If you love your dog as much as he loves you but he is just driving you crazy, it might be time to hire a professional dog trainer. Below are some things to consider when you begin to wade through a large amount of very opinionated and often misleading information out there.
First and foremost, there is no such thing as an untrainable dog! We have never worked with a dog that could not improve with training. There are some tough cases out there but if your resolve to train the dog outweighs its resolve to resist, you will prevail. Even dogs who have endured unspeakable cruelty at the hands of humans can be retrained to live in a human home. Before you consider a dog who has a bite or aggression history, you should be sure you are ready for the training and management which are essential for this type of dog (e.g. experienced dog owner, no small kids in the home, proper situational/environmental management, professional training).
Take some time to carefully consider what you want to get out of your dog training experience. There are basically 3 ways to train a dog: using treats (bribing the dog with food), physical methods (using things like alpha rolling, pinning, prong collars and shock collars to coerce a dog to do something or not do something), and communication-based methods.
Do you want your dog to impress your friends and family with cool tricks? My good friend Scott taught his dog to get him a beer out of the cooler, close the cooler and even take the empty to the trash! This got lots of “oohs” and “aahs” at parties and Scott really enjoyed teaching his dog, Shelby, to do this. BUT… it took Scott about a year and some serious dedication to get this done. If you want your dog to do some cool tricks and he doesn’t have any behavior problems, you might consider hiring a trainer who uses treats to get dogs to perform tasks. Agility trainers and the like have successfully taught dogs to do some pretty amazing things using treats as an incentive.
Far too many dog trainers and dog training systems rely heavily on physical intervention to modify a dog’s behavior. Physical intervention can work to resolve many behaviors but keep in mind when you use physical corrections, you also run the risk of creating unwanted behaviors in your furry friend. For instance, if you pin and roll your dog to stop him from answering the door and jumping on people, it might work. Unfortunately, you might also cause your dog to become afraid of humans and he may become aggressive. You may also have trouble with recall as your dog might fear what will happen when he approaches you. The same is true with ANY training using physical means to control your dog so proceed with caution if you go down this path. With respect to prong collars, chokers, shock collars and the like, please ask yourself if you really want pain to be a major part of your dog training program.
Does your dog have serious behavior problems like dog aggression, human aggression, barking, pulling on the leash, charging, nuisance barking, toileting/housebreaking problems or separation anxiety? If so, you will need to work with a dog behavior therapist (many dog trainers are also behavior therapists). These types of dog behavior problems require you and your trainer to address the underlying issues causing the behavior. Here is the good news, it is almost never the dog that is causing the problem! A well-trained behavior therapist will work with you to help YOU learn how to make your dog feel safe and to eliminate the causes of your dog’s behavior problems. Look for a trainer who can teach you the basics of canine behavior and communication. It is important any dog training method include both positive and corrective input for the dog as they learn through a process very similar to how humans would play 20 questions. They only understand right vs wrong or yes vs no. Think of them as always looking for binary input to learn a rule.
Are you committed to training your dog and resolving unwanted behaviors? No matter how good your trainer is, you will need to work with your dog and practice what you learn on your own. If you work with a good trainer, you will change your dog’s behaviors quickly but you must be willing practice to have lasting results.
Do you have clear expectations you can share with potential trainers? Sit down with your family and make a “wish list” of the behaviors you would like to address. Make sure you share the full list with the trainer and the trainer is comfortable addressing all of the issues you raise. This will help to avoid frustration for you and for your dog trainer.
Where do you want to do the training session? The idea of sending your dog somewhere and getting back a new shiny model without any behavioral issues is a great concept but it is generally not a realistic one. Dogs are pack animals and YOU are your dog’s pack and you need to become their LEADER in order for it to feel safe and calm. If you want to have a happier home life with your dog, at least some portion of the training should take place in your home.
Go with your gut. When you interview trainers, trust your instincts. If the trainer is pushy or your dialogue feels uncomfortable with respect to personality, training methods, pricing or for any reason, keep on looking. There are lots of trainers out there.
It goes without saying these days but reviews matter. Check each trainers reviews on their website and on sites like Google, Yelp, Facebook, NextDoor, etc. Its also worth seeing if the trainer has video content to share so you can see before and after results, client testimonials, etc.
Find out what type of guarantees the trainer or their company offer. If you don’t see results, do you still have to pay? Many trainers will agree to waive their fees if you don’t see results during your first session or two. What is their support guarantee after the initial sessions? What if your dog has new problems in the future, or a quelled problem resurfaces? How will they help (phone, video or live support etc)? How does moving to a new address effect any guarantee a trainer may offer?
Last but certainly not least; Will it be FUN?? Training your dog should be a blast. Find a method that makes you feel like smiling when you practice.
I hope you find these tips helpful. Finding a dog trainer can be a daunting task with so many options to choose from but if you do your research, the field will narrow and your choice should be clearer. Good luck!