Dog training is truly an art form. It takes time to develop the sense and skill to augment or change behaviour in a dog.
As someone whose vantage point has been from inside the dog training world for nearly 18 years now, I believe the best training services are those that focus on the individual dog owner. Your job as leader, companion and protector is to make the best decision possible. Whittle down your choices when it comes to choosing who helps you. Make a short list. Treat them as though you’re casting director for your new big budget picture. It’s that important.
Start by asking questions about method. Many dog training hobbyists as well as big box corporate entities promote one particular genre of dog training. Their body of knowledge may be limited to a single way of doing things, or in the case of larger companies designing a cookie cutter program limits corporate risk and makes information easier to disseminate to many staff trainers.
I’ve never met a dog trainer that doesn’t like to hear the sound of their own voice, so let them speak and listen very carefully. After they’ve told you about how you should go about training your dog over the phone, ask questions related to methods that opposes their preference. For example, if they believe in food rewards or “touch free” dog training, you might ask for their opinion on slip using slip chains or pinch collars. Or, if you are told a person should ony ever use a particular method, ask their opinion on what should be done if that approach doesn’t work for their dog
Follow up any explanation by asking, “Why”? If the answer you get is a stale “because” based purely on ethics or feelings, then you are most certainly dealing with an amateur. A professional will always take the time to articulate both the positive and negative aspects with any method or approach. Most importantly, a professional can carefully weigh the do’s and don’ts based on the individual factors present in each case. Someone who is very polar in their views may be suffering from a very limited frame of reference. A lack of experience may be difficult to deal with down the road. Training your dog is about finding balance. Look for balance in the answers you receive from people when deciding, and you’ll likely get what you’re looking for from your dog in the end. Keep an open mind. Even if you don’t understand the content fully, you’ll likely be OK.
In my opinion, Dog training worth paying money for comprises 3 things; Realism, Relevancy, and Pace.
Here are a few of the main points to consider when looking for a dog training professional:
1. Call Everyone & Beware of “Dog Gods”
(promising miracles or unconditional guarantees)
Never settle for the first person you speak with. Those that actually answer the phone, or return within a short period should be given a check mark. This often means they are taking their services seriously. Is this enterprise part time, or is this the person’s full time job? Great question, please ask. Make repeat calls if necessary to ask follow up questions. After you’ve had time to digest a cross section of what’s been said, any professional worth their salt welcomes the opportunity to clarify. If they appear overly defensive about a particular view before meeting you and your dog, then move on.
Beware the dog gods. Never be drawn in by those who promise to deliver you the world. I call these people “Dog Gods” because If someone tells you they’ll do all the work while your on vacation in the south of France, they’re selling you on convenience. Dogs are not cars that go in the shop on Monday and come back working again a few days later. Most of these gurus can demonstrate results, but how long will those results last once the dog settles back into your unique lifestyle? If someone video tapes their results for you, be advised this is nothing more than insurance against a complaint your dog no longer does what was promised. Let’s roll the tape…
Focus on services that stress the importance of the owner in the process. A commitment from the real trainer (you) is always the first thing that matters.
2. Home Visits vs. Group Sessions
Many people struggle whether to have help at home because they’ve heard their dog needs to be socialized with other dogs. Understand that socialization is an important part of a dog’s life, but be clear about what the term is not. Socialization is not random play with other dogs. It doesn’t just happen naturally without assuming a lot of risk. After all, this is the animal world, and if left to their own avails dogs can be quite harsh at times. (Almost as harsh as humans)
The socialization dog owners unwittingly refer to has more to do with learning acceptable behaviour by the human standards than by dogs’.
Taking your dog to classes is an artificial environment where dogs exist in various levels of concentration. Depending on the setup there can be socialization value in group sessions, however you still must learn to apply this in the real world. If the sum of your learning and support takes place within the confines of a training arena, who is going to be there to help when you go for your first real walk around the neighbourhood?
A common observation from dog owners is their dog seemed to do very well in the group class setting, but faltered once they went home. The world your dog lives in can be the ideal place to learn because the subtleties and life’s unpredictable events will present themselves while you have a professional on hand. You as the dog trainer can learn to deal with things first hand. No transition required. Group sessions are limited because they are structured around the business side of dog training. More people through structured classes per hour translates into higher returns for the business owner. When speaking with proprietors of group sessions, be sure to ask how much personal attention you’ll receive. Combine that with other considerations such as how far you’ll have to travel, the duration of each session, options for missed classes, support between visits, and how many other dogs will be dividing up the instructor’s time.
A single 3 or 4 hour home visit can often help, but usually benefits the business side of dog training. In fact, these practices contradict most adult learning principles with respect to attention span and retention of information (not to mention your dog’s attention span). Look for a service that focuses on giving people the time they need at a flexible pace. Remember, you are learning as the dog is learning. Make sure the scheduling of appointments is based on a variety of factors, the most important being individual progress. If its a weekly timeline, is there an option to delay sessions for any reason? In addition, ask about what kind of support you’ll receive between sessions and after service. If you have a question how long may it take to get answered, or is there even the options to ask questions along the way?
The biggest attraction to group sessions over home visits is the perception they cost less. Be careful, without speculating on effectiveness, most outfits offering group sessions structure their courses so you’ll enrol in several levels along the way. Starting with puppy and moving through levels 1,2,3,4 might cost as much, or even more than one program designed to give you what you need. Typically with group sessions, you’re paying more for less.
3. Lifetime Guarantees
Any guarantee that promises unlimited return visits at no additional cost is a big claim that should be carefully scrutinized. Small print usually warns that you must have followed the trainer’s instructions, or given an honest effort to have a trainer come back without paying. Is it the trainer’s decision whether you have followed instructions, or your own? You may feel that you have followed directions, but what if the trainer doesn’t – no unlimited visits? You can satisfy whether this is a legitimate claim by asking for references to support any guarantee of unlimited visits. Also, it will afford you the opportunity to get an appreciation of how many “unlimited” actually turned out to be for those people. Don’t pay much attention to written testimonials on websites or other marketing materials. I would encourage people to focus more on what the services actually involve, and worry less about what they promise to give you down the road.
4. Franchised & Big Box Dog Training Programs
Be sure to always inquire about the individual experience level of any dog training prospect, but in particular, any franchised dog training or big box program. One common franchise company has a 23 day “intensive” program they provide their franchisees. That means your average florist can go from marketing themselves as a darn good florist, and 23 days later they can also claim to be a competent professional dog training consultant. I’ve personally The parent company often markets impressive claims of experience of the company as a whole, but you’ll have a tough time finding the individual experience level of it’s individual franchise owners. In either case, the franchisee or big box trainer is bound to train a certain way and may not be legally able to deviate from the program even if they wanted to!
Good luck in your search for a dog training professional, and in all your dog training endeavours.