Choosing a Pet Trainer

Whether it’s puppy kindergarten or show dog or cat training, a great trainer can make a world of difference. But not every trainer can be a “dog whisperer” either!

Here’s tips from pet owners and trainers themselves on choosing a trainer:

Getting Started

  1. Start a folder or notebook to keep records of your research.
  2. Evaluate your pet’s training needs and your options.
  3. What hours/days are you able to drop off/join your pet for training?
  4. Consider your budget. What can you afford to spend?
  5. Ask people you know -
    • Ask your veterinarian for referrals. They might make a recommendation to wait until your pet has reached a certain age or size and had all the proper vaccinations.
    • Ask family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers for recommendations.
    • Also ask breeders, animal clubs, or local animal shelter.
    • You can also look in local and online directories.

    WHN Expert Tip: Sit, Spot, Sit!

    Ask owners of well-mannered dogs where they received their training.
    - Martin Deeley and Karen Palmer, International Association of Canine Professionals

Find the Trainer Right for You

There are many different types of training specialties including obedience, agility, protection, tracking, hunting, herding, search and rescue, therapy, hunting, herding, fly ball, etc. There are also individual training sessions (one-on-one), group classes, as well as obedience schools where you send your pet to get trained without you.

Narrow down your choices with phone calls. Here is a “starter list” of questions to help your search:

  1. Where is the practice located?
  2. Will it be easy for me to get there from both home and work?
  3. Are the training sessions at times that are convenient for me?
  4. Is the trainer or obedience school accepting new clients?
  5. Is the trainer familiar with my breed of animal?
  6. What types of training is available?
  7. How soon are those classes available?
  8. How many classes are in a series?
  9. How many weeks/months is the series?
  10. How much is all of this?

    WHN Expert Tip: Average Costs

    Costs can range anywhere from $30-$75 an hour, depending on where you live – Humane Society of the U.S.
  11. Does the organization or trainer hold ‘open houses’?
  12. Do I need to bring proof of vaccination or other important records with me?
  13. If you are taking part in the training, ask how involved you will be in the training.

Once you have narrowed your choices, make an appointment to meet with the trainer or visit a class. You may want to visit several before making a final selection.

Let’s Visit Trainers!

Consider bringing a pen and paper to jot down notes and answers to the advice below to help you evaluate the facility and the trainer.

Bringing Your Pet?

If you bring your pet with you to visit trainers, you may need to bring along a copy of your pet’s:
  1. Adoption papers
  2. Medical history
  3. Registration papers (if you have them)
  4. Vaccination history

    WHN Expert Tip: Spill the Beans

    Mention any medical or behavioral problems (i.e. thyroid problems, food allergies, aggression, separation anxiety, etc.)
    – Debbie McKnight, PetSmart Area Trainer for the West Texas District.
  5. Your pet’s leash and collar.
  6. Bring any other necessary training equipment as requested by the trainer.

Facility

Remember to look around the facility. Ask if you can take a tour.

  1. Does it feel safe and inviting?
  2. Are the rooms clean and in good shape?
  3. Are there any unpleasant odors?
  4. Are toys and equipment sanitized daily?

The Trainer

The Association of Pet Dog Trainers recommends to look for a trainer that will:
  1. Provide a clear explanation of each lesson.
  2. Demonstrate the behavior(s) that students will be teaching to their dogs.
  3. Provide clear instructions and written handouts on how to teach the behavior(s).
  4. Give students ample time in class to begin practicing the day's lesson.
  5. Assist students individually with proper implementation of techniques.

Qualifications

  1. What type of education programs did you attend?
  2. Are you a member of any training organizations such as the National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors or the Association of Pet Dog Trainers?
  3. How many years of experience do you have?
  4. What kind of education does the training staff have?
  5. Do you have liability and other necessary insurance?
  6. Do you have a list of references of past clients that I can contact?

WHN Expert Tip: Trainer Certifications

There is trainer regulation so anybody can claim they are a dog trainer. Find out education qualifications and experience levels. After getting the credentials, check them.
- Debbie McKnight, PetSmart Area Trainer for the West Texas District

Teaching Practices

Ask the trainer questions about their teaching practices.
  1. Does the trainer employ humane training practices and use positive reinforcement (food, attention, play, or praise)?

    WHN Expert Tip: Training Styles

    Ask for details regarding their method and teaching styles. If they won't tell you or use vague terms, consider going somewhere else.
    - Debbie McKnight, PetSmart Area Trainer for the West Texas District
  2. Do the other dogs and owners seem to be enjoying themselves?
  3. What kind of animals does the trainer own?
  4. Are they familiar with your animal?
  5. What training methods do you use?
  6. Do you offer private sessions as well as group sessions?

    WHN Expert Tip: Specific Issues

    If you have a specific problem with your dog, ask trainers how much experience they have had with the problem.
    - Martin Deeley and Karen Palmer, International Association of Canine Professionals
  7. Do you have “puppy” training classes?
  8. Are there different levels of training (beginner, intermediate, advanced)?

    WHN Expert Tip: Share Your Goals

    Pet owners should share the goals they hope to accomplish in training. The training should fit the Pet owners’ goals - not the trainer's goals.
    - Debbie McKnight, PetSmart Area Trainer for the West Texas District
  9. How many animals are in each session? How many sessions are there?
  10. Am I required to participate in the training?
  11. Are lesson handouts available?
  12. What is the range of services that you provide?
  13. During what hours and under what circumstances can I speak directly with the trainer?
  14. What do you do if a pet is sick?

    WHN Expert Tip: Close Attention

    Not all dogs and owners can be trained to the same performance standard in the same length of time. Look for trainers who offer to make time for students who need extra attention.
    - Martin Deeley and Karen Palmer, International Association of Canine Professionals
  15. What do you do if there is an emergency?

    WHN Expert Tip: Help Me

    When you do choose a trainer, program and/or class, be sure to bring in emergency contact info.
  16. What are your safety practices?

Cost and Payment

  1. Do you have a breakdown list of services and fees?
  2. Am I responsible for purchasing any training equipment?
  3. How do I pay you?
  4. Do you offer payment plans?
  5. Do you offer discounts for senior citizens or multi-pet households?

After The Visit

After you leave and you have forgotten to ask your trainer or staff something, don't be afraid to contact your trainer and get your question answered.

Ask yourself the following questions to evaluate your training session experience.

  1. Was the trainer helpful, courteous and knowledgeable?
  2. Did the trainer really listen to your questions and answer them in a way that I understand?
  3. Did the trainer take the time to explain their methods?
  4. Was the trainer respectful and considerate to me and my pet?
  5. Did the trainer ask me questions?
  6. Did the trainer seem rushed or was the trainer attentive and willing to spend time with me and my pet?
  7. Would I prefer this trainer to be the primary trainer for all my pets or should I select different trainers for each pet?

Trust your own reactions when deciding whether this trainer is the right one for your pet. If you aren’t comfortable with the trainer or their methods, consider finding another instructor.

Also remember that you may want to give the relationship some time to develop. It takes more than one visit for you and your trainer to get to know each other.

Keep up with the training. You’ll have to keep practicing!

WHN Expert Tip: Follow the Program

Don't pick and choose which parts of the instruction to follow. If you’re unable to practice it as presented, be honest with your trainer and they should be able to come up with an alternative.
- Debbie McKnight, PetSmart Area Trainer for the West Texas District

“The phrase ‘use it or lose it’ applies to dogs as well!” says Debbie McKnight, PetSmart Area Trainer for the West Texas District. “Once trained, [remember] the dog won’t be reliable 100 percent of the time. Humans aren't reliable 100 percent of the time... how can we expect the dogs to be?”

Updated: 5/2009