dog trainer

Finding a Dog Trainer: The Counter Intuitive Rules

Finding a good trainer for your dog can be a lot trickier than you might think.

The Usual Route: Word of Mouth and Online Reviews

When looking for a dog trainer, many pet owners will start with word-of-mouth referrals from friends, family members, and even their veterinarians. This can be a great starting point as these sources might provide firsthand experience and give an honest opinion about the trainer's methods, behavior with dogs, and effectiveness of the training.

Another common resource is online reviews. Websites, social media platforms, and online directories for dog trainers often provide client reviews and ratings. These reviews can give you a sense of the trainer's reputation within the community and offer insights into their strengths and weaknesses. Positive reviews typically highlight trainers who are effective, respectful, and good at communicating both with pets and their owners.

However, while word-of-mouth referrals and online reviews are valuable resources, they should not be the only factors in your decision-making process. A trainer who worked well for someone else's dog may not necessarily be the right fit for yours. Each dog is unique, with its own personality, learning style, and training needs. Therefore, it's important to dig a bit deeper, consider more nuanced factors, and find a trainer who can tailor their approach to your specific dog and situation.

Looking Beyond the Resume: Certifications and Experience

The first thing many pet owners look at when considering a dog trainer is their qualifications and experience. While these are undoubtedly important factors, it's vital to remember that they tell only part of the story.


A certified dog trainer has undergone a certain level of training and passed a certification exam. This can provide assurance that they have met a standard level of knowledge and competency in the field. However, the world of dog training certifications can be complex and somewhat confusing. There are numerous organizations offering varying levels of certifications, with different requirements and standards.

Some well-recognized certification organizations include the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT), the Karen Pryor Academy (KPA), and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC). However, certification alone doesn't guarantee that a trainer uses the most humane, science-based, and effective training methods.


When considering a trainer's experience, it's crucial to look at more than just the number of years they've been training dogs. Consider the variety of dogs they've worked with in terms of breeds, ages, temperaments, and behavior issues. Also, consider the variety of training areas they've worked in, such as basic obedience, behavior modification, agility, therapy dog training, and more.

While a wealth of experience can be beneficial, the quality of that experience is also vital. It's important to ask questions about their past work, their successes and challenges, and how they've grown and learned as a trainer.

Looking Beyond

While certifications and experience are critical considerations, it's important to look beyond these aspects. The trainer's philosophy, methods, and approach to training are arguably even more important. The following sections will explore some counter-intuitive concepts that can guide you in making the best choice for your dog's training needs.

The Pitfalls of Punishment-Based Training

When it comes to dog training, many people believe that a firm hand and strict discipline are essential for success. This belief has its roots in outdated theories about dominance and the need to establish oneself as the "alpha" in the relationship. However, recent advancements in our understanding of animal behavior and learning have debunked these ideas.

Punishment-based training, also known as aversive training, uses techniques that involve physical corrections, harsh scolding, or discomfort to discourage unwanted behaviors. This might include leash corrections (jerking the leash to give a "snap" on the dog's neck), yelling, or even more controversial tools like shock collars.

While these methods might seem effective in the short-term because they can quickly stop an unwanted behavior, they come with a range of potential pitfalls:

  1. Fear and Stress: Aversive training methods can cause significant stress and fear, which can actually exacerbate many behavior problems and harm your relationship with your dog.

  2. Lack of Understanding: Punishment often doesn't teach your dog what they should do instead of the unwanted behavior. Your dog might simply learn to fear the punishment, not understand the desired behavior.

  3. Risk of Aggression: There is a well-documented link between aversive training methods and aggression in dogs. Dogs might resort to aggression as a defense mechanism when they feel threatened by harsh corrections.

Modern, science-based dog training focuses on positive reinforcement methods, where good behaviors are rewarded, and undesirable behaviors are ignored or redirected, not punished. This approach builds a strong bond based on trust and mutual respect between you and your dog, making training a more enjoyable and productive experience for both of you.

Therefore, when choosing a dog trainer, it's important to look beyond surface-level qualifications and experiences. Instead, focus on their training philosophy and methods, prioritizing those that advocate for positive, reward-based training. It might seem counter-intuitive to forgo the old "command and control" methods, but the science is clear: positive reinforcement is not only kinder, it's also more effective.

Training Your Dog Like a Friend, Not a Servant

While you may have heard the phrase "man's best friend" used to describe dogs, training methods don't always reflect this sentiment. Traditional training often views dogs as subordinates that need to be controlled, focusing on dominance and submission. However, science-based dog training embraces a more empathetic approach, treating dogs as friends, not servants.

Think about how you'd teach a friend a new skill. You'd likely use patience, encouragement, and positive reinforcement. You'd focus on their strengths, forgive their mistakes, and celebrate their progress. This is the kind of relationship that the best dog trainers aim to foster between you and your pet.

Respect-based training recognizes that dogs have their own thoughts, feelings, and preferences. It encourages cooperation between the trainer and the dog, not forced compliance. This approach uses positive reinforcement techniques that reward desired behavior, making the dog more likely to repeat it in the future.

An essential element of respect-based training is giving dogs the freedom to make choices. For instance, rather than forcing a dog to sit, the trainer might encourage the dog to choose to sit by offering a treat or toy as a reward. This freedom to make choices can significantly enhance your dog's learning experience, confidence, and overall wellbeing.

When looking for a dog trainer, seek out those who respect dogs as individual beings with their own unique personalities and needs. A good trainer will respect your dog's pace, celebrate their progress, and help you understand and appreciate your dog's unique personality. Training your dog like a friend, not a servant, fosters a deeper bond, enhances your dog's learning, and makes the training experience more enjoyable for both of you.

Choosing a Trainer: It's Not Just About Price

While it's understandable to consider cost as a major factor in choosing a dog trainer, it's crucial to remember that the cheapest option isn't necessarily the best. High-quality dog training is an investment, and like any investment, the returns matter more than the initial outlay.

Training prices can vary significantly based on the trainer's experience, specialization, and location, among other factors. Group classes are typically less expensive than private sessions, and puppy classes might cost less than behavior modification training for older dogs with serious issues.

However, the price tag doesn't always reflect the quality of the training. A higher-priced trainer might have advanced certifications, extensive experience, or a specialty in dealing with specific behavior issues. Conversely, a less expensive trainer might be newer to the profession but still use science-backed, positive training methods that are effective and humane.

What matters most is the value you get for your money. Consider these questions when evaluating a trainer:

  1. Are their methods humane and science-backed? - The use of modern, positive reinforcement methods is a must. Avoid trainers who use aversive, punishment-based techniques.

  2. Do they have relevant experience and qualifications? - As we've discussed, experience and qualifications matter, but they aren't the whole story. A newer trainer who uses positive methods can be a better choice than an experienced trainer who uses outdated techniques.

  3. Do they offer post-training support? - Training doesn't end when the classes are over. Some trainers offer follow-up support, which can be very helpful for reinforcing what your dog has learned.

  4. Do they include you in the training process? - The best trainers understand that training the dog's owner is just as important as training the dog. They should teach you about dog behavior and training techniques so you can effectively continue the training at home.

  5. Are they a good fit for your dog? - Every dog is unique. The trainer should be willing and able to adapt their approach to suit your dog's individual needs and personality.

In the end, it's about finding a balance between cost and value. Remember that investing in good training early on can save you time, money, and heartache down the road by preventing behavior problems before they become serious.

It's up to you to advocate on your dog's behalf, and find a trainer that will respect both you and your dog. While it might be more difficult than you initially thought, finding the right trainer for your dog is essential in making sure your dog has a long and fruitful life with you.

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