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HOW TO FIND A DOG TRAINER
Eric Goebelbecker www.dogspelledforward.com firstname.lastname@example.org @dogspelledfwd
Eric Goebelbecker owns and runs Dog Spelled Forward dog training in Maywood NJ. He is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDTKA.) Eric also serves on the Board of Directors of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. More information about Eric, as well as his blog, can be found at the Dog Spelled Forward web site.
Copyright info: if you think this book is worth sharing, chances are you’ll find my blog worth sharing to. So why not steer your friends or family to my blog so they can get it the same way you did? If you are a trainer, shelter, or rescue, and you think that your clients or adopters would find this information useful, contact me and we can work something (free) out. But please, don’t just start distributing this book without talking to me.
Table of Contents
Introduction! Who’s Being Trained?! Training Methods! Qualiﬁcations! Classes? Private? Boarding?! No Quick Fixes! How Much for that Dog Trainer in The Window?! So How Do I Find a Trainer?! Good Luck!!
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If it was only about dogs, dog training would be a lot easier. The fact is, dog training is largely a people-centered activity. If your dog training instructor cannot communicate with you, it really doesn’t matter how skilled she is with dogs. Things are going to fall apart – usually within five minutes of her leaving the room. Dogs are typically straightforward, predictable, and easy to communicate with. People? Well, not so much. We all have different communication styles and a good trainer can either adjust to yours, or in extreme cases, have the sense to refer you to someone else. So what’s a dog person to do? This book provides you with the background you need to find a dog trainer that uses safe and effective methods and is also compatible with you. To make things easier on myself and your eyes, I use “she” to refer to trainers. No agenda here, the fact is most trainers are women and I need to pick one pronoun or the other.
Who’s Being Trained?
Who’s training who? Any reasonably competent trainer can get almost instantaneous results with a dog, even a dog with no previous training. As I said above, if it was only about the dogs, dog training would be very easy. It’s what happens after the trainer leaves that counts – and this means you need to be trained too. Your dog needs to learn some new behaviors and you need to learn how to train and maintain them. The great news is, you’ll learn a lot about your dog on the way. When evaluating a trainer, be sure to get a feel for how she plans on training you.
We dog trainers love to talk about, and especially debate, training methods. And why not? It’s our job after all. The problem is, with all of this debate it can be tough for the average dog owner to figure out what’s really important. The trainer you select should use methods firmly grounded in behavioral science with an emphasis on positive reinforcement. This is a fancy way of saying she should focus on rewarding your dog for doing what you want — as opposed to focusing on opportunities to punish her for what for doing we do not want. Trainers that use positive reinforcement frequently use food as a reward. This makes a lot of sense – dogs like food and the point is to reward good behaviors with something that dogs find, well, rewarding. Some trainers also use a “clicker” as part of the training while others just use their voices. Trainers love to debate which is more effective, but at the end of the day the method you feel comfortable with is what is really important. Really effective trainers will also use other rewards, such as toys and play. Food is a “least common denominator” solution: the majority of dogs will work for food. However many will also work for play and not everyone wants to walk around with pockets full of treats. If you have a problem with using food (and, you really shouldn’t, but that’s another discussion) discuss this with the trainers you talk to. Do they have an alternative strategy? Do they take this as an opportunity to disparage trainers that use food? Definitely not a good sign. Confident trainers talk about what they can do, not what others cannot do. A trainer shouldn’t ever come across as secretive, and you should never feel like she is talking down to you. Good trainers are willing to openly discuss the methods they use, and if you are evaluating classes you should have an opportunity to come and watch a class without your dog. (Obviously observing private lessons is not practical.) Be especially wary of trainers with “new” or “secret” methods that they claim no one else knows. Animal behavior is a well-studied field and it’s not handed down from master to apprentice in a secret ceremony. There are no secrets in dog training.
When speaking to or working with trainers, remember: this is your dog – a member of your family. The key here is to talk to trainers before you make a decision. Any unwillingness by a trainer to discuss how she would handle a problem should raise a red flag.
Dog training is an unregulated industry. Beyond local regulations governing businesses in general, anyone can hang a shingle and declare herself a dog trainer. She can even hang another shingle and declare herself a teacher of other dog trainers. However, there are reputable associations that dog trainers can — and should — belong to. Membership in one or more of these associations indicates that the trainer is interested in networking with other trainers and increasing their knowledge and improving their skills. The Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) is one of these organizations. (Disclosure: I am a member.) The APDT has an annual conference where trainers can learn more about their field. They have a thriving online community where trainers can communicate with each other and share information. Membership in this association probably indicates that a trainer is “plugged in” to the larger world. Another organization is the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC). (Disclosure: I am a member of the IAABC’s board of directors.) As the name suggests, the IAABC is focused on behavior consulting, which focuses on solving behavioral issues rather than only on training for good manners. The IAABC also has an annual conference and an active online community. A third organization is the International Association of Canine Professionals (IACP), which also have annual conference and an online presence. For trainer qualifications, the Certification Council of Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT) offers the CPDT-KA, the IACP offers the CDT, and the IAABC offer the CDBC. (Yet more disclosure: I am a CPDT-KA.) If this looks like alphabet soup, that’s because it is. Letter combinations aside, assess the trainer’s willingness to discuss his or her qualifications and experience, and their creative flexibility. Avoid a trainer who seems locked into a single viewpoint – especially one that is heavily influenced by one particular person or company.
Classes? Private? Boarding?
What kind of training do you need? Many people are confused about the different options available for engaging a dog trainer. The three most frequently offered options – group classes, private lessons and “board and train” are sometimes presented as being in opposition or even as mutually exclusive. The truth is each has its own advantages and disadvantages. Group classes are just what they sound like: a group of people work together in a classroom environment, training their dogs. There is at least one, frequently more trainers and/ or assistants present. Group training is usually the best option for a dog that needs work on “obedience:” basic behaviors like staying, dropping items, leaving items alone and not jumping up on visitors. Having an opportunity to work with your dog in the presence of other people and dogs – a tremendous built-in distraction – is a great advantage. Classes also tend to be the most economic of the various options. But attending a class can have disadvantages too. Some people cannot commit to 6 or 8 weeks of attending a class. Some dogs cannot handle the distractions or are even aggressive toward other dogs. Sometimes the classes are held in extremely distracting environments, such as in big-box stores. At times the broad curriculum offered in most classes are not what you are looking for. When classes are not a good fit, private lessons are a frequent alternative. In a private situation the trainer can focus on exactly what you need. When a client needs help with behavior, such as fear, aggression, or separation distress, one-on-one attention is often the best option. (Although some schools offer classroom instruction for aggression problems.) Private lessons are also a good solution for families with busy schedules. “Board and Train” is when the trainer takes your dog back to her facility or home for two or more days of training. This is a great option when you are going on vacation and cannot take your dog with you. Not only does you dog get plenty of positive attention, but she gets some training too. But, you are not involved. How will your dog be treated? How will you be trained on what your dog was taught?
Board and train should involve a lot of communication between you and your trainer before and after it begins. Beware of “boot camp” programs and programs that make grandiose claims about what your dog will learn in a short period of time. Remember: only so much can be done without you being involved! Insist on being able to see the facility and see the trainer work with a dog. Like everything else, what is really important is what works for you. The best training in the world is worth nothing if you cannot participate or stick with it. All three of these solutions, along with the myriad variations and combinations have merit and work in some situations.
No Quick Fixes
Frequently you don’t seek out a dog trainer until you have a problem. It’s OK, I understand. Not everyone is as into dog training as we dog trainers are. But it’s when you need help that you might find yourself the most vulnerable to quick fixes and outrageous claims. But in reality, when it comes to dog behavior issues, quick fixes are very few and very far between. As I said above, just about any experienced trainer can grab the leash and get fast results. Often the results seem almost miraculous. (Miraculous enough for a TV show!) But at some point the leash will have to be handed back to you and those results just fade away into a commercial. Effective training is repeatable, and that takes practice and time. Beware of a trainer who makes bold claims about instant results. Be especially wary of trainers who claim they can solve problems with one visit. How will they know until they actually see it? Most important, beware of “lifetime guarantees.” There’s usually a loophole stating that if the training didn’t work, you must have followed through wrong – in other words the instant fix wasn’t really that instant after all!
How Much for that Dog Trainer in The Window?
How often do you find that the cheapest option is the best? Exactly my point. Evaluating a trainer based only, or even primarily, on price will rarely yield the best results. Dog training is a service, and you need to evaluate what are getting for your money before you can fully assess the value. • Are material goods such as leashes, harnesses and clickers included? Do you really want or need them? • Are private lessons billed by the session or the hour? An hourly rate can add up pretty quickly. • How many weeks long is the class you are evaluating? Classes are often 5, 6, or 8 weeks long. What will be covered in the class? Not all classes are created equal. • Where is the class held? A less expensive class held in a crowded store may not be as productive as a class held after hours in a veterinarian’s office or grooming salon. • Is the class less expensive because is is being offered as a “loss leader” to sell you other products. These are just a few questions you should consider when looking at training services. Don’t just jump at the lowest price: make sure you are comparing apples and oranges.
So How Do I Find a Trainer?
So now that you know everything, what should you do? The point of this ebook is not to paralyze you with fear, but help you get the training help you need. Here’s some information on finding a trainer that fits your situation. Like any service business, nothing beats a good reference. Ask your friends, your groomer, your vet, or acquaintances at places like dog day cares and dog parks. Listen closely to why they liked (or disliked) trainers and try to make a decision based on what’s important to you. When you find a trainer you are interested in, ask her for references too. All of the associations I mentioned earlier have online search applications that will help you find members in your area: • Certification Council of Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT)- the CCPDT lists all of their certified members, giving you fast access to certified trainers near you. Look for “Trainer search” on their home page. • Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) - the APDT lists their members with an easy search by ZIP code. They also specify whether or not the listed members carry any certifications. Look for the “pet owners” section of their website. • International Association of Behavior Consultants (IAABC) - the IAABC has a ZIP code search, with filters for the various species their members work with. • International Association of Canine Professionals (IACP) - the IACP also offers a search by state and ZIP of their registered members. Being listed on any or all of these lists doesn’t make one a good (or bad) trainer. Just like any other professional service, having certification and/or association membership probably beats not having any at all, but you still need to ask the questions and apply the criteria laid out in this book.
Training strengthens your relationship with your dog. Done well, it is one of the most rewarding activities you can engage in with your beloved pet. I wish you the best of luck in finding a training you can trust and work with. If you ever need any help, please feel free to contact me, my information is on the cover of this book. I am always happy to help a dog and his human!
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