How to Choose a Dog Trainer
Whether you want to work on basic manners skills, or you have more serious behavior challenges to tackle, choosing a behavior professional to work with can be difficult. This choice is complicated even further since the field of dog training and behavior is unregulated. Unfortunately, that means that anyone can call themself a dog trainer regardless of education or experience, and that they can do pretty much anything to your dog in the name of “training”, and so it is up to the consumer to figure out what type of education and experience a trainer may have.
I am almost always enrolled in continuing education courses, and in fact, I am currently seeking a master’s degree in Applied Animal Behavior and Welfare while also continuing to participate in webclasses, webinars and other learning opportunities regularly. I have experience working with numerous rescue dogs, many client dogs, and my own dogs of course. I regularly seek out opportunities to work with mentors and other professionals to increase my knowledge and training skills. The education and training I seek informs me of the best practices in the industry and this shapes my teaching as well. Whether you work with me or decide another trainer is a better fit for you, find out what kind of formal education, and experience your trainer has. If your trainer has credentials or certifications (and I hope they do), look up those organizations and see what they stand for as well.
In addition to determining if they are qualified or not, there are several other factors to consider when deciding if a trainer will be a good fit for you.
While it may not be necessary to work with someone who shares your exact values, if your values are completely different than those of a trainer you are working with, you will likely find yourself resistant to their suggestions which can impact how successful you will be.
For example, when considering training and behavior modification, I value the relationship, choice, trust and welfare over obedience or compliance. This doesn’t mean I don’t also value effectiveness and skills that work for both the humans and the dogs, but it does shape how I work to get us there.
For example, I work to teach skills and behaviors in a simple environment first, and then layer in complexity. If the dog (or the person!) gets it “wrong”, I take that as information that we haven’t prepared sufficiently, and revisit the training plan. For instance, if I have given the dog a cue to sit, and the dog does not sit, I am going to have a think about why that might be. Is this environment too challenging? Do they understand the cue? Is something distracting them? Is it uncomfortable for this dog to sit? And then, I will backtrack and determine how to build the skill from there. What I won’t do is push the dog’s butt to the ground, pull up on a leash to intentionally apply pressure until the dog sits, or otherwise try to force the dog to sit. To be successful working with me, one will need to either share my values, or be open to them, and curious about them. On the other hand, if someone values obedience and compliance first and foremost and thinks a dog must listen to every “command”, I’m likely not going to be the right teacher for them. Again, with me you will work to teach your dog necessary skills, but through a model of building capacity rather than compliance.
For more information on my thoughts regarding this, check out my previous blog post “Forget About Obedience” https://shellywoodbehavior.com/2022/08/09/forget-about-obedience/
Services and Modality of Services Offered
Something else to consider when looking for a behavior professional is if the trainer specializes in any specific type of work, what services they offer, and how those services are offered.
While behavior change is based in scientific principles that apply across the board, dog training encompasses lots of different specialities and finding someone who specializes in what you are looking for can be helpful. There are trainers who specialize in specific dog sports, different types of service dog training, behavior modification, aggression, husbandry, families and dogs, and much more.
I offer a variety of services and focus on basic manners/life skills, reactivity, and some aggression. My mission is to make sure that living with a dog is an enjoyable experience for both ends of the leash. I aim to help the people and the dogs I work with build the skills they need to better enjoy each other’s company at home, and out and about in the world. Ultimately, my goal is to guide each team to a happier and harmonious bond. There are some situations I prefer not to work with, and in those cases, I do my best to offer a trusted referral to another qualified professional.
I offer services for every budget. I teach monthly, in person seminars on dog related topics which provide helpful information at an affordable price. I teach group classes which are also quite affordable. I limit the size of these classes to four or five teams to allow for lots of individualized attention. These classes are taught in a facility that allows each team to start out in their own “room” as we build the skills we need to begin working closer together over the weeks. I sometimes teach special topics classes like polite walking, nose work, and tricks classes. I also teach online classes for Tromplo, an international dog training school, which provides an affordable option to do a deep dive into training completely on your own time.
My private services are a step up in terms of cost, but there are two tiers there as well. We can work together one on one with me coaching you on how to teach your dog (these services are available in-person or online), or I now offer an in-person homeschool program where I train your dog several times a week, with one transfer session each week so you can keep the skills going.
Whether working with me online or in person, my services rely on between session tech support through the use of videos and shared documents. People don’t need to be super tech savvy to work with me (I’m not super tech savvy myself!), but folks who are able to video their training with their dog, reach out between sessions, and navigate shared online spaces (provided by me) between sessions are going to be more successful than those who only participate in in-person sessions with me.
When looking for a trainer, find out: What kind of education and experience do they have? What are their values? Do they specialize in a specific area of training and behavior? Are their services online, in-person, or both?
If you think you might be interested in working with me, you can visit my website for more details about the services I offer including how to sign up for seminars, group classes, or private manners packages, and you can always schedule a free call from my website as well.