Canine Capers: Selecting a Trainer

Spring is a great time to start or continue training your dog. What do you picture when you read the words ‘dog training?’ A large class with many people and their dogs? Endless practicing of Sit, Down, and Stay that is boring for both of you? Those are outdated misconceptions. As dogs are members of the family more than ever before, fun humane training methods are being developed and the local dog training community is responding.

It helps to understand that training is so much more than having a dog obey your commands. Yes, he needs to learn the verbal and physical signals used to direct his behavior, but more importantly, it’s about you taking on a positive leadership role to build a trusting relationship so he’s willing to follow your guidance for obedience, dog sports or even high level skills such as search and rescue.

This is where trainer selection comes in. Start by choosing a trainer who can teach you a solid approach to positive leadership. Teaching you principles along with a general approach to training in any skill, is more useful in the long run than the specifics of how to teach single skills. A good trainer offers real life examples of how they can be applied and extended, and teaches games you can play at home for fun practice. The basics of Sit, Down etc. will fall into place as examples.

Often forgotten is that the trainer must be good at teaching people, as well as dogs. A well-balanced trainer will start every class with a dog-free period. This allows you to focus on your learning without the distraction of dogs. New skills will be explained, then demonstrated and you’ll be given time to practice without your dog (usually through people games). Visual aids such as flipcharts or poster boards with keywords keep you on track. The trainers should float around the class, offering positive reinforcement and gently providing tips on improvement. Handouts that summarize what you covered in class are helpful to refer to at home. Each class should be as much fun for you as it is for your dog!

Tips to keep in mind when selecting a trainer:

Does the trainer emphasize progressing in small steps, keeping both comfort and ability levels in balance, for you and your dog? A dog that is asked to do too much, too fast or too slowly will get frustrated.

Ideally, small classes of up to eight dogs with more than one trainer per class are best.

Where are the classes held? A small dark room with poor acoustics adds extra challenges to your learning and distractions for your puppy or dog. Is the outdoor area quiet with few distractions? This is especially important in the first few sets of classes as your dog is learning how to follow your guidance.

A trainer with endless patience is absolutely necessary. With all the distractions that happen in class for both people and dogs, the trainer must be able to stay calm and focused at all times.

So where do you find all this information? The best way is to get referrals from people who have happy well-balanced dogs, and then sit in on a class. Read books by authors such as Karen Pryor, Linda Tellington Jones, Suzanne Clothier, Dale Stavloff and others, so you have some background information to draw from and can recognize good training approaches from bad.

When you do find a trainer that matches the needs and abilities of both you and your dog, hang on for dear life! Applaud them for taking the time to be a good trainer, and be sure to spread the word with your family, friends and neighbours who also have dogs.