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Dog Parenting 101: Choosing the Right Dog Trainer

Did you recently adopt a dog or puppy? Have you had several dogs throughout your life? Are you a first-time pet parent? Whether you’ve just got your first puppy or adopting your millionth, not every dog is the same. However, what we all experience with each new furry tail that walks through our doors is the same: jumping, barking, chewing, biting, teething puppies, stubborn dogs, lots and lots of potty accidents. Just like our human children, we need to teach our K9 children everything including potty training, general manners, and obedience, or even how to SPEAK (or bark when you want them to). But how do we teach our dogs anything? The best way is to seek out a professional dog trainer!

“But Rudy, how do I know which dog trainer is the best?”

Great question! Choosing a dog trainer can be one of the toughest, yet very important, decisions you’ll make throughout your dog’s life. Since dog training is not a regulated industry, technically anyone can print out business cards and slap on “Dog Trainer” at the end of their name and charge you for their services regardless of background, knowledge, or experience. This is where I want to help you be sure you find the right dog trainer for you and your dog’s needs.

First things, first: Methodology. Not all training methods work for all dogs. You want to look for a trainer whose training methodology works best for you and your dog’s learning style and preferred motivations. The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior recommends training methods that which allow animals to work for things (like food, play, affection, etc.) that motivate them rather than techniques that focus on using fear or pain to punish your dog for undesirable behavior. You want to look for a trainer that primarily or only uses reward-based training while avoiding trainers who recommend the use of physical force, fear, or pain.

“Punishment should not be used as a general first-line approach, instead trainers using punishment should discuss specifically which situations may call for its use.”

Any trainer who uses these methods of training should be able to tell you the potential adverse effects of these methods and be able to teach you how to properly use theses methods when necessary. “Punishment should not be used as a general first-line approach, instead trainers using punishment should discuss specifically which situations may call for its use.” When using punishment, you generally assume your dog always understand what you want from him/her and is willfully disobeying. However, dogs are often disobeying simply because people accidentally reinforce the wrong behavior while not clearly communicating the desired behavior. No one wants to be put in a situation where they are constantly afraid of making a mistake.

You’d obviously want a good teacher. What makes a good teacher? A great dog training instructor should be able to tell you what specific behavior (or cue) you are learning, why it is important to learn and be able to demonstrate the cue or behavior. In group classes, a great instructor would provide you enough times to practice each behavior in class and provide individual assistance for each student. Likewise, an instructor should be able to adapt to each behavior as needed to the individual dog and handler. Class sizes should be small enough for individual attention or have assistants helping teach those behaviors.

A great trainer will also actively seek out and continue his or her education. Why is that important? Our world is constantly evolving; the dog training industry is no exception. An active dog trainer will keep up-to-date with new training theories and methods and may attend workshops and conferences held by industry leaders. It’s always important to be current on any industry standards or trends, why not make sure you and your dog are getting the best education possible?

The best way to get a feel if a trainer is right for you is to ask the trainer if or when they have group classes that you can observe that class. When you see the class in action take a look at how the trainer interacts with his students. Do his human students look like they are engaged and having fun? Do his dog students look like they are enjoying the class and comfortable? Feel free to talk to the students in the class and ask theme questions about that class! They will be the best people to talk about regarding that trainer. If they do not allow you to observe a class, do not be afraid to ask why.

Because of the many variables and the unpredictability of behavior, a great trainer will not guarantee the results of training, however, should be willing to ensure satisfaction. If you have a trainer that claims their methods is guaranteed to be effective for your dog, I’d recommend asking what the methods are and why they are effective. And because behavior is unpredictable, any trainer should be comfortable dealing with problem behaviors like biting and fighting, destructiveness. A trainer should be ready and willing to partner up with your veterinarian to rule out any medical issues. Often many behavioral problems stem from medical disorders that require diagnosis and treatment as part of a behavior modification plan after your pet has been completely assessed. Unless a trainer is a veterinarian, he or she does not have the background to diagnose medical issues, recommend specific medication or to asses the possible risks or benefits of the medication.

Ultimately it comes down to the question: “Do you feel comfortable?” You should feel comfortable doing anything the trainer asks you to do to your dog. If the trainer tells you to do something that can potentially harm your dog, ask them to explain why that technique, what the drawbacks of that technique and how to address those drawbacks if they were to happen. If you don’t feel comfortable you should be able to ask for an alternative method and not have any problem.

There is a lot to consider when choosing the right trainer for you and your dog. Hopefully, this guide will help you find the help you need. believe it or not, training saves live. All too often dogs are relinquished to animal shelters for simple behavioral issues that can easily be solved with basic obedience. So the next time you are shopping at PetSmart in El Centro, feel free to stop by and say hi and ask me any questions. As your Trusted Partner, I’d love to help you find the right fit for you and your dog.

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