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What Is a Good Dog Trainer?

I don’t breed very often but one of the things I like to do is to provide my puppy buyers with some recommendations for finding a trainer for their puppy.  Sometimes I have been requested by family members or friends to provide advice on selecting a dog trainer.

Unfortunately there is no professional accreditation required to call oneself a dog trainer.  Dog training is an unregulated industry.  Unlike skilled trades, there is no apprenticeship required.  Unlike colleges, universities or professional associations, there are neither formal courses nor formal examinations that must be passed.   Selecting a dog trainer is a superb example of “Cavet Emptor” or “Let the Buyer Beware”.

I have taken a lot of courses over the years with a number of our dogs, and have taught classes at my former club.  I have taken classes at obedience clubs, at professional training organizations and I have taken private lessons.  I have had excellent instructors, average instructors and thankfully just one or two mediocre instructors.  So, here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Is the facility easy to locate, with adequate parking?  Is the parking area well lit and in good order?  Do you feel safe if you have to park on the street?  If there is a snowstorm, has the parking area been cleared of snow?
  • Is it easy to enter and exit the building?
  • Is there a designated spot to exercise your dogs?  Are waste receptacles provided?
  • Are there washrooms in the facility?  Is water available if you need to give your dog a drink?
  • Does the facility have adequate lighting and heating/air conditioning?
  • Are there rubber mats or cushion floors to work your dog on?  If you are working your dog in advanced obedience/agility are the jumps/obstacles of regulation size and in good condition?
  • Is there a website that you can use to review the course schedule and course pre-requisites?
  • Are you invited to audit (observe) a class before you make a decision?  Will you meet your instructor(s) before you decide to take a class?
  • Is there an application form that you must submit and sign, including a liability waiver? Are vaccination requirements and payment requirements clearly specified?
  • Are you advised if you have been accepted for a class, either by telephone or email?
  • If classes have to be cancelled due to inclement weather, is there a defined process for advising students in a timely fashion?
  • Do classes start on time?  Is there adequate oversight of dogs that are entering and exiting the building at the same time?
  • Is there a structure to every class?  Are there handouts or homework given at the end of a class? Do you have a way of contacting your instructor if you encounter a significant training issue between classes?
  • Are there adequate assistants if you are in a large class? Do you have a sense that the instructor and/or assistants are “keeping an eye” on any potentially aggressive dogs?
  • Are the instructors constantly keeping their skills “sharp”?  Do they attend seminars to improve their knowledge?  Do they compete in shows on a regular basis?  Are they open to new theories and methods of training dogs?
  • Above all, are the instructors passionate about training?  Do they like helping you train your dog?  Are they willing to accept your decisions about how far you want to train your dog?
  • Do the students and dogs in any classes you observe genuinely seem to be enjoying themselves?
  • And, are YOU having fun in class?

Training your dog can be simultaneously frustrating and rewarding.  It is hard work, especially as you start to train at the advanced levels.  There is nothing so rewarding as taking your well trained dog out in public, having your dog respond to your commands and receiving compliments from complete strangers on what a well behaved dog you have and what a training genius you must be!