Choosing A Pet Trainer

by Paul Konrardy

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!

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What type of training does my pet need?
    There are many different types of training specialties: obedience, agility, protection, tracking, hunting, herding, search and rescue, therapy, hunting, herding, flyball, etc.
  • How involved do I want to be in the training process?
    Options include individual (one-on-one) training sessions and group classes as well as obedience schools where you send your pet to get trained without you.
  • What is my budget?
    According to Angie’s List, the cost of dog training can vary widely, depending on if the trainer charges by the hour or has a package of multiple sessions.
  • What is my availability?
    What hours/days are you able to drop off/join your pet for training? Do you need evenings or weekends?

Make a list of possible sources for referrals.

  • Your vet – he or she might have some referrals or suggest waiting until your pet has reached a certain age or size and had all the proper vaccinations.
  • Family, friends, neighbors and co-workers – if they have pets, they can provide some referrals and tips.
  • Breeders, animal clubs or local animal shelter – they may have trainers they have used or can recommend.

You can also look in local and online directories. The American Kennel Club has several different types of training programs.

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

Do some preliminary research, either by phone or online.

  • Where is the practice located?
  • Will it be easy for me to get there from both home and work?
  • Are the training sessions at times that are convenient for me?
  • Is the trainer or obedience school accepting new clients?
  • Is the trainer familiar with my breed of animal?
  • What types of training is available?
  • How soon are those classes available?
  • How many classes are in a series? How many weeks/months is the series?
  • What is the breakdown of services and fees?
  • How do I pay: per session or per series? In cash, by check and/or credit cards? Are payment plans available?
  • If I need to cancel because of an emergency, do I still have to pay for the session?
  • Will I need to purchase any training equipment?
  • Are discounts available for senior citizens or multi-pet households?
  • Does the organization or trainer hold ‘open houses’?
  • Do I need to bring proof of vaccination or other important records with me?
  • If I am taking part in the training, how involved will I be?

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.

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

Visit the Trainers

Take notes while at the facility to help you later evaluate the facilities and the trainers.

If you bring your pet with you to visit trainers, you may need to bring along the following documents about your pet:

  • Adoption papers
  • Medical history
  • Registration papers (if you have them)
  • 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.

Have your pet leashed and wearing a collar (if bringing a cat, use a carrier) and any other necessary training equipment as requested by the trainer.

The Facility

Take a tour of the facility and consider the following aspects:

  • Does it feel safe and inviting?
  • Are the rooms clean and in good shape?
  • Are there any unpleasant odors?
  • Are toys and equipment sanitized daily?
  • Do the other dogs and owners seem to be enjoying themselves?

Ask the following questions of the owner or manager:

  • Does the facility have liability and other necessary insurance?
  • Can the owner provide a list of references of past clients that I can contact?
  • Is there an option for private as well as group sessions?
  • Are there different levels of training (beginner, intermediate, advanced) or training for young animals as well as older ones?
  • How many animals are in each session? How many sessions are there?
  • Am I required to participate in the training?
  • Are lesson handouts available?
  • What is the range of services that you provide?
  • During what hours and under what circumstances can I speak directly with the trainer?
  • What do I do if my pet is sick?
  • What do I do if there is an emergency?
  • What is the facility’s safety practices in case of an emergency or natural disaster?

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

The Trainer

The Association of Professional Dog Trainers recommends choosing a trainer who:

  • Provides a clear explanation of each lesson
  • Demonstrates the behavior(s) that students will be teaching to their dogs
  • Provides clear instructions and written handouts on how to teach the behavior(s)
  • Gives students ample time in class to begin practicing the day’s lesson
  • Assists students individually with proper implementation of techniques

WHN TIP – Nice, Not Nasty. Choose a trainer who employs humane training practices and uses positive reinforcement (food, attention, play, or praise)

Ask about the trainer’s qualifications and background:

  • The type of educational programs or courses that were taken. (Note: if they are certified, ask for a copy so you can contact the certifying organization to verify.)
  • Membership in any training organizations such as the National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors or the Association of Professional Dog Trainers.
  • The years of experience training pets
  • The kind of animals the trainer owns
  • The trainer’s familiarity with your animal
  • The type of training methods the trainer uses

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

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

After the Visit

Once you’ve left the facility, if you think of something else to ask, don’t be afraid to follow up to get your question answered.

Then evaluate your training session experience.

  • Was the trainer helpful, courteous and knowledgeable?
  • Did the trainer really listen to my questions and answer them in a way that I understand?
  • Did the trainer take the time to explain his/her methods?
  • Was the trainer respectful and considerate to me and my pet?
  • Did the trainer ask me questions?
  • Did the trainer seem rushed or was the trainer attentive and willing to spend time with me and my pet?
  • 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, says Debbie McKnight, PetSmart Area Trainer for the West Texas District. “The phrase ‘use it or lose it’ applies to dogs as well! 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?”

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

Photo Credit: Unsplash

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