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Searching For a Dog Trainer? Here Are Some Important Things to Consider Along the Way
Dog training is truly an art form. It takes time to develop the sense and ability to increase or change behavior in a dog.
As someone whose vantage point has been from within the world of dog training for nearly 18 years now, I believe that the best training services are those that focus on the individual dog owner. Your job as a leader, companion and protector is to make the best decision possible. Narrow down your choices when it comes to choosing who helps you. Make a short list. Treat them like you’re the casting director for your new big-budget picture. It is so important.
Start by asking questions about the method. Many dog training hobbyists as well as large corporate entities promote a particular genre of dog training. Their 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 it easier to distribute information to many staff trainers. .
I’ve never met a dog trainer who doesn’t like to hear the sound of his own voice, so let them talk and listen very carefully. After they’ve told you how to train your dog over the phone, ask questions about methods that conflict with their preference. For example, if they believe in food rewards or “no-touch” dog training, you can ask their opinion about sliding using sliding leashes or snap collars. Or, if you’re told that a person should only ever use a certain method, ask for their opinion on what to do if that approach doesn’t work for their dog.
Follow each explanation by asking, “Why?” If the answer you get is a stale “because” based purely on ethics or sentiment, then you’re probably dealing with an amateur. A professional will always take the time to articulate both the positives and negatives of any method or approach. Most importantly, a professional can carefully weigh the dos and don’ts based on the individual factors present in each case. Someone who is very polar in their views may suffer from a very limited frame of reference. Lack of experience can be difficult to deal with along the way. Training your dog is all about finding balance. Look for balance in the responses you get from people when you decide, and you’re sure to get what you want from your dog in the end. Keep an open mind. Even if you don’t fully understand the content, you’ll likely be fine.
In my opinion, dog training worth paying for involves 3 things; Realism, Relevance and Pacing.
Here are some of the key points to consider when looking for a professional dog trainer:
1. Calling all and beware of the “dog gods”
(promising miracles or unconditional guarantees)
Never settle for the first person you talk to. Those who actually answer the phone or return within a short period should be given a token. This often means they are taking their services seriously. Is this a part-time venture, or is this the person’s full-time job? Great question, please ask. Make follow-up calls if necessary to ask follow-up questions. After you’ve had time to digest a cross-section of what was said, any professional worth their salt welcomes the opportunity to clarify. If they seem overly protective of a certain look before meeting you and your dog, then move on.
Beware of the dog gods. Never fall for those who promise to set your world free. I call these people the “Dog Gods” because if someone tells you they’ll do all the work while you’re on vacation in the south of France, they’ll sell you easy. Dogs are not machines that go to the store on Monday and come back to work a few days later. Most of these gurus can demonstrate results, but how long will these results last after the dog returns to your unique lifestyle? If someone videos their results for you, be aware that this is nothing more than insurance against a complaint that your dog no longer does what was promised. Let’s spin the tape…
Focus on services that emphasize the importance of the owner in the process. A commitment from the real coach (you) is always the first thing that matters.
2. Home visits versus group sessions
Many people struggle with whether they should have help at home because they’ve heard that 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 casual play with other dogs. It doesn’t just happen naturally without taking a lot of risk. After all, this is the animal world, and if left to their own devices, dogs can be quite fierce at times. (Almost as tough as humans)
The socialization that dog owners unwittingly refer to is more about learning acceptable behavior by human standards than the dogs.
Taking your dog to classes is an artificial environment where dogs exist at different levels of concentration. Depending on the setup, there can be value in socializing in group sessions, however you need to learn to implement this in the real world. If the bulk of your learning and support happens within the confines of a training arena, who will be there to help you when you go for your first real walk around the neighborhood?
A common observation from dog owners is that their dog seemed to do very well in the group class environment, but faltered after they went home. The world your dog lives in can be the ideal place to learn because the subtleties and unpredictable events of life will emerge when you have a professional around. You as a dog trainer can learn to deal with things first hand. No pass required. Group sessions are limited because they are structured around the business side of dog training. More people through structured hourly classes translates into higher profits for the business owner. When speaking with group session owners, be sure to ask how much personal attention you will receive. Combine this with other considerations such as how far you will need to travel, the length of each session, drop-in options, support between visits and how many other dogs will be sharing the trainer’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 go against most adult learning principles regarding attention span and information retention (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. Ensure that appointment scheduling is based on a number of factors, the most important of which is individual progress. If it is a weekly time frame, is there an option to delay the sessions for any reason? In addition, ask what kind of support you will receive between sessions and after the service. If you have a question, how long might it take to get an answer, or is there an opportunity to ask questions along the way?
The biggest attraction to group sessions over home visits is the perception that they cost less. Be careful, without speculating on effectiveness, most outfits that offer group sessions structure their courses so you’ll sign up at several levels along the way. Starting with a puppy and moving through levels 1,2,3,4 can cost as much or more than a program designed to give you what you need. Usually with group sessions, you are 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 considered. Small print usually warns that you must have followed the trainer’s instructions or made an honest effort to get a trainer to return without paying. Is it the coach’s decision if you followed the instructions, or yours? You may think you’ve followed the instructions, but what if the trainer doesn’t – no unlimited visits? You can satisfy yourself that this is a legitimate claim by asking for references to back up any guarantee of unlimited visits. It will also give you the chance to get an estimate of how “unlimited” actually turned out for those people. Don’t pay too much attention to written testimonials on websites or other marketing materials. I would encourage people to focus more on what the services actually include and worry less about what they promise to give you down the road.
4. Franchise and Big Box dog training programs
Be sure to always ask about the individual experience level of any dog training prospect, but in particular, any franchise dog training or large programs. A common franchise company has a 23-day “intensive” program that they offer to their franchisees. This means that your average florist can walk away marketing themselves as a very good florist, and 23 days later they can also claim to be a competent professional dog training consultant. I personally have The parent company often trades impressive claims about the experience of the company as a whole, but you’d be hard-pressed to find the level of individual experience of individual franchise owners. In either case, the franchise or big box trainer is bound to train a certain way and may not legally be 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 endeavors.
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