There are a few super important things you’ll want to know before hiring a dog trainer.
My family used one dog trainer whom we felt was a bit odd. Later I discovered she had gone completely overboard and wouldn’t return a dog to its owners due to “its bad behavior”. (What!!!???)
Believe me, I went through a lot of dog trainers before finding the one dog trainer that was able to immediately end Blanco’s innocent but painful and dangerous zooming episodes where he would nip my arms and knock me down.
This was only after time consuming and expensive dog training sessions that were often negative experiences for both me and Blanco with several different dog trainers.
All of these experiences taught me the questions I need to ask before hiring a dog trainer one in the future.
The truth is as dog owners, we’re entrusting dog trainers to train the dogs we love so much, and to teach us how to train our dogs and be with them over the years ahead.
–Dog training lays the foundation for our long term relationship with our dogs.–
So, when you hire a dog trainer, it is sort of a big deal.
The good news is many dog trainers offer a free consultation for new clients where you’ll have a chance to get all your questions answered.
But, understandably, many dog trainers don’t provide consultations. Therefore, we’ve also addressed how to get the information outlined below about the trainer when this is the situation.
What specific things do you need to know before hiring a dog trainer?
You’ll find that information below. It’s what I wish I had known before hiring those previous dog trainers that didn’t work out so well!
Dog training method used
The first and most important thing you’ll want to know before hiring a dog trainer is what type of dog training method they use. There are different schools of thought when it comes to training dogs.
The two most obvious core principles are positive vs negative reinforcement. Dog trainers may use one or both of these training approaches when working with dogs.
Most dog trainers, however, lean toward one or the other overarching approach of positive or negative reinforcement.
Some experienced dog trainers will tailor the training method to the dog and the problem, however. At Pooch, we love to see this.
Positive reinforcement is an approach that focuses on rewarding desired behaviors while ignoring unwanted ones. It’s based on the idea that your dog will want to repeat behaviors that lead to rewards such as treats or toys.
On the other hand, negative reinforcement is based on you providing negative responses after negative behavior.
Training methods with negative reinforcement
A common method of negative reinforcement that dog trainers use is with an eCollar. These collars provide a mild electric shock to correct bad behavior.
One of the main questions you’ll want to ask any trainer you’re considering is whether an eCollar will be used
The use of an eCollar may not necessarily rule out all dog trainers that use them, depending on your feelings about eCollars, and your dog’s issues.
The question I learned to ask is under what circumstances an eCollar will be used in the training.
For example, does the trainer use an eCollar for obedience training, or only use an eCollar to stop biting, attacking other dogs, or other dangerous behaviors?
Another negative reinforcement method is using a can that sprays air when your dog has unwanted behaviors.
Training methods with positive reinforcement
Giving a dog treats is the most common form of positive reinforcement used in dog training.
Other forms of training include clicker training, where a device emits sound when pressed; if pressed during specific moments while teaching commands, this can help to reinforce your dog’s good behavior.
Each dog trainer has a different approach to training, and you’ll want to know what a trainer’s main approach is before hiring them.
Dog training qualifications
Certain qualifications and training can be very helpful if not mandatory, depending on your dog’s issues. Therefore, be sure to ask any potential dog trainer about their education and certifications.
- Have they completed any professional certifications?
- Are they members of any professional organizations?
- Have they attended continuing education courses or workshops recently?
- Did they train using a certain method?
- Did they work under a particular trainer?
These are all questions that will give you a better sense of whether this person is qualified for the job at hand—and if so, what kind of results they can provide for your dog.
In our extensive research here at Pooch and Harmony, we’ve seen dog trainers that have attended over fifty dog training events and hold multiple certifications!
This tells us these dog trainers take their training very seriously, and that their heart is in their work. We love to see dog trainers that clearly love their work like this!
Experience training dogs
Obviously, the more experience a dog trainer has, the better.
Ask the trainer how long they have they been training dogs, and where they got their start.
You’ll want to consider your own dog’s training needs when it comes to the trainer’s experiences, too.
For example, maybe you’re training a service dog. Then seek out a trainer with many years of service dog training.
We understand everyone has to start sometime, but we love to see dog trainers with many years if not decades of of experience.
Having written this, my favorite dog trainer was a retired executive who hadn’t been training dogs for many years.
He did, however, rank high on the next dog trainer qualification I seek: heart.
A dog trainer’s heart
The dog trainer that finally broke Blanco’s zooming issue had recently retired and returned to his childhood love of dogs. This was evident in his work.
Find out what is in the dog trainer’s heart.
Is dog training just a job to make ends meet?
Or has the trainer dedicated their life to dog training?
Here are some examples of dog trainers we’ve seen here at Pooch that clearly have their heart in training dogs.
- They’ve trained dogs in rescue shelters for years
- They’ve trained dogs in the military
- They constantly uplevel their credentials
- They volunteer with dog rescues and service dog organizations
- They attend ongoing events and dog trainer programs
Visit with your potential trainer and get to know if dog training is in their heart. If it is, this will be reflected in their work. Plus, your dog will know it and respond to them better.
Dog trainers with specific experience
Ask the dog trainer about experience training dogs with your specific needs.
Almost all dog trainers are equipped to handle basic puppy training and basic obedience.
If your dog has aggressive behaviors, then seek a trainer with credentials or experience training aggressive dogs specifically.
Entirely different skills are needed when it comes to training an aggressive dog vs. a precious little puppy, as you can imagine.
You may even be able to find a dog trainer who has experience working with your dog’s breed, since various breeds have specific natural tendencies.
Many dog trainers are trained as dog behaviorists who specialize in behavior issues.
If possible, ask for a few success stories from clients who had similar issues to your dog’s problems. This information can often be found in the testimonials on their website or by asking the trainer during the initial consultation.
Thanks to social media, reviews are often plentiful and easy to find. Dog owners tend to be great about sharing information that will help other dog owners.
Observe a training session
As with any service provider, it’s always nice to see the dog trainer in action before hiring them.
You can’t really evaluate a trainer’s skills and personality from a website or even in an interview; it’s very helpful to see how trainers interact with both dogs and owners.
When looking for a specific type of training, such as service dog training or hunting dog training, observation is even more important.
If you can’t attend a live session in person, visit their website and see if you can watch videos of training sessions online.
You’ll want to look for the following things:
- Does the trainer seem like they know what they’re doing?
- Is the dog responding well?
- Is there a rapport between the trainer and the dog?
- Do the dog and trainer seem comfortable with each other?
- How is the trainer interacting with the owner(s)?
- Are there many corrections or praise used during sessions?
- Are there long periods of time between corrections by the trainer—or are corrections frequent throughout each session?
- Is the trainer only “blaming or shaming” the owner, as sometimes happens?
A training observation will tell you a lot that you’ll never pick up from a conversation.
Structure of dog training
The next thing to know before hiring a dog trainer is the training structure they offer.
Do they offer group classes, private lessons, or both?
If they offer group programs and this is what you want, ask if they limit class size.
Make sure they offer the specific type of training (obedience training, service dog training, etc.) in the structure you’re seeking.
Note that most dog trainers won’t do aggressive dog training in groups, or will only allow very small groups for training aggressive dogs for obvious reasons.
Another option that many dog trainers offer is board and train. This allows trainers to have extended time with your dog, as your dog will stay at the training facility, usually in a kennel.
Board and train is common with more intensive programs, such as aggressive dog training or gun dog training.
You should also inquire about how much time the training will take—and what exactly it entails, whatever the structure.
Dog training sessions typically last between 15 minutes and an hour each week; that depends on how severe your dog’s behavioral issues are and what type of training approach (positive reinforcement versus negative reinforcement) is used by your trainer.
One thing I learned in the many dog training programs I did with Blanco is that dog training is mentally fatiguing for dogs.
A 15-minute session may mean it’s time for a break, depending on the type of training you’re doing.
A 10 minute training session learning to sit might be tiring. On the other hand, many dogs, including Blanco, could easily enjoy a lengthy field training session playing hide and seek in the woods because they are naturally geared toward field hunting.
Working with dog owners
Ask if the trainer will also work with you as the owner to improve communication with your dog.
Most trainers help their clients develop a communication style that works for them and their dog, rather than simply giving advice. By doing so, the trainer ensures that both owner and dog are on the same page when it comes time to implementing new behaviors in the home and around town.
The reality is that we dog owners need training as well.
For example, I was taught to look into Blanco’s eyes whenever possible when giving commands. Then I learned to praise Blanco when he looked into my eyes for guidance.
Now, he always looks at my eyes for guidance. This communication method was learned in my group dog training classes. It’s both rewarding and effective, but something I wouldn’t have naturally done without my own training as a dog owner.
In essence, as the dog owners, we are the trainers day in and day out. As such, you’ll want a dog trainer that’s eager to work with you.
Dog training insurance
One of the most important (and often forgotten) things to ask about before hiring a dog trainer is insurance. You’ll want to make sure the trainer carries insurance for their dog training business before hiring them to work with your dog.
After all, trainers, dog owners and dogs sometimes get hurt during dog training sessions, particularly during group training programs.
Cost of dog training
Another important question to ask is the cost of dog training services. This will be critical in determining whether a trainer is a good fit for you and your budget.
In fact, it may be smart to ask the cost of their dog training as the first question, since this can be a make or break situation.
You can also inquire if there is any flexibility in their fees, or if you can save money by being only in group programs.
Group programs are typically much less expensive than private lessons, since dog trainers can scale their time in group programs.
Group training programs also have the advantage of improving your dog’s social skills while also lowering the cost of dog training.
Who does the dog training?
You should also ask who will be training your dog. Some small dog trainers have a busy workload and hire additional training staff to help them out.
Once Blanco and I showed up at a group class with the specific trainer I had selected who had been working with us previously. Then a new trainer we’d never met was teaching the class.
Of course, this can work either way, but you’ll want to ask ahead of time if one or multiple dog trainers will be teaching.
Note that most dog training schools have multiple trainers. Also, these trainers all have different skills, so you can apply the earlier suggestions about credentials and background to specific trainers within the organization.
Therefore, multiple trainers aren’t necessarily a disadvantage. I tend to like using the same dog trainer for consistency, however.
Does your dog like the trainer?
Finally, if you’re able to have an initial consultation, be sure to note your dog’s behavior and reaction to the trainer.
Notice how they act around each other, and if they seem to connect. Blanco makes it clear when he doesn’t like someone, and your dog probably does, too.
If you think about it, it’s really amazing that our dogs provide us with information they’re sensing when we aren’t sensing it at all with our human capabilities.
After all, it’s often said that dogs are the best judges of character!
When you cannot have a consultation
We get it. You’re busy and dog trainers are busy people, too. Many dog trainers don’t offer consultations and understandably so, especially for group programs.
And group programs work for more budgets than private training sessions.
Plus, nowadays, quality dog training programs are recorded and provided online, so there is no live engagement at all.
Whatever the delivery method of the dog training, you can probably get most if not all the information about a dog trainer that’s listed here from their website.
Be forewarned, however, in our research we’ve seen some obviously amazing trainers with very minimal and dated websites.
And we can even appreciate this; a dog trainer doesn’t need to have a great website to be a great dog trainer.
In fact, sometimes we’re a little cautious about the dog trainers that appear to be focused more on marketing and publicity than on dog training.
Note that often times, trainers without a fancy or current website can be reached via phone or email so you can ask these questions before hiring them. You can usually find their contact information on their website. Such trainers often have plenty of “word of mouth” business, and that’s a great sign.
Lack of a fancy website is just fine with us. We’re not looking for techies or marketers, we’re looking for qualified dog trainers that love training dogs.
On the other hand, dog trainers providing online vs local training usually have tons of information about the program, the trainer and their methods.
And we have no objection to this either as online courses are usually budget friendly, convenient and can be excellent. Many dog owners live in remote areas, have very busy lives, immobility, or other issues that prevent them from being able to attend local dog training courses.
Finally, if you’re calling a local school to hire a dog trainer, let the receptionist know you’d like a few minutes to ask questions. Then ask if she is the person that can answer your questions, or if you should speak with someone else.
Training your dog is sort of like parenting in that you don’t know what you don’t know until it’s over. Hopefully, this post has clarified what you’ll want to know before hiring a dog trainer to support you through this important endeavor.
It was written from the heart of a dog owner that has participated in many dog training programs with various trainers and for various needs.