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How to Choose a Trainer

By Christine D. Calder DVM DACVB | Jul 01, 2021

You just brought home that new puppy or maybe adopted a new dog from the shelter and you are looking for training help. How do you choose?

All Trainers are not Created Equal

Did you know that anyone can call himself a dog trainer? Dog trainers come from all walks of life. There isn’t a specific degree or licensing body regulating the profession like there is for other professionals such as your veterinarian, realtor, nurse, or even barber who cuts your hair and trims your beard.

What do you Look for in a Trainer?

Because the dog training industry is unregulated, it is up to you to do your homework. Although, a universal degree or training program does not exist, there are several self-regulated dog training certification programs in existence, such as the Karen Pryor Academy (KPA-CTP), Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT), The Academy for Dog Trainers (CTC), and the Victoria Stilwell Academy (VSA) to name a few.

These programs often require in-person learning, as well as remote learning, written and in-person examinations. A mentor and hundreds of supervised training hours must be logged as part of the program. After graduation, these professionals must carry insurance and submit continuing education credits each year to keep their certification.

Training Philosophy

What is your training philosophy? What training method do you want to use? How do you want to train your dog? Will you use treats? What about mistakes? and corrections? How will your dog know they have gotten “it” wrong? Do they need to know?

Before researching trainers, you should know these answers. There are several different training methods, and it is important to understand your own training philosophy before selecting a trainer to work with you.

1. Reward-based training: These trainers often stick with positive reinforcement to shape and capture behaviors. They teach you how to adjust your training plan based upon feedback from your dog. You learn how to communicate and understand your dog on a deeper level. Food (yes-even their own food) and toys are often used as payment, not bribes, and there is no force or coercion when it comes to training with this method.

2. Balanced training: Using both rewards and corrections, these trainers will often “use all 4 quadrants” when training your dog. Many depend on the use of “all the tools in the toolbox” such as shock collars, e-collars, stim collars, prong collars, and choke collars in addition to food, toys, and praise for rewards when the dog “gets” it right.

3. Punishment-based or Traditional training: Punishment based trainers often rely heavily on corrections using positive punishment and negative reinforcement to train your dog. Food is rarely used or recommended. These trainers often depend on aversive tools but without the additional use of food, toys, or even praise as rewards that a “balanced” trainer may use.

Which is the Best Training Method?

Choosing a training method can be confusing but in reality, all training methods are effective. If you are consistent and have good timing, then you can teach your dog anything- regardless of the method used. Just like a job interview, when choosing the right trainer, it is more about how each trainer aligns with your own personal training philosophy and beliefs rather than the actual training process itself.

If the Training Method Doesn’t Matter, Then Why do I Have to Choose?

Such a good question! The answer- the overall well-being and trusting relationship you wish to establish with your dog.

“Punishment-based” and even “Balanced” training techniques often rely on intimidation, fear, and pain during the training process resulting in, an increase in fear-based behaviors, anxiety, and, in some cases, aggression. With these methods, learning can be slow and confusing for your dog. The behavioral warning signs of distress are often punished, potentially leading to more unpredictable, unreliable, and, in some cases, dangerous behaviors from your dog.

Reward-based training gives choice. Choice reduces fear and anxiety and creates a thinking dog, one who “wants” to work with you and “please” you because learning is fun and exciting. You are fun and exciting!!! This type of training is appropriate for all dogs. When using reward-based training, you help your dog make good choices and keep him feeling safe so aggression is never needed, distress is minimal, and the learning process accelerated.

Why do I Need a Trainer?

In addition to training philosophies and methods, it is important to understand the difference between a “training” problem and “emotional” one. Often training alone is not the answer. Training teaches your dog good social skills such as how to walk nicely on a leash, sit for attention instead of jumping, and to come when called. Behavior modification changes the emotional motivation behind a behavior. If your dog is displaying aggression, fear, or anxiety-based behaviors, then training may not be an appropriate first step. Talk with your veterinarian, make an appointment with a veterinary behaviorist, or meet with a certified animal behavior consultant before starting the training process with these dogs.