While we love dogs dearly, we have to face it – they sometimes do things that make us nuts! Behaviors such as pulling on the leash, not coming when called and jumping on guests can leave dog parents frustrated and feeling helpless. Have no fear – a dog trainer can help! But how do you choose a dog trainer? That’s the tricky part!
Unfortunately, the dog training industry is highly unregulated. This means that anyone can call themselves a dog trainer and post an advertisement online, even if they’ve never held a leash before. Similarly, many people use outdated techniques that can contribute to increased anxiety and behavioral fallout down the road. We’ve outlined what to ask and look for when choosing a dog trainer in Connecticut. The decision is a personal one and will be different for every family and dog. With these tips as a guide we hope you’ll feel more confident making that decision.
What are their methods?
The MOST IMPORTANT thing you should know about a trainer is their methodology and training philosophy. Recent research and the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior agree that positive-reinforcement training is the best and most humane way to modify canine behavior. Positive reinforcement involves rewarding your dog with something they really enjoy – a tasty treat, a favorite toy or praise – when they get a behavior right and not using aversive techniques.
Aversive techniques are anything that cause an animal pain, stress or discomfort. Think of a pop on a leash, an e-collar or rubbing a puppy’s nose in its accident (something you should never do, by the way!). While dog owners and handlers may see behaviors change more quickly with these techniques, the dog is responding to pain, discomfort and fear instead of learning what they should be doing in that specific situation. This can cause anxiety and further behavioral problems in the long run.
“Balanced trainers” advertise the use of both positive reinforcement as well as punishment. It is important to discuss all of these methods to ensure they are things you’d be comfortable applying to your dog. While he or she is not human, they are a living, feeling creature. Jean Donaldson, founder of the Academy for Dog Trainers, explains it very well in this video.
Ask the trainer these three questions and if you’re at all uncomfortable or skeptical, find a different trainer:
- What exactly will happen to my dog when she gets it right?
- What exactly will happen to my dog when she gets it wrong?
- Are there any less invasive alternatives to what you propose?
The techniques a dog owner is comfortable with is a very personal decision. RCO Pet Care believes in science based, fear-free, positive reinforcement methods. Not only do these methods get results but create happy dogs and will deepen the human-canine bond along the way!
What is their education and experience?
The lack of regulation in the industry makes this one tricky! There are many different routes someone can take to be a dog trainer. These are the questions you should ask:
How long have they been training?
Some trainers are naturally more experienced than others because they’ve been doing it longer! If they are a newer trainer, more emphasis should be placed on recent educations and certifications (more on that soon!).
What kind of training do they do?
From basic puppy manners to obedience trials and dog sports, there are endless types of training to get involved in. You may want to find a trainer that specializes in what you’re looking for. For example, if you want your lab to become a prize-winning bird dog, a trainer that specializes in puppy manners may not be a good fit!
Where did they learn how to train?
There are many routes you can take to get an education in dog training. Research the school or program the dog trainer graduated from to learn more about the methodologies and philosophies behind it. You can also learn about the contents of the program. Are there exams? In-person requirements? Hands-on experiences? A commitment to certain training methods? Other trainers may have been self-taught and/or apprenticed under another local trainer. You can ask about their learning process and the methodologies used.
Are they certified?
Many schools and programs will provide graduates with a certification upon completion. There are also independent efforts being made to regulate the dog training industry. The Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers and International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants are great examples. They provide logs of experience as well as a commitment to the LIMA principle – least intrusive, minimally aversive.
What continuing education to they participate in?
Science is continuously changing and teaching us new things. Staying on top of the latest developments to make training more effective and pleasant for the dogs in our lives is crucial. What is the trainer doing to make sure they stay up to date? Continuing education with reputable, science based trainers (think the Karen Pryor Academy, Jean Donaldson and Ken Ramirez) and programs or the Fear Free organization are great signs!
What formats of training do they offer?
Training is typically offered in three different ways. You will want to make sure the trainer offers what you’re looking for. Group Classes – Group classes are a great option for puppies and dogs looking to work on socialization and basic manners. You will typically meet once a week for around 6 weeks and learn new skills at each class. It will be crucial that the skills learned are practiced at home! Private Sessions – Private sessions may be held at the trainer’s facility, your home, or wherever is best for your particular behavior issue. The frequency of sessions will depend on the trainer and your dog. It will be crucial that skills are practiced at home. Board and Train – Board and train involves your dog going to the trainer’s home or facility for weeks to months depending on the behaviors you’d like to work on. At RCO Pet Care, we feel it is crucial for the pet parents to be a part of the process every step of the way. You and your dog are a team and the training process will instill confidence in both of you. However, a board and train may be useful for someone who is traveling or does not have time to dedicate to their dog’s training. It will be EXTREMELY important in this case to vet your dog trainer carefully as you will not be there to advocate for your pet. It’s also important to make sure the trainer includes you in some sessions to show you the cues they use with your dog. If your dog knows behaviors but you don’t know how to ask for them, there’s no use!
What are their policies?
A professional dog trainer should have policies put into place for payments, scheduling, cancellations and required vaccines. Make sure these are something you’re comfortable agreeing to and that they fit your life!
What happens after the training?
Are behaviors guaranteed? What if you have questions? There are excellent things to establish with a trainer before signing up for a program. Some trainers will offer virtual support for the life of your dog. Others will allow you to text them as questions pop up. Find an arrangement you’re comfortable with.
Are they insured?
Dog training can be risky business. Ensuring your trainer is insured can protect your dog and home in the case of a bite or an accident.
Do they have an online presence?
Most professional dog trainers will have a website and online presence. Check this out to see what they are posting and reviews of what clients have to say. If they don’t have any public reviews (which would be strange in this day and age) consider asking for testimonials and references.
Choosing a Dog Trainer in Connecticut is Not Impossible!
It is our hope that the dog training industry will become more regulated over time for the sake of dogs everywhere. Until then, choosing a dog trainer in Connecticut can be tricky but not impossible! Research into the trainer’s methodology, education and past client experiences will prove invaluable in finding the right person to help transform your relationship with your dog. If anything about the conversations you’ve had makes you uncomfortable, treat it as a red flag and move on. You’ll find the right fit! The most important piece of being the best dog walkers and pet sitters in the Greater Waterbury area is our dedication to our clients – both two-legged and four-legged. We are constantly tweaking, learning and improving based on your needs and feedback. Our team is fully dedicated to providing you with an outstanding customer experience and your pets with the safest, most compassionate care possible. This is what sets us apart more than anything we can do in the office! Our dog training programs will be launching in 2021! To get on the waitlist and to learn how RCO Pet Care can help you with your dog walking and pet sitting needs in the meantime, check out our services, contact us or call us at (203) 641-2428. If you’re outside of our service area we’re happy to help you find a reputable, professional pet care provider. We’ve got your tail!