When I say our dog trainer helped change our lives and drastically improved my relationship with Shiva, I am not exaggerating. I highly doubt I would even have started this website if it hadn’t been for the advice she gave. I would be too exhausted. With a dog like ours, with as many issues as she had, the right trainer was crucial. I only regret waiting as long as we did to find her.
Honestly, we got lucky with our choice. We could just as easily have gone with somebody else who may not have understood our needs and our lifestyle. Back then, I had no idea what to look for. It’s not a decision that should be made lightly. That’s why I thought I should put a list together to help those still searching.
Things to Look For in a Dog Trainer
An Appealing Website
I know I may spend more time on the Internet than the average person, but I think a majority of people now search for most of their products and services on the web. When was the last time you opened a phone book? Therefore, every good trainer should have a clean website that outlines who they are and what they are about. I think you can get a good feel for someone’s personality based on how they present themselves online. It’s an important first impression.
Here are a few examples:
Notice a big difference? I am sure you have already formed opinions after a few clicks. In this case, I’d trust your instincts. A dog trainer, at least a good one, will become an important part of you and your dog’s life. If you don’t like them online, when they are working to show their best side, you probably won’t like them off.
Genuinely Cares About Dogs
After dealing with so many negative reactions to the wild behaviour of my new rescue dog, I was pretty nervous to invite a stranger into my home. The thing that struck me from the moment our trainer walked through the door, is that she actually liked my dog. She was the first person not to recoil or look at me like my dog was a monster. Instead she cared about my dog’s comfort and didn’t move any further than Shiva could handle. Prepared with a bag of treats she knelt down and took the time to help Shiva relax. She didn’t even seem to think my dog’s barking was that bad. If anything, she seemed excited at the opportunity to work with her.
Communicates in a way you understand
A good trainer knows it usually isn’t the dog that needs the most help. It’s the human. If a dog trainer is not able to offer suggestions or explanations that make sense to you, that’s a problem. You are the one who is going to be doing the bulk of the work. Your trainer should be able to offer advice that fits your lifestyle. They shouldn’t go off on scientific tangents to explain why your dog likes to eat pop if all you care about is keeping said poop out of your dog’s mouth. Remember, you are the one paying them for their time. You don’t want to waste it. A good trainer is able to answer your questions, no matter how silly they may seem.
Sense of humour
It may just be me, but I feel a lot more comfortable around someone who can laugh. Dogs are pretty goofy. A good trainer should be able to appreciate that. I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t smile. Especially when that person works with puppies for a living. Can you say dream job? If they don’t seem to enjoy what they are doing, that’s a pretty big red flag.
Validates your concerns
When our trainer first came by our house it was late October and I was unreasonably panicked about Halloween. I knew Shiva was going to freak out every single time a child knocked on the door. I knew it was going to be a huge disaster and I worried constantly as they day approached. Even though I had kind of gone off the deep end, our trainer didn’t look at me like I was insane. She understood my concerns and agreed it was important to have a strategy. Her advice not only relieved my worries but it actually turned what could have been a nightmare of an evening, to one of our earliest successes. I still look back on that Halloween with joy.
Methods Match Your Beliefs
A good trainer should never make you do something you are not comfortable with. The reason you hired her is to help you communicate better with your dog. If you ever feel like what you are doing is causing your dog stress, you need to speak up. A good trainer knows that pushing a dog further than he is capable does more more harm than good. She also knows what stress signals to look for in your dog. If you don’t think your trainer’s techniques match what you are prepared to replicate yourself, and your trainer doesn’t validate these concerns, it may be time to part ways.
This is a tough one. Good trainers rarely come cheap. Everyone has a budget and everyone has a limit of what they are able to pay. Good dog trainers understand this and they will do their best to come up with a schedule that works for you. Many also offer discounts to owners of rescue dogs. Our trainer charged a specific amount per home visit. She was only supposed to stay an hour but she ended up hanging around for two. After the initial visit, we could email her at any time with questions, no charge. We ended up only needing the one visit.
If you have friends with dogs who have hired trainers, ask them what they thought. Word of mouth recommendations are just as important as good websites. Check in with your local shelters or rescue organizations. They usually know who all the positive trainers are in your community. Many vet clinics often host obedience classes and may be a good place to ask advice. I never would have even thought of contacting a trainer to come to our home if it hadn’t been for a recommendation I received from someone during a company barbecue. I ended up going with somebody else, but that conversation inspired me to look. If people you respect like a certain trainer, chances are you will too.
Does your dog trainer have a dog with similar issues to yours? Does he get it? One of the things that set me most at ease was when my trainer not only wasn’t afraid of Shiva, but told me she had several dogs at home much worse. She knew what I was talking about because she had been there herself. It made me feel less alone.
Lack of judgment
I had several fears about hiring a trainer. My first was that she would tell us we were already doing everything we could. The second was that she would tell us we were horrible owners and that we should re-home our dog. Fortunately, she did neither. When I explained everything we had tried, she didn’t judge us for making mistakes. She didn’t roll her eyes or scold us for using techniques we had seen on television. She listened without judgment and kindly explained why our attempts had not worked. The alternatives she suggested not only helped but also fit in with our lifestyle. She didn’t expect us to take Shiva on four-hour walks and she didn’t berate us for having to work outside the home. There was no picking through our toy box or finger wagging about letting our dog on the furniture. She didn’t stand there and list all of the ways we were doing it wrong. A good trainer is kind to people as well as to dogs.
Of course, the most important question is:
Does your dog like your trainer?
I try to have faith in my dog’s instincts. If Shiva doesn’t like someone, it’s pretty useless to expect her to work with him. If your trainer isn’t able to develop a relationship with your dog, no matter how much you may like her, it might be a sign you need to find somebody else.
I hope this has been of some help. As with everything else in the dog world, a dog trainer doesn’t have to be perfect. In my opinion, it’s not even necessarily about finding the best dog trainer in the world. It’s more important to find a person you can work with. The right trainer for my family might be the one to drive you and your dog crazy!
What do you look for in a dog trainer? Did I leave anything out? Are you as lucky as I am to call yours a good friend? Do you have any horror stories to share? I’d love to hear your thoughts!