If you're a dog parent currently struggling with your pup, you've probably looked up "How to" videos and articles on the internet. You may have tried the techniques and partially succeeded, or perhaps the problem got worse.
Now you're at the end of your rope and things are getting really bad so you finally accept it's time to hire a professional, so you google dog trainers near your area and you have more than one option. You may also notice that there are different philosophies in dog training. Now things got more complicated.
Maybe you're not that complicated of a person so you start looking at $ signs, thinking that the cheapest option will be best for you.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when hiring a dog trainer. I will address methodologies and budget in a very neutral and non-biased way.
Let's start here because this is a huge concern for most people.
Don't listen to comments like "If you can't afford a dog trainer, you shouldn't have a dog!". This is kind of insensitive and if you think about it, it could apply to everything in life. "If you can't afford over $60K for college, you shouldn't have children."; "If you can't afford your transmission, and engine to be replaced, you shouldn't have a car."; "If you can't afford over $30K in house repairs you shouldn't own a home.". Is there some validity to all of these statements? certainly! but as a dog owner, parent, car owner and home owner myself, I don't compound all of my potential financial risks and decide I shouldn't have any of those things.
Determine what your budget is. Figure out what you can afford and how bad the behavior problem is.
The severity of your dog problem will determine how much you're likely to spend. If your dog has aggression problems, or is a very high drive dog that needs obedience plus other behavior issues addressed, don't expect to spend anything less than $500
When looking at the dog trainers you're considering, look at the numbers and see what they charge. Many dog trainers don't list their price on their website so you may have to call them. Some will not even give you a price until they give you a free consultation. This is not a bad idea but be aware that it's also a sales tactic. You can't blame them for that, dog trainers need to eat too.
Although I suggested looking at their prices, don't put your emphasis on their prices. The wrong trainer can end up costing you A LOT OF $$$$$!!!!
Sometimes the most expensive isn't necessarily the best option either. The reason I want you to look at their prices is not so you can choose based on their fees, but rather because this will give you a rough idea of about how much you'll be spending.
"There's always Petsmart/Petco". Look, I said I'd be as neutral and non-biased as possible but you should know that petsmart/petco training is very limited. They can do group classes, that's it. The level of training your dog will get here will be basic at best. If your dog has issues you consider to be difficult, don't expect these chain stores to be the solution to your problem. Yes I know they're cheap, but it may not be appropriate to what you're looking for.
You may have stumbled on some information regarding different training approaches out there.
Normally I see two types of owners:
"I want the problem fixed, I don't care how you do it"
"I only want methods that I approve of"
You have every right to feel a certain way about each method. Here are two main categories you're going to see:
Purely Positive/Force Free Training, and Balanced Training.
Purely Positive is hands off, no stress.
Balanced Training is or at least should be all positive and no stress UNTIL it's time to enforce discipline.
There are BAD Purely Positive trainers so be careful. I had a client that spent over $3,000 on training and the dog just ended the training with one more bite under his belt and with no solution to its problem at all.
There are also BAD Balanced Trainers. Some of these "balanced" trainers aren't really balanced. They're good at shutting the problem down with force without digging into the problem much. This makes it so the problem is only "fixed" very temporarily. And when the problem does return, they'll have the nerve to blame you! if you can believe that.
The moral here is that there are bad trainers everywhere! and they can end up costing you pain and money.
Do interviews! Set up a consultation. Most dog trainers offer them for free or for a very small fee. During the consultation, don't look at it as an interview per se. Really the trainers are the ones interviewing you. It's their chance to evaluate your dog and ask you questions about your specific case, so don't interrupt them as they try to gather info on your pup. As they talk about their plan of execution and the options, now you can ask them questions, but don't go over the top. Consultations aren't supposed to last more than an hour. Many of them only last about 30 to 40 minutes. Again, dog trainers need to eat too.
As they're doing their consult take some notes. Write down some of the answers to your questions. If you don't feel comfortable with the trainer it's OK to second-guess your decision. If they have bad people skills, it's OK to pass. You should feel comfortable with this person because they're going to be conveying a lot of complex information to you. If they have little patience in the beginning, it's a pretty good bet they'll have little patience when they talk to you about your dog later on.
Set consults with other trainers to get a better idea of what they're all about. Don't tell them you're interviewing them! To you, this may sound like you're trying to set the tone and get them to bend over backwards for you, but to the dog trainer you just sound like a client that's likely to be a difficult client, for which I myself have no time for and many dog trainers feel the same way so you may lose out on the right person.
Watch out for hard sales's tactics and don't be impressed by demo dogs.
A common sales' tactic you may run into is when the dog trainer tries to book you in right then and there. I'm not against sales' tactics unless they're in your face. You should feel comfortable with your dog trainer. If none of these candidates cut it for you, don't be afraid to travel. Many clients I've had and clients other fellow dog trainers have, drive an hour or more. Some come from different states even!
Demo dogs are great because they give you an idea of how good this trainer really is but there are some dog trainers that acquired their demo dogs already trained! or brought their dogs to a dog trainer so that their dog would be a demo dog. I wish I was kidding but it's true!
QUESTIONS TO ASK:
-Where did you get your experience?
Top question to ask in my opinion. There are SO many certifications out there and most of them mean nothing! A lot of "certificates" can be obtained online! It's a joke. I've seen people with all kinds of certifications that have very little experience so be careful
Now don't overlook people with low experience! Every amazing trainer was once a novice. A good trainer, even with little to no experience has hopefully shadowed and participated in the training of several dogs! It's Ok to give them a shot.
-Do you have any certifications?
Certificates can be of value. Ask them what kind of certifications they got and where they got it. If it's mostly online certificates, honestly, you can disregard them. If their certificates came from brick and mortar companies or organizations, write it down and look that place up later when you get home. If the company they got their certificate from is a Police Dog Training place and you don't want your dog trained as a police dog, be careful! This may or may not be the right trainer for you
-Have you every worked with a case similar to mine?
If the answer is "yes", ask the next question. If the answer is "No", keep in mind that this person has no experience with a case similar to yours and therefore may not be the right trainer for you. If the answer is "No, but..." and the rest of the sentence follows with cases at least somewhat similar to yours, then it's a good sign.
-What is your success rate with cases similar to mine? What became of those dogs?
Hopefully it's good news. If you hear "Unfortunately the dog was too far gone that we had to...." Be very careful. This could mean that this person is quick to wash their hands and blame the dog when their knowledge reaches a halt.
To wrap this up, understand that this is a huge investment! You may have to go into your funds. I had clients that took money out of their retirement funds, their weekly budget and some people even get loans. So don't expect dog training to be cheap. These people have spent a lot of time and money into their craft (hopefully) so don't expect that to come for next to nothing. Overall, you should feel comfortable with the person you hire, if not, they're not for you.
I hope you enjoyed this article, if you think someone may find this valuable, please share this with them. It will save them a lot of trouble!