In the dog training world, there isn't any specific qualifications and achievements you have to do to qualify you as a dog trainer. Most dog trainers will do some basic courses on dog training, behaviour and psychology and then shadow other trainers to get some hands on experience and learn first hand from someone already in the business. So how do you know if the trainer you are looking at actually knows what they are doing and can help? Well there are a few easy things you ca do like research them like mad, look at their clients reviews and speak to people who know them or have worked with them to get a first hand opinion on their training. This will give you a pretty good picture of the person or company you want to work with and whether they will work with you and your dog but you also have to remember that what people say or write isn't always accurate.
One of the best ways though to find out what this trainer's training abilities are like is to meet them and more importantly - their dogs!
A dog trainers dogs are the product of their training capabilities and the success their training methods have. If a dog trainers dogs misbehave and can't follow basic instructions it's a good sign that your dog also won't be able to carry out the training practices also.
Here are some things to observe when meeting a dog trainers dogs:
1. Can their dog follow basic commands?
Does their dog sit, lie down and carry out the commands asked by the trainer? Do they do it first time or do they just do it in their own time? Do they just ignore the trainer and do their own thing? If a dog trainers dogs don't respond well to them, that's a good sign that they won't be able to teach you how to get your dog to respond to you.
2. Are they generally happy and sociable dogs?
Now if you're working with a dog trainer who specialises in behavioural cases the likelihood is their dogs will have had behavioural issues at one point and won't be perfect. However, if the trainer has had the dog for a long time and they still have issues like dog aggression, people aggression, barking excessively or have anxiety then there is a big red flag there! A trainers dogs should be generally sociable towards people and dogs and be generally happy, calm and relaxed in most situations.
3. How long have they had the dogs for and did they have behavioural issues when they got them?
Linking in with the above point, if they work with dogs with behavioural issues there is a high chance they will have dogs with a rich history like we do! How long have they had them? What were there issues? What are they like now? Do they still have behavioural problems? Most behavioural problems shouldn't take years to train out of a dog, especially for a good behaviourist. If they have had the dog for years and been working on the same problem for years with little to no results, there's a big red flag. Even for some of the highest aggression cases we have worked with it has taken a maximum of 2 months for us to overcome the behaviours and another maximum of 4 months to help the owners to achieve the same goals. 6 months for a high end aggression cases full rehabilitation is a pretty good ball park, anything more and i'd be concerned that the trainer or the methods simply aren't working.
4. Do their dogs recall?
Now this is a great indication of a trainers capabilities as I have only met a very small handful of people who don't want their dogs off lead. Everyone wants to see their dog off lead, running around and having fun but the big thing to look out for is whether the trainer can recall their dog. It's all well and good seeing the dogs happy and playing but a trainer should be able to teach a dog a solid recall, even with distractions like other animals and people around. Do their dogs recall first time? With distractions around? Or do they just ignore them and carry on playing or chasing things?
5. Do they let you meet their dogs?
If a dog trainer doesn't let you meet their dogs - red flag! Even those of us who don't like lots of people always stroking our dogs are more than happy for people, clients especially, to meet our dogs and see them in action themselves so they can see our training through the best recommendations we have - our own pooches! If a trainer won't let you meet their dogs, there is probably a reason and it's probably not a good one. I have yet to meet a trainer who doesn't take their own dogs on sessions for clients to see and meet.
6. Do they have their own dogs?
A dog trainer who doesn't have dogs is like a mechanic that doesn't have a car. Training dogs is a lifelong commitment only people who own dogs can understand fully. Someone who doesn't have their own dogs cannot truly understand what it is like to live with a dog and train a dog every day for it's entire life. I'd be very concerned if a trainer didn't have dogs and would be seriously asking why. Most dog trainers train dogs because they love them and want to help dogs and people. If they don't have a dog of their own, i'd be asking why not? Again, I have yet to met a trainer who doesn't have their own dogs.
When choosing a dog trainer, keep in mind that whatever you see the trainer do and say or the behaviours their dog do or don't do is a good picture of what your training journey with them will be like. If you like what you see - great! They are probably the trainer for you! If you aren't sure on anything, ask questions and if the answer makes sense and you understand why they are doing something or not doing something then that's great too. If you don't like what another trainers dogs are doing or not doing or don't like what the trainer does or says - they may not be the trainer for you.
There are tons of different dog trainers out there who have different methods, different standards and different training results. If you don't like one, don't panic! Keep looking until you find someone you like and see results with. No one likes to waste their time and money and if the dogs you see aren't doing what you want to achieve or are doing what you don't want your dog to do - it's time to look for someone else who can help you and your dog reach the goals you want to achieve!