Thursday, June 9, 2016

How to Choose a Dog Trainer

How do you find a really good dog trainer? Many of them sound appealing, after all, their job is to market themselves. Anyone selling their services is going to have success stories and client testimonials as well. So how do you tell the difference between "My dog is so well behaved now (because he's afraid to do anything at all so he just sits there)!" and "My dog is so well behaved now (because he has a solid and consistent history of reinforcement for good behaviors)!"

Sometimes the best solution is just management.

You may be surprised to learn that anyone can call themselves a dog trainer. There is no license, there is no mandatory certification. Anyone in the world can make up their own theory of training out of whole cloth and market it without ever even touching a dog, if they feel like it. There exists optional certification, I have a CPDT-KA from the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. However, this certification is not common knowledge amount the average dog owner. Some dog training schools provide their own certifications, but these aren't exactly objective or widely recognized.

My personal method of evaluating another dog trainer is to find out if they have put any performance titles on their own or client dogs. Anyone can sell their services as a dog trainer, but earning a performance title requires you to get up in front of other dog trainers and demonstrate your skills.

The higher the level of titles a trainer has achieved, the more knowledgeable they are likely to be. The more sports or activities they can show achievements in, the more knowledgeable they are likely to be. I'm sure one could earn a Canine Good Citizen title via highly punitive shock collar training or tons of leash corrections. An high level agility title? Definitely not.

My own dogs have low-level titles in herding, lure coursing, and trick training, which at least means I have been exposed to the dog training community and am probably not just making stuff up. I've had a lot of success working through behavioral issues with my own dogs as well as client dogs, but a trainer using force-based methods could make the same claim if they've managed to repress issues well enough. I am continuing to compete with my dogs, and eventually hope to have some more impressive titles, but at least I've put some effort into proving my skills to knowledgeable dog people and not just average members of the public.

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