Deciding to provide your pet with training often requires more than a brief look through the yellow pages. Every year unscrupulous people calling themselves behaviourists, animal consultants, pet advisers and trainers are fleecing thousands of dog owners throughout the world. There are a number of genuine people who provide a really good service but there are many more who do not. Be careful that you don’t become their victim.
Finding a good trainer is like checking out your child’s elementary school: you want to make sure it provides the right environment so he or she enjoys learning. It’s just as important for you to be comfortable with the trainer, because it is you who will be trained, not the dog.
Our tips on trainers below will help you to pick a good one. Don’t use the tips as a rigid guide, let your common sense and instincts guide you.
A GOOD TRAINER WILL NOT TRAIN YOUR DOG
He will train YOU! Since it is ‘you’- the owner and not the trainer who is going to live with the dog, it is best for you to train your dog yourself. Obviously, therefore, a good trainer is one who teaches you how to train your own dog. He should teach you using methods best suited to your dog’s temperament and learning ability. He should help you learn how to observe and comprehend your dog’s behaviours and actions and should point out where you are letting your dog down. A trainer’s job, in short, is to teach you to become a trainer of your own dog. It is not a trainer’s job to teach your dog.
If you give your dog to a trainer to train, then your dog will most likely obey his commands and not yours. In the long run, if a problem arises you will not be able to spot it and put it right. If you grasp the fundamentals of training your own dog, then long after the trainer is gone, you can maintain your dog’s good behaviour and extinguish any undesirable behaviours that crop up.
THE HIDDEN HARSH METHODS
Reputable trainers are concerned about a dog’s welfare. They know that harsh and abusive handling methods are not only unnecessary, but are often counter-productive as well. In fact, over 50% of dog aggression problems seen today are the result of trainers using aversive training methods on dogs.
The point here is, very few (if any) parents would agree to send their children to a school where the method of teaching was through intimidation. Then why is it that people knowingly allow dog trainers to use the same methods when it comes to teaching their dogs simple, basic commands? There is not much difference between dogs and children when it comes to the methods of learning. Brow beating and humiliation are not good tools to teach humans or animals. There are better methods available that are equally effective in teaching a dog or for that matter, even a child. Make sure, as a loving and responsible dog owner, your dog does not have to suffer to learn. If you ignorantly allow your dog to be abused in the name of training, then you are equally to blame for the anguish your dog is put through and the problems that will crop up later because of this.
Before hiring the services of a trainer make very sure the methods used by him agree with you. If the trainer cannot give you reasonable assurance that his technique is safe and effective – don’t hire him. Do not be fooled by the trainer who tells you that his methods are always positive – check it out for yourself. If it involves shouting at your dog, making loud noises to get your pup’s attention, yanking the dog on a choke collar, or anything that causes the dog pain and distress – stay far away from him. Anything negative or aversive done to your puppy in the name of training could boomerang back on you later as a serious behaviour problem.
Be especially wary of anyone who wants to take the dog away from you to train, under the guise that if you are around you will distract the dog. The truth is that he doesn’t want you to see the methods he uses to get your dog to obey him.
DO YOUR HOMEWORK
Today, anyone can call himself a professional dog trainer; you don’t need a license or a written qualification to be one. Before you go out and get yourself a trainer to help you train your dog, shop around and get recommendations from your vet, other dog owners, behaviour counsellors and reputable trainers. Slick advertisements, grandiose self-descriptions and impressive references can be very deceptive. Make sure you check that the claims made by a trainer are true. If he claims to have trained under a reputable dog trainer or an organisation, ask for their telephone numbers and contact them to be sure. Like any good consumer, evaluate what you are getting. Don’t take anyone’s word for it.
Inquire about the trainer’s background, years of experience and areas of expertise. Don’t be fooled by a trainer who claims to have won prizes at obedience competitions. Ask to see the ‘winning dog’ perform with him. If he is reluctant to give you references of past clients or allow you to observe him training a dog, there may be a problem with the methods he uses.
You should also request for a demonstration with the trainer’s dog. The trainer should own a dog (surprisingly, many a dog trainer doesn’t own a dog!). If the trainer himself has a poorly trained dog, then he is not capable of showing you how to train your dog. Ask a lot of questions about what he expects from your dog and you, where he has learnt dog training, and whom he turns to if he has a problem.
Teaching is a special skill; a good dog trainer won’t always be a good teacher. If the trainer does not leave you with practical skills after the training is over, the service is of little use. Shortly after the trainer goes away your dog’s skill will leave too.
TOOLS OF THE TRADE
A good dog trainer will use techniques and training styles that are compatible with your dog’s temperament. Every dog is different, and some dogs respond better to certain approaches. What works for a pushy Doberman won’t necessarily work for a laid-back Labrador. A good trainer has several methods under his belt and helps you figure out which ones work best with your dog.
Ask the trainer about his standard equipment of choice to train a dog. If the equipment list includes choke chains, pinch collars, muzzles, or shock collars, it tells you a lot about the methods he will use to train your dog.
Professional trainers registered with reputable organisations like the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT), Federation of Dog Trainers (FDTCB) and The U.K. Pet Dog Trainers (UKPDT) are required to sign contracts that they will not use choke or check chains whilst training a dog.
CAN HE WALK THE TALK?
Many of today’s trainers are savvy and have learnt to use complicated training terms to impress clients; but when it comes to putting these words into practice, they are at a loss. If you come across a trainer who uses fancy dog talk, ask him to convert his words into action. Chances are he won’t be able to.
You also need to watch out for the trainer who claims to be able to put right a behaviour problem. Canine behaviour is an intricate topic and cannot be learnt by reading a book. If the trainer does not have a formal background in canine behaviour he may attempt to solve a problem with an inappropriate behavioural solution – you and your dog will pay the price for his lack of knowledge. Ask questions of the trainer to satisfy yourself that he has the knowledge and expertise to help you.
The trainer should guarantee results and should be willing to correct any faults in the dog’s behaviour or obedience if they occur after the course is completed. Be cautious of trainers who promise you the world. Seldom is a particular dog capable of doing everything.
Be suspicious of trainers who get bitten regularly and shrug it off as ‘hazards of the job’. A good trainer rarely gets bitten. If he has a good grasp of canine behaviour and body language he will not get bitten and this also makes for a more understanding trainer.
Shirin Merchant is a pioneer in the field of dog training and behaviour in India.