Choosing a dog trainer can feel overwhelming - and with good reason: you are entrusting a stranger with your best friend and family member’s learning and wellbeing.
Here are the five questions I would always ask before booking in with a dog trainer.
1. What methods do you use and why?
In dog training, there are lots of different terms flying around: positive reinforcement, force-free, science-based, LIMA, balanced, compulsion, and a million more in between. Once you get past the terms, there are then even more opinions on which of these methods is the most effective way to train a dog.
What is most important, is that your dog trainer is going to use methods you are comfortable with. Personally, I will never knowingly use fear, intimidation, or pain to train a dog, and so I would want any trainer I work with to be confident using methods which align with my own morals. If you don’t feel comfortable with what’s being asked of you, you are unlikely to keep up with your training, and what most dog trainers can agree on (regardless of methodology) is that you do need to put the time in to make progress with your dog.
2. What experience do you have?
Did you know that dog training is a completely unregulated industry? There are many professional bodies in the UK, but none of these accreditations are recognised. What that means, is anyone can call themselves a dog trainer and start earning money the next day without any experience or training.
I wish it was as simple as saying ‘always make sure your dog trainer is accredited with X professional body’ or ‘your dog trainer should have X qualification’, but the truth is, there are many different paths to becoming an excellent dog trainer and they are all valuable in their own way.
So instead, I recommend you ask your trainer what experience they have. If you have a reactive dog, have they ever successfully rehabbed one before? If you want your dog to walk nicely on a loose lead, have they ever trained that before? Have they done it more than once? How and where did they learn to do that? It can’t hurt to ask.
Here at Kit’s Canine Academy, we are dedicated to our continued learning, which is why we publish all of our training here and spend 10% of every penny we make on attending courses and workshops.
3. How long do you expect the training to take?
Us dog trainers don’t have a magic wand we can wave which turns your pup into a model citizen. If we did, believe me, we’d be telling everyone about it.
The truth is, good dog training is all about building strong foundations and then taking the time to make sure your dog understands in a variety of locations and scenarios - and that can’t be done overnight. The amount of time it takes for your dog to learn something new depends on so many variables: breed, age, medical and behavioural history, what you want them to learn, how skilled you are at training them, how often you train them, and so much more. But it shouldn’t take forever either.
Your dog trainer should be able to provide you with realistic expectations about how much training needs to happen for you to reach your goals, and then they should work with you to make that as doable as possible.
4. What support will I get?
You know those dogs who are excellent at home or at puppy classes, but they seem to forget everything they have ever been taught when they are at the park? Or how about the one who just can’t seem to get it right, no matter how hard the owner tries? Here at Kit’s Canine Academy, we believe that’s sometimes due to a lack of support from the dog trainer.
We believe that you don’t just need your dog trainer for one hour, once per week. There are 168 hours in a week, and your dog is learning in each and every one of them. So when you train with us, we want to support you as much as possible in between your sessions. You will get written explanations of what you learnt and why; video tutorials of the activities you should complete; and unlimited message support throughout the week as needed. We’ll even encourage you to send us videos of your training so we can make any adjustments you might need.
It isn’t your job to become a professional dog trainer - that’s what you pay us for, so it’s important to make sure whichever trainer you plan to use is going to be a fully fledged member of your team for as long as you need them.
5. What are you currently training your dog/s to do?
Can I tell you my pet hate? The thing which really grinds my gears? Dog trainers who don’t train their dogs.
Now, don’t get me wrong, my dogs aren’t perfect. In fact, us dog trainers have a nasty habit of going into rescue centres and taking home the trickiest dogs in there, because… well probably because we love the challenge. I have three reactive rescue dogs with a variety of behavioural challenges, so they might not always quite manage to be the perfect citizens you’d imagine.
I do train them though. I train my dogs a whole host of things for lots of different reasons. My old man Marty has retired, but he still trains little tricks for fun, just to keep his brain sharp and remember his youth in obedience training. My youngest, Margot, is currently doing scentwork training and some positions work for her post-operative physiotherapy. And the love of my life, Ezra, trains every day just because we love it. We’re currently training a retrieve, working on our cooperative play, and learning a formal heelwork.
Your dog trainer doesn’t have to be a world champion and they don’t have to have the best behaved dogs in the world, but they should be able to tell you what they are training with a big grin on their face, because they should absolutely love training dogs.