If you’re a fan of dog-training videos and follow training stars on TV, you probably have a lot of information on training techniques and problem solving. However, when it comes to selecting the right trainer for your dog, the task may be more challenging than you think.
Selecting the Perfect Trainer for Your Dog
- Education and Certification: The first thing you need to know about this field is that it is largely unlicensed and unregulated. Anyone who has some education, knowledge or experience (or none at all) can profess to be a “dog trainer.” There are certification programs run by organizations like the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers, International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, International Association of Canine Professionals etc. But certification is not a mandatory requirement. It’s largely a matter of Caveat Emptor (Buyer Beware) when you set out to find a good dog trainer. However, it’s good to know that someone has taken the effort and spent time and money to gain knowledge in the subject.
- Goals: You need to be clear about what your training goals are. This depends on your dog’s age, background and the issues you face. If yours is a puppy then you need a particular type of training. Other types of training include behavior modification, obedience training, rehabilitation etc.
- Ethics: Select a trainer whose methods, values and philosophies are in sync with your own. You may not agree with negative reinforcement techniques, using choke-collars, aversive techniques, electric shocks, leash-corrections, alpha-rolls, prong-collars etc. Select trainers who use reward-based, highly effective, ethical and compassionate methods.
- Stay Involved: Unless the trainer believes that he/she needs alone time with the dog, it’s best to select a trainer who allows you to be part of the process. You can ask to watch the first few lessons right through to satisfy yourself. Ensure that the trainer practices what he/she preaches – they may theorize or give verbal assurances, but could do something completely different in reality. This way you also get to assess the trainer, training and your dog’s responses.
- Private sessions or Class: For very young dogs, a puppy training class is the best way of ensuring that they experience socialization and companionship. This makes them friendlier and more at ease around other dogs and people. They get lots of play time in a safer environment. Just make sure that there are no adult dogs in this class – that’s a strict No-no. For adult dogs, obedience training is more effective on a one-on-one basis, though the presence of well-behaved dogs can provide the occasional reinforcement. Canine Good Citizenship certification courses and other advanced courses are great conducted in groups. If your dog is highly reactive, it’s best to start off privately, with socialization being introduced in small doses. Private trainers would prefer to visit your home to conduct classes because they can observe the dog in its natural environment.
- Kindness and Courtesy: Whatever the program you choose, it’s important that it’s conducted with kindness and courtesy as the cornerstones. It’s important that the trainer treats the pet parents with courtesy, respect and dignity. Many trainers work on the basis that the dog owners are really the problem and not the pet itself. This means that you feel guilty, disheartened, at fault and resentful. Ultimately, it spills over into your attitude and behavior towards your pet. Rudeness and dominance methods are out-dated – avoid such trainers. On the other hand, you also need to respect the rules and suggestions given by the trainer and return the courtesy and kindness.
- Visit the Vet First: Before signing up for any class, consult your vet first. Ensure that your dog doesn’t have any medical or health problems. Some behavior problems could have an underlying medical condition, or the dog may be in pain. Rule these out beforehand.
- Stand Up For Your Dog: Remember your dog trusts you and has put its life in your hands. If you’re unhappy with training methods or the way it progresses, speak up! You have every right to call a halt. Some trainers claim to use positive-reinforcement techniques but may later introduce aversive-techniques. Take charge of things early on.
Of course the right trainer is somewhere out there – it’s just a question of finding him/her. Don’t ignore your gut instinct – if you feel things are not OK, walk away immediately. Training helps us develop the right relationship with our pets. The right trainer can facilitate a long, joyful and enriching companionship with your pet.
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