! Read more...
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