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2014 Best Of

Training Articles

Choosing the Best Trainer for you and your dog

by Maureen Haggerty

Have you recently gotten a new adult dog or puppy? Or, perhaps you’ve had your dog for a while now and you are still putting up with annoying habits that won’t go away? Either way, it is time to think about training.

Training is a great way to strengthen the relationship between you (and your family) and your dog. And, no dog is too old to learn new tricks. Whether you join a training class or hire a trainer for private sessions, you are the one that will be receiving the training, so it is important that you find a trainer with whom you will enjoy working.

There are over 100 dog trainers in the Twin Cities. How do you narrow down the number to call?

First, ask friends, family and coworkers if they can recommend anyone. A good trainer gets a lot of referral business from word-of-mouth. Search the Internet, the Yellow Pages, and of course, TC Dog, to find a trainer in your area. Start your search by choosing locations that are convenient for you, and then expand your search geographically if you’re not getting good results in your backyard. Once you’ve narrowed down your selection, it is up to you to make first contact by calling or emailing each school.

Make sure you are able to talk to the specific instructor who will be teaching the class you will take. The instructor should be easily reachable and seem eager and pleased to answer your questions. It is important to be able to reach your trainer easily in case you need extra help in between classes. You want to make sure the trainer’s methods are positive, motivational, and reward-based. But do not simply ask about his or her techniques outright, as interpretation of these terms may vary.

Here are a few questions to ask:

“How do you teach a dog to lie down?”
Her response should entail luring the dog into position with a treat or in some other motivational manner. She should not mention pulling on the collar or pushing down on the dog’s shoulders to force the dog into position, even if praise or treats are provided afterwards.

“What do you do if my dog won’t comply?”
Again, avoid trainers who say “He will,” or “a simple jerk of the leash will get him down.” A positive, motivational trainer will show you how to take tiny steps towards your goal and will also consider whether your dog may be nervous or have a physical ailment which may be limiting his abilities.

“What training equipment is necessary for the class?”
Avoid training which requires or encourages the use of choke or prong collars. Most dogs are able to be trained easily with their buckle collar. Leashes should be used to simply keep your dog with you, not for jerking. A head halter is another humane tool that can benefit some dogs that are extra exuberant in classes.

“May I get the names and numbers of former students?”
Be wary if the instructor does not allow you to contact past clients.

“Do you provide written handouts for students to refer to at home?”
It is almost impossible to remember each of the exercises you are taught each week and how, exactly, to practice them. Make sure handouts are part of your class curriculum.

“Can you guarantee results?”
Be wary of any trainer who guarantees results. Every dog is a unique individual and will respond to training differently.

If you are pleased with the trainer’s responses, then it is time to watch the trainer in action. Make sure you can observe a class run by the actual instructor you are considering. Some schools have several instructors, and their personal styles, and methods may vary. Here are some things to look for:

  • The instructor should seem friendly and approachable to both the people and the dogs.
  • The class should be lighthearted and fun, encouraging people and dogs to work at their own pace.
  • The dogs should appear happy with the training tools and methods used by the instructor.
  • The instructor should demonstrate each exercise and then give the students sufficient time to practice with their dogs. The instructor should watch each student individually and assist where needed.
  • The “commands” should be given in an upbeat voice.
  • The class size should be limited. You should observe all of the students getting individual attention.
  • Training techniques should never involve yelling, choking, shaking the scruff, jerking the leash, alpha rolling (forcing the dog onto its back), or any action that frightens or inflicts pain on the dog.
  • Does the instructor provide for both shy and fearful dogs as well as rowdy or reactive dogs, providing them with the additional space they require?

By following these guidelines, you should be able to find a great trainer that is capable of meeting your needs. Joining a positive, motivational dog training class with an instructor that fits your style means that you and your dog will enjoy training and your relationship will be strengthened. Training will help your dog develop into the wonderful family companion and member of our community that you know s/he can be.