How to Pick a Dog Professional

Any one can call themselves a dog trainer.  There is no National Certification to be a dog sitter or dog trainer. Anyone can (and will) call themselves a dog trainer even if they have never taken 1 class on dog training. I know because I did it!

When I first started dog sitting, I also said I was a dog trainer because I would, in fact, teach your dog basic behaviors such as walking nicely on a leash or how to sit. I was even teaching a foster dog to open the fridge!

There are plenty of videos and books out there to self-teach yourself, but how you are you supposed to tell the difference when everyone qualifies themselves as “Dog Trainer”?

It wasn’t until I went through an actual program for dog training, that I realize how much more there is to dog training.

If you read the previous blog post about Why I Became a Dog Trainer, you’ll know I made mistakes picking a Dog Trainer for the first time.

Don’t make the same mistakes I made.  Below are some questions that you can ask potential dog professionals so you don’t leave your dog in the wrong hands:

  1. How long have you been working with dogs?
  2. Where did you learn how to train dogs?
  3. Describe the experience you have with my specific breed.  Or what are some specifics related to my breed?
  4. What tactics do you use to train?  And why did you choose these tactics over another?
  5. What do you do if my dog doesn’t respond to what you’re asking?
  6. How long will you train my dog per day?
  7. How can you tell if my dog is making progress?
  8. How long will it take my dog to learn XYX?

Most Importantlymeet the specific people who will interact with your dog.  Trust your instincts.

Great, you have the questions. Now what?

Read how I answer these questions and some watch-outs to look for in others responses:

How long have you been working with dogs?

I grew up with dogs but it wasn’t until I started fostering dogs in 2004 that I started to learn how to formally train them.  I fostered many different breeds and work with a local rescue to help other foster parents train their dogs. In addition, I started dog sitting in 2012, which I have since expanded to Professional Dog Training.

Where did you learn how to train dogs?

I started to learn how to dog train by taking classes with a local rescue organization and I paid for agility lessons for my dog. In the beginning, I watched a lot of videos and read about it. When I decided to take my training to the next level, I became a Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner (KPA CTP).

Watch-out – There is nothing wrong with self-taught. But self-taught people should still be able to refer you to a book, video or technique they use. Trial and error with the dogs is not enough in my opinion. 

Describe the experience you have with my specific breed.  Or what are some specifics related to my breed?

Obviously, this answer will vary.  You’ll want to look up some basic information about your dog’s breed so you can tell if the professional you are speaking with is familiar.  Research your breed here.

What tactics do you use to train?  And why did you choose these tactics over another?

Positive Reinforcement, Click Training.  After extensive research, I determined this training method was the best. Many scientific studies have been conducted to prove that dogs who are clicker trained using Positive Reinforcement, learn faster and remember longer.  The science is a continuation of B.F. Skinner and Pavlov’s work.

The click is exactly the same every time, eliminating confusion that can be caused when you use your voice alone.

Watch-out – Regardless of the methods a person uses, you want to see they have done research into other ways to train. If the professional is not open to at least knowing what’s out there, your dog might get trained but it might not be the most effective or rewarding way to do it.

What do you do if my dog doesn’t respond to what you’re asking?

The first time, nothing.  Positive Reinforcement only rewards correct responses and ignores incorrect responses.  If your dog continues to not respond, that is a sign that I need to relook at my training. Likely, I need to break the training down into a smaller, easier step for your dog to understand.  I will also look at the environment where your dog is not responding.  If possible, I move your dog into a more distracting free area so your dog has a better chance to succeed at training.

Watch-out – Pushing on the dog to ‘show’ your dog what to do or tugging on a leash can cause your dog to dislike training, therefore, making the behavior less reliable. 

How long will you train my dog per day?

It depends on your dog. We will break training into 2-5 minute sessions and conduct several throughout the day.  It’s best to end training on a positive note, so if your dog is getting tired, we don’t keep going just to fill 30 minutes. It’s better to mix breaks into the training and it’s most important to watch to see what your dog needs.

Watch-out – Long training sessions are exhausting for dogs new to training and they don’t get as much out of it.  The length of training can be extended for dogs who are more experienced.  Also, certain breeds can handle longer training better. Watch out for any answers that aren’t “I watch your dog and stop when your dog needs to stop.”

How can you tell if my dog is making progress?

We measure the rate of reinforcement.  Meaning we count the number of correct responses in a given 2-minute training session. Your dog is making progress if the rate of reinforcement is going up for a particular behavior.  Keep in mind, as you add distractions or make the behavior more difficult, you’ll see a temporary drop in the rate of reinforcement, but it should begin to increase again.

How long will it take my dog to learn XYX?

It depends. Every dog learns at a different pace and has a different history of reinforcement (positive or negative).  It’s best to meet the dogs in person before any estimates can be made.

Watch-out – Be leery of trainers who guarantee they can get any dog to the same final outcome in a set period of time. 

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