Finding the right trainer is one of the most important things you’ll do for your dog and your family. I’ve compiled a list of things to ask, look, and listen for when you’re interviewing trainers. Aversive, harsh methods are proven to be harmful and ineffective in training. (reference) You should to listen for words like “correction” ,”discipline” (code for punishing), and “balanced” (a mix of aversive and positive reinforcement techniques).
Ask a trainer about their experience with your particular concerns. If your dog is two years old and still not potty trained, ask about the trainer’s previous success and failures related to house training. If your dog pulls hard on the leash, ask about previous experience and equipment used to train loose leash walking. Ask if there is a difference between loose leash walking, or if the dog should heel at all times and why. Know the answers you want to hear before you start asking questions. If the dog’s nose is rubbed in an accident, know that the trainer is using fallible, aversive methods. Likewise, know that dogs should be taught loose leash walking before they can advance to the very difficult “heel”. Pinch, prong, e-collar, shock collar, or anything other than a buckle or martingale collar is something to shy away from, but be aware that every tool can be used aversively if the trainer isn’t careful. Ask to see how a martingale is fitted (two fingers should fit under the collar when it is tightened), or how a head collar is used. Never allow your dog to be trained in a poke, pinch, prong, e-, or shock collar. If you’re not sure what questions or answers you need to hear, give us a call or shoot an email our way. We’ll tell you which methods should be used to address your concerns and then you can go interview trainers (or just hire us!)
Science has debunked dominant and forceful methods of training (alpha dog theory debunked). Trainers should use lots of rewards, including but not limited to food, toys, play, verbal praise, and petting. Force free and positive reinforcement trainers do not use aversive devices like choke chains, prong collars, shock collars, or other pain-inflicting tools. R+ (positive reinforcement) trainers do not “punish”, “correct”, or “discipline” dogs. We use extinction theory (more info here), differential reinforcement, and redirection to increase desirable behaviors until there is no room for undesirable behavior.
Look for a trainer who uses both hand signals and verbal commands to increase your dog’s chances of comprehension and success. Ask about “luring”, “shaping”, “capturing”, “classical conditioning”, and “operant conditioning”. If a trainer cannot explain to you what these methods are, they aren’t using science to train your dog.
If you’re considering boarding your dog, ask if you’re welcome at the facility at any time. (The answer should be yes.) Ask about the trainer’s ability and policies concerning socialization and safety of your pet. Ask where your dog sleeps. Ask where your dog spends his day. Ask how many times the dog is trained during the day (with the understanding that every interaction with a dog is something from which the dog will learn). Ask about the trainer’s access to and use of veterinary services. What happens in an emergency? What does the trainer know about CPR for dogs?
Trainers should be entirely transparent in their methods. If a trainer ever tells you that you are not welcome to participate, question, observe, or otherwise be involved in your dog’s training, don’t walk, RUN AWAY.