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Sunday, August 22, 2010

What to expect from a dog trainer.

Bentley, Casey,
Cody & Abby
(pay no attention to
that dangerous Lambs Ear
plant just to the side of them!)

Susquehanna Trail Dog Training Club

When people go to a dog training class they pretty much know that they are going to be part of a group and the instructor is basically going to direct the whole class on how to do commands with their dog. When people hire a trainer to come to their home, they think the trainer is going to train their dog and life will be wonderful again! Dog camps will take your dog off your hands for a few weeks and Viola! You have a well behaved dog when he is returned!

As someone who has trained dogs which type of training would I choose for John Q Public?

At the top of my list I would put group training classes. Why? Because when owners are among other owners in a class setting there is a certain competition for their dog not to be the worst behaved dog in class the next week! This faux pas will make the owner work harder and more often during the week before the next class so that their little Fido doesn't  maul the other dogs around it and the trainer! For me, that is the number one reason above all other reasons! Sure mauling is fun for some, but for me, not so much!

I have done several home trainings, aka private sessions, and the outcome is not usually as good as it is in a class setting even though I give the owners the same advice and tools that a class would share.  I found that the owner just does not work as  much with the dog during the week.  Also, if Fido fails in a private home situation who’s there to see it? It can become a point made by the owner that the trainer did not train the dog well enough or a point by the trainer that the owner did not work hard enough with the dog. In a class setting at least you have many who can see the problem, as well, as many who can try to offer advice or assistance.

Dog training is not so much  about training the dog as  it is about training the owner! I believe a class review with just owners before their dogs are ever brought into the picture is needed in most cases!


Weighing in at number two, would be home or private training. The only time I might put this at the top of the list is when there is a problem that the dog is only having in the home. If a trainer can’t see the problem first hand in the home they can’t always help it. So in an instance like that, home training would move up the ladder.

Third on the list would be Camp Dog Be Good! (It’s a made up name folks, don’t sue me! )

Dog camps usually run about three weeks or more and are very costly. If you are only teaching your dog basic obedience it’s not worth the money. If you are sending a dog to learn a specialty such as  for show or agility then maybe it’s worth the investment.

My first objection with training camps is that when the dog is away from you, you can’t ever be sure just how the dog is being trained or treated. Is it being trained in a positive method or a harsher physical method? Not every training is right for each dog. Also you  wont know the history of  the other dogs that will be boarded at the camp as well.
If at any time you don’t feel comfortable with how a trainer is showing you how to handle your dog, then by all means fire them and find a new one! There’s nothing worse than to have a dog listen out of fear rather than wanting to please the owner.

Training is what you make of it, how much time you put into it, family involvement, and having a dog that wants to be with you. If you are missing any of those ingredients you may be setting yourself up for failure.

Does one need to have a trainer or take a class? It all depends on how much information you know as it pertains to dogs and who taught you that information. I hear stories daily from people who say, “I’ve had dogs all my life” then they proceed to tell me what the dog is doing and how they have been handling the situation. I am stunned by how many people continue to believe that rubbing a dog’s nose in its excrement will stop the dog from eliminating inside the home! Oh my God, how dark ages is that?


Recently these words befell my ears by an irate customer, “you are probably one of those new modern women who never scolds her kids”( obviously my kids would tell a different story!), because I told her that spanking a dog for the bad behavior it did ten minutes ago did nothing other than to make the dog afraid of the person.  Spanking a dog for any reason is really not acceptable, but humans do this out of frustration or fear. It’s a knee jerk reaction very few of us keeps under control when feeling frightened or agitated. This is why it is sometimes better to stop all training before you reach the frustration level. Really, just stop! No one will think any less of you for taking a break!


In today’s world there are schools one can attend and learn the basics of how to become a dog trainer, but since these are fairly new it’s hard to rate how good they are. I don’t even know who would regulate such as school. Oh jeeze, can you imagine if it were regulated by our government? That’s a scary thought! All one can do is look at the method the school uses to train dogs and if possible talk to people attending. Hang around the school and wait for class to be over. Sure you'll look like a stalker, but who cares? 

 In years past, before there were such schools, one relied on another’s experience with dogs. So basically someone saw a well behaved dog or several well behaved dogs walking on a leash with the owner and one would ask, ‘hey how’d ya get your dog to behave so well?’ and that would start word of mouth advertising which would send someone knocking at your door asking you to train or show them how you got your dog to behave so well! That was that, your reputation grew through word of mouth. But was that the best way?


Sadly, not at all. I once heard of a trainer that would physically abuse the dogs he trained so that they were in such fear of him that they knew if they misbehaved there were harsh consequences to bear, but he had in all outward appearances, a well behaved dog. 
Obviously there are questions you will want to know upfront like cost, and cost will vary depending on the demand of the trainer, the type of training (group, private or camp), the area in which you live and how many sessions you’ll get for the price. Classes are generally less expensive then private training. Prices may also vary depending on the distance between you and the home trainer (Especially with today’s gas prices). You will want to know approximately how long it will take to train the dog and what happens if the dog has not been fully trained within that time frame? Will the trainer still make themselves available to you, and will it be an extra charge?

The trainer has to be a realist as well. If they offer you a certain amount of weeks and ask for full payment up front, and along the way the trainer sees that the owner is not putting in the time each week to succeed, then the trainer should be upfront with the customer and quite possibly end the sessions before they go to far along and refund some of the money. Nobody likes their time wasted.

If a trainer sincerely believes that you are not putting your all into it because they don’t see a change in the interactions between you and the dog, and they don’t mention it, well, they are basically stealing your money and you won’t have a trained dog.

At the same time if you don’t put the effort into it, you can only blame yourself, not the trainer. A trainer can tell if a person is or is not working their dog as much as instructed to. If a dog is responding to the trainer but not to the owner, then the owner may not be training as much as they say they are, or, the owner is not being consistent daily in what they expect from the dog.

So what do you look for in a trainer?

1. You want to look for the person’s love of dogs as well as experience. If they don’t have that love, they may just like feeling powerful over a creature that can’t really fight back.

2 You want check their method of training.  Is it punishment when the dog shows the wrong behavior, reward for showing the right behavior, or a combination of the two? Do they use shock collars? Can you observe the trainer in action at a class or client’s home?

3 References are always a plus, however who’s to say that the list of people the trainer gives you to call for reference are not family members or friends saying something rehearsed? So when it comes to references you want to hear from a variety of people and these people can be the ones you meet on the street walking their own well behaved dogs, handlers at local dog shows, breeders, groomers, or vets.

4 Knowledge of dog breeds. There are dogs that work well with one type training and dogs that don’t do  so well with that same method. Some dogs will just shut down if taught a certain way. As well, if the method is a tug and pull, (aka correction for the wrong behavior) you want to be careful if you own a  small dog as damage to the trachea by pulling on a choke chain or any other type of collar during training can be problematic. Small dogs are at a greater risk for tracheal collapse and should probably be using a harness or a halti collar during training to take the pressure off the neck area.
5 Ask how long before you see some  results (some trainers put such statements in their ads) with your dog, but know that no trainer can really do more than give an estimate. Much is decided by what you put into it. If you are given a definite time frame, then the trainer may not be very realistic.

6 Ask the trainer if they keep up with newer trends and seminars in training and in dog behavior.

7 Ask if former clients  have gotten titles because of the trainers work. Titles might include agility, therapy, carting, water rescue, or ring titles.


8  And last but yet very important is, is it fun for both of you or is it something that the trainer makes you feel that you must succeed in no matter the cost of the relationship between you and your dog?   Training should always be fun!



Remember, you are the only one that can make decisions for your dog and you want those decisions to be the best with lasting results in a positive way so the two of you enjoy spending time with each other. Also, regardless of how much money you shell out to a trainer, if you don’t know how to continue it and don't keep the dog social with people and other dogs, the dog will most likely fail somewhere down the road.

Don't kid yourself either. I've seen hard working owners go to a class week after week and still the dog has problems. These are mostly aggressive type problems. If you can't get the dog to change it's view through training over time, it may be a dog that will never get along with other dogs in its path and forcing it to try and do so may backfire in the long run.  In some cases it's just the breed of dog. Chow Chow and Shar Pei are two breeds that come to mind.  Also take into concideration  that bad breeding/inbreeding is a possibility. When people who breed don't really care about anything more than pulling in money for a sold pup, then usually they don't care who the sire and bitch are or what their temperament is.  It is at that time that you have to make a decision, can you live with the dog the way that it is and allow it to remain happy and unstressed in your own home, or is taking it out in public really important to you? Some people buy dogs for companions to do things with if that is important to you, it may be worth your while to give the dog to someone who may be better equiped to handle it or resign yourself  to the fact that this is the dog you chose and its happiness and stress free life is more important than going on a hike.

Keep in mind that old saying, A good dog is a busy dog, because a busy dog is a tired dog!

Until next time, happy training!



1 comment:

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