THINGS TO LOOK FOR IN A TRAINER
1. Training styles – Dogs are fairly adaptable, and can be easy to train. The fact that there are numerous tactics and techniques to accomplish the same thing is a testament to that. I always advise people to choose a trainer that employs “Reward-Based” techniques. This is to build a positive relationship with you or the trainer without making things worse or causing long-lasting physical or emotional harm. Also, a good trainer will be able to make subtle, on-the-fly, technique modifications for special circumstances. These modifications should still fall under the “do no harm” philosophy.
2. Experience – In order for a trainer to be able to solve your problems or make instant changes to a training solution, they need to draw upon years of experience dealing with hundreds, if not thousands, of cases. Experience handling a multitude of breeds, problems, and scenarios is far more valuable than anything you can get out of a book-worm.
Having said that, there are also many trainers with 20+ years of experience who haven’t taken the time to brush up on the more “dog friendly” reward-based training philosophies. So when inquiring about a trainer’s experience, be sure to ask about their training philosophies along with verifying their experience.
3. Training History – Has the trainer you’re interested in been in business for very long? Has the name on the door been theirs, or were they an employee for someone else, or just bought into a larger franchise*? Trainers who haven’t been in business for themselves for very long have an uncertain background. This isn’t always a bad thing, it just means you can’t determine their overall training reliability if they trained under someone else’s name. Employees come and go, and if someone is new or is a part-time trainer, the risk of “taking your money and running” will be higher than with a trainer who’s been training under their own name for a lengthy period of time.
* Franchise Owners may be great or may be horrible. They are buying into an already established company name, and haven’t established a business name all their own. This doesn’t necessarily mean they are bad trainers. It just means you need to do your research and make sure they know their stuff.
4. Forthcoming – You’ll want a trainer who will quickly disclose their training methods, and prices over the phone. Prices shouldn’t be a mystery, and you definitely don’t want to wait until they put some contraption on your dog to find out you paid for a heavy-handed trainer.
MARKETING GIMMICKS TO BE AWARE OF:
1. “GUARANTEE!!!” – Many trainers offer a “100% Satisfaction Guarantee” as a clever marketing ploy. After all, when comparing a trainer who blasts that statement all over his/ her website and brochures versus one who doesn’t, it’s easy to get sucked in. When you come across the word “Guarantee” make sure you read the fine print, and ask for clarification if you don’t understand something. For some trainers, “Guarantee” simply means “I’ll keep offering you to sit in on my Group Classes until you get tired of coming, and eventually give up and go away”. I’ve also seen it to mean “You’ll only get you’re money back if you can document every second of every training homework you conducted since our first appointment.” Having said that, there are trainers who make it simple and clear what they are “Guaranteeing”. So be sure to ask questions.
2. “FREE!!! In-Home Evaluation” – Here is a marketing strategy to get into your home and lay out their entire song and dance, only to come up with a last-minute price quote for you. Often, their enrollment forms won’t even have typed prices, only blanks that they can fill in with whatever amount they think they can get away with. Kinda reminiscent of buying a Gym Membership at a sleazy gym. Since these trainers don’t quote prices over the phone, you can never be sure you’re not paying twice as much as someone across town simply because you happen to have a Mercedes in your driveway.
Any trainer worth their salt should be able to give you an evaluation with a short 10 – 20 minute phone call. They shouldn’t need to bring their ‘dog and pony’ show to your house.
3. “REVOLUTIONARY!!! Training Style” – Here’s another sales tactic that pops up from time to time. The biggest issue with ‘new training styles’ is that they likely haven’t been evaluated on enough dogs over a long enough period. At this point in their domestication, there are more than enough effective training styles to get a dog to do just about everything we want them to. Stick with methods that are time-tested, and have enough of a following that it’s easy to study up on the pros and cons of that style.
4. “MASTER TRAINER!!!” – This one has been going around for a very long time. There was a time, many decades ago, where trainers came from the military or other structurally established training centers. This was a title of rank amongst the other trainers and handlers. It also denoted a certain level of experience and skill level. Unfortunately, in recent years, it has just become a self-labeled title some trainers give themselves, or perhaps earn through a simple, non-accredited, online test. So when you see a trainer with this label simply ask them how they got the title. Did they earn it at a major training facility, or simply give themselves the title.
5. “DOG WHISPER!!!” – This has to be the most popular sales gimmick in the past decade, thanks mostly to our friendly celebrity TV trainer, Caesar Milan. Along with “Master Trainer”, this too is often a self-imposed title, that countless dog trainers out there have given themselves. It’s become so cliche, in fact, that seeing this unearned title should send you running for the hills. Understanding a dog’s body language, how they think and behave, isn’t as mystical as some would have you believe. It just takes experience to read them quickly.
6. “GEAR DEPENDENT!!!” – While there are several ways to train a dog, the newest trend tends to be by the use of electronics or halters. Now don’t get me wrong, these are tools that should be in most trainer’s arsenal, BUT I would caution you to be wary of trainers who want to make you purchase various gizmos and devices just to do basic obedience. Some tools can be easily turned from a positive device into a punishment device when the handler isn’t using it properly. And quite frankly, strapping devices onto your dog before simpler more traditional methods have even been tried is beyond my understanding. If you have to punish your dog just to TEACH it to Sit and Lay Down, then you may wish to reevaluate whether you should have a dog in the first place.