There are dog trainers in every town, every city and sometimes multiple but how do you know which of them you can choose and trust with you beloved dog? And why should you even ask the question?
First of all the question is crucial. Not all dog trainers and experts are equal. There’s an odd epidemic in the dog world, one that still thinks dogs are wolves (not true) and that wolves have a forced hierarchy (also not true) then use that idea to get higher up in the pack than the dog (despite neither of them being wolves and wolves not acting like that anyway). It’s such an established myth that people make TV programs based on using it on our dogs.
It sounds ridiculous because it is. It’s also a one stop fits all solution and we humans love those right? We have busy lives and we like immediate results, so if someone says “I can sort this in one session” we welcome them. But for dog’s sake we shouldn’t.
The internet has given us a wonderful opportunity to learn about dogs, about science, kindness, empathy and positive reinforcement. We now know that the dominator is wrong. We are aware that the alpha roll is ridiculous and nasty. So we look carefully for someone to help us and we hear the warning bells sooner, sometimes though it’s not quite soon enough.
So here’s what to look for in the first instance.
If you want to find a good dog trainer – to grow your dog and build your relationship with them - start with the language they use in their advertising and initial contact. Do they talk empathetically, and ask careful questions? Do they gather information and mention your dog’s emotions? Good trainers, coaches and behaviourists know that the dog has the answers to the reasons behind their behaviour. They know that the behaviour is based on a feeling, a worry even and they work with changing the worry and building the dog’s confidence.
The good ones use positive reinforcement, they will ask about your dog’s food and lifestyle. They will move gently and quietly on your first consultation. They may prefer to observe your dog than interact with them. Observation is key to understanding you see and educated people know this.
The excellent dog professional spends more time with you than your dog. They want you to understand your friend and make your life together easier. Their website talks about positive understanding and reinforcement. Their education is on full display, because they are proud of it and so they should be.
They won’t run huge noisy dog classes with way too many dogs in, they know that these do more harm than good. If they do run classes they are small and focussed, their focus is always on the emotional state of your dog. Neither will they say your dog is out of control, physically force or intimidate your dog and they certainly won’t push your dog into showing the behaviour you are desperate to change. Finally, they won’t use tools that threaten or cause shock/pain to push your dog into behaving differently. They speak directly to the dog’s mind, to change behaviour, not force the worried dog to stop showing how they feel.
Reviews can’t always be trusted I’m sorry to say. When people are taken in and their dog’s behaviour is changed, they may leave a good review. Some electric shock advocates have excellent reviews. People who openly hit dogs have followers who are so invested in them they won’t hear a bad word said against them. If you have ever upset a Cesar Millan fan you know about it.
Read between the lines on reviews. Look for the ones that say, “taught me to understand my dog” and “made our relationship so much happier” and be concerned about the ones that say” changed my dog’s behaviour very quickly” and “taught me to be the boss” if the alarm bells ring pay attention.
So many people accidently find themselves with a bad trainer and before they know it their dog’s trust has been betrayed, their dog has been forced or hit in front of them and they regret it for the rest of their life. Careful research will prevent you being one of them.
Your dog is depending on you to do proper research, to find a true expert and to take care of them. It’s part of the job. So as a recap look at their language, education, skills, manner and movement because each of them speak volumes.