Recently I’ve noticed a lot of people falling prey to unethical or uneducated dog trainers and it absolutely breaks my heart. I see the relationships between people and their dogs fall apart or dogs getting shut down rather than getting the help they need. There’s a serious problem in the dog training industry: Anybody can call themselves a dog trainer and market themselves as such, even if they’ve never worked with an experienced professional or have any education on dogs. Here you’ll find what I look for and the questions I ask when I reach out to trainers myself.
The first step I take is looking at their website and social media presence. While a website isn’t the deciding factor, I would never work with a trainer or business who doesn’t have some form of website or social media platform where they are open about their training methods and experience. If a trainer doesn’t openly talk about their training style, their experience in the field, or the why behind what they do, that’s a major red flag to me.
The next thing I want to see from a trainer is a solid understanding of canine body language and how they react in different scenarios. This can be observed either in photos or videos, through questions over a phone call or email, or you can observe a class or session depending on the trainer. The key for me is that they are up to date on the most recent scientific research when it comes to dogs and don’t use outdated methodology or theories such as the alpha myth or dominance theory. An ethical, responsible dog trainer will keep themselves up to date on the latest scientific findings, respect those findings, and adjust their training accordingly. If a trainer has used the same methods for years without changing or adjusting anything when newer, better approaches have been created, that’s an immediate pass.
I also ask who the trainer learned/is learning from. Having a mentor(s) or formal education in dog training is a base requirement for me. If a trainer has never worked with a more experienced trainer or gone through any sort of professional training program or school, what makes them believe they have the skills and knowledge to be a good trainer? The great thing about asking about a trainer’s mentor/formal education experience is that you can then contact those individuals for reference.
Another HUGE question I ask is this: How do you handle cases you aren’t comfortable with or lack experience with? The answer to this question should ALWAYS be refer out or work alongside their mentor or a trainer who is experienced in that case. A good trainer will never take on a case that they aren’t sure they can handle.
The last bit of information I look for is their certifications. Now, just because a dog trainer doesn’t have a certification that does not make them a bad trainer. I know many solid trainers who don’t, but for me personally I like to see that they have or are working towards a legitimate certification of some kind. Are they an AKC Evaluator? This shows they have experience teaching a variety of dogs over the course of multiple years. Do they have their CPDT-KA (Certified Professional Dog Trainer – Knowledge Assessed) or beyond? This proves they have over 300 hours of hands on experience training and working with dogs, including reactive or aggression cases. This certification also involves an exam and signatures on a code of ethics and LIMA (Least Intrusive, Minimally Aversive) behavior intervention. The hours have to be signed off on by a trainer who is already a CPDT-KA as well, so a trainer can’t just log hours on their own and claim to meet the requirements.
Now, I’d like to go through each of these requirements with my own business. Of course if you’re reading this blog you have already found my website, and my social media links are on my website as well. I post photos and videos of me working with clients (with their permission!) on both Facebook and Instagram. If you’ve read my Who Am I blog you’ll know I am a LIMA trainer and do my best to keep up with the latest scientific findings and research in dog behavior and learning. I believe in starting off any dog with a solid foundation of positive reinforcement and am an avid clicker trainer. I don’t use tools unless they are absolutely needed, and every dog will be different so I don’t put the same tool on every dog. When it comes to reactivity, science has shown that working below a dog’s threshold and using positive reinforcement methods is the most effective way to create long-lasting results and a healthier mindset in your dog, rather than solely focusing on the observable behaviors.
When it comes to my experience as a dog trainer, I started out at Petco. Everybody has to get their start somewhere, right? I moved on from Petco and dabbled in balanced training, only to quickly realize that the methods used did not align with the science out there. Since then I’ve started my own business and am currently learning from Elisheba Fay of Art and Science Behavioral Services and Sara Richter CDBC of Evolve Animal Behavior. They are both incredible LIMA and force free trainers and I feel incredibly blessed to be working with them. As far as certifications go, I am an AKC Evaluator and am currently working towards my CPDT-KA and my CCUI (Certified Control Unleashed Instructor) certification.
Please don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions you have! You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, call or text 720-236-3878, or fill out my contact form here on the website. I look forward to hearing from you.