DEAR DIDI: I have done a ton of googling and it seems that all dog trainers have different opinions about how to train a dog! How do we know who to hire? What should we look for when interviewing a trainer? Our little guy is 12 weeks old and we don’t want to make any mistakes like we have in the past. -Dog Parents 2 Be
DEAR 2 BE: You are already super ahead in the game by the pure fact that you are ‘interviewing’ trainers. Your mindset is exactly where it ought to be. This is no different than hiring a tutor for your child. There are so many factors to consider when looking for a trainer.
A first red flag, in my opinion, would be any trainer that offers guarantees. I know it might seem comforting to have a guarantee that if something goes wrong you have recourse, but we are talking about a living animal, not a vehicle. Animals have developmental stages, individual personalities, environmental influences, genetic predispositions, and many other things that can’t be completely controlled. A trainer also cannot control whether or not the owner does their homework faithfully and correctly. Guarantees are gimmicky sales pitches.
Good communication skills are crucial for dog trainers. Some people are excellent dog trainers but not very good at teaching the humans how to train their own dogs. Other people may be great talkers and not such great trainers. Trust your instincts after an interview. Did the prospect listen to you? Did he or she clearly address your concerns? How did you find this person to begin with? Were they referred by a neighbor that used his or her services? Did your veterinarian recommend them? Good dog trainers tend to be known in the area and will have testimonials from past clients.
Ask a potential candidate about his or her overall training philosophy. I would be wary of anyone that thinks one method works for all dogs and all life stages. Many dog training schools have popped up over the last decade since the industry is booming. They all offer their own certifications and many require that a ‘graduate’ only train in their patented methodology. As with any job interview, candidates with more years of experience are frequently the better choice. Dog trainers should understand breed differences, learning styles, and be able to adjust their technique or approach for the individual dog they are working with.
There are a ton of dog sports out there now. I would want to know that my trainer competes his or her own dogs at something, anything. Even better if it is a sport you are interested in for your dog. Frisbee, dock jumping, obedience, nosework, barn hunt, rally, flyball, personal protection, therapy dog, just to name a few! Look at their social media page and see what they are posting and sharing. Language, attitude, ethics and abilities can show through on Facebook.
Then there is the obvious issue that all dog owners must grapple with … budget. I find that, just like most things in life, middle of the road is best. You get what you pay for. Franchised national brand name training is hit or miss. Sometimes they have a great trainer that bought into their program, but not always. I love that you are looking into this early before issues pop up. A great trainer can be a fantastic mentor for that first crucial year of your puppy’s life. They can direct you to resources, tools, nutrition, behavioral stages, groomers, and be someone to call when something goes wrong. Good luck and congratulations on the new arrival!
Dierdra McElroy is a graduate of Texas A&M University and is an Animal Behaviorist specializing in canines. Like Didi’s Facebook page: California Canine. If you have questions or concerns about the pets in your house, you can get them answered through a future column of Didi’s Dogs. To ask your dog behavior question, email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.