Finding a good dog trainer

The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior promotes reward-based training methods and doesn’t not endorse punishing dogs to discourage unwanted behavior.

Living with a well-mannered dog makes life easier for you and everyone in your home. A good dog trainer should be assertive, caring, attentive, and knowledgeable. In order to choose one wisely, ask friends of well-behaved dogs who they work with.

We at DogTime say “work with” because even though you are hiring a dog trainer, you are going to be part of the training process. After all, you want your dog to listen to you. If you don’t know anyone who has worked with a dog trainer, the first step is to call, interview, and observe a few trainers prior to hiring them.

“There are numerous ways to train dogs. In addition, each animal has his or her own learning style and preferred motivators,” said Dr. Bonnie Beaver, professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. “The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior endorses training methods that allow animals to work for things (such as food, play, affection) that motivate them, rather than techniques that focus on using fear or pain to punish them for undesirable behaviors.”

A good rule of thumb is to avoid any trainer who displays methods of physical force that may harm your dog, including ones who routinely use choke collars, shock collars, or any other physical punishment as a primary training method. Look for a trainer who uses reward-based training with treats, toys, and play instead.

“Research shows that dogs do not need to be physically punished to learn how to behave, and there are significant risks associated with using punishment, such as inhibiting learning, increasing fear, and/or stimulating aggressive events,” said Dr. Beaver. “Because of its risks, punishment should only be used by a trainer who can fully explain the possible adverse effects and instruct owners in one-on-one sessions how to perform the techniques correctly.”

When you observe a class prior to hiring the trainer, watch to see how the dogs and the people are treated. Are they having a good time? Does everyone seem to be learning? Is this a class that you will want to participate in?

“You should feel comfortable doing whatever it is the trainer asks you to do to your dog,” Dr. Beaver says. “If your trainer ever tells you to do something to your dog that you believe will cause you or your dog undue harm or distress, ask them to explain why they recommend that technique, what the potential drawbacks of the technique are, and how these will be addressed should they occur.”

It is important to remember all dogs are different, and due to the variable and unpredicted nature of behavior, a conscientious trainer cannot guarantee the results of training. They should, however, be willing to ensure satisfaction of their services.

Sources: Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior