When you realize that Fido is destroying the house in your absence or that Spot’s aggressive behavior towards the mailman is no laughing matter, you think to call a dog trainer for some help. But, how do you go about finding a professional that’s right for both you and your dog? Do you go to the Yellowpages like you’re looking for a plumber or an electrician? Do you talk to friends and family who have had their own share of doggie woes? How do you determine who to hire and if that person is indeed the teacher for you? Especially in such a saturated market as New York City, or even in my Brooklyn neighborhood alone, the choices one has when choosing a dog trainer can make your head spin.
As an educated professional dog trainer it frustrates me that dog training is virtually an unregulated field. This means anyone with minimal dog experience, proper or not, can call themselves a dog trainer, advertise themselves as such, and be invited by you into your home to handle your dog. This can be dangerous, especially if your pup has a serious behavior issue that’s not to be dealt with lightly.
Here are some tips on how to choose the right dog trainer for you:
1) First and foremost, make sure that your dog trainer is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA). Many trainers call themselves “Certified” because they attended a school and received a certificate of completion. Whether or not that school taught old fashioned training techniques that included intimidation and harsh physical punishment, you don’t know.
The CPDT certification is different in that it is independently administered and it tests a trainer’s knowledge in the most up-to-date scientifically proven humane training methods, their training skills, their understanding of dogs and where they came from, and how to effectively teach not just dogs but also their people. Most importantly, Certified Professional Dog Trainers are required to adhere to a strict code of ethics that prevents us from doing things like helicoptering your dog at the end of a choke chain (swinging your dog in the air via their neck) or strapping a shock collar to your dog’s genitals (yes, this has been done by at least one “dog trainer”).
The requirements for becoming a CPDT-KA are rigorous. To sit for the exam, a trainer must have completed at least 300 hours of teaching as the head instructor, as well as submit recommendations from a veterinarian familiar with the candidate’s training style, a colleague, and a client. To maintain the designation, trainers are required to fulfill a number of Continuing Education Units.
The CPDT designation for dog trainers is equivalent to the CPA title for reputable accountants. Sure, you can hire an accountant that’s not a CPA, but wouldn’t you feel safer having one in your court if you were to be audited?
2) Ask questions. Tell the trainer about your dog’s issues and the goals you have set and ask them how they may go about working with you. As a trainer, it’s unethical to give out too much training advice on the phone because every dog is different, but the trainer should be able to prove to you that they at least know what they’re talking about.
3) Be wary of any trainer that tells you that your problem is the result of your dog’s dominance and that you’re not asserting yourself as the alpha dog in the pack. That may be the answer a small percentage of the time, but not all of the time. The truth is even professionals can’t agree on what “dominance” really means, so how do we expect you to understand the concept? Trainers who subscribe to pack theory and use the word “dominance” loosely often are more prone to using traditional, punitive training methods.
4) There are no guarantees in training, so don’t let anyone promise you your dog’s success for life. Can you guarantee a person’s behavior? No. A dog is a living being and their actions and personality are subject to change. Success is also contingent on how much you practice with your dog and if you’re wise about exercising good management techniques. A dog behavior counselor’s real job is to teach you how to train your dog.
4) Make sure your trainer uses predominantly positive reinforcement techniques. They should seek out the things your dog takes pleasure in and use them as motivators when teaching your pup. Techniques that may harm your relationship with your dog should not be used.
Now that you know how to choose the right trainer for you and your dog, don’t let another day go by without calling an expert.