Tips for Finding the Right Dog Trainer

Just like humans, dogs have their own personalities and quirks—and we love them for it. As a pet parent, you want to balance respecting your dog’s individuality with helping them become well-adjusted, well-behaved pets. There’s a lot of information about trainers out there, but how do you know if you’re choosing the right one for your dog?

What to Ask a Dog Trainer

“What is your training philosophy?”

One trainer jokingly said, “The only thing two dog trainers will agree on is that a third trainer is doing it wrong.” Don’t let that discourage you though—everyone has slightly different methods, and it’s important to know which ones your potential trainer uses.

Just like some people learn better by watching lectures than reading books, some dogs take to different training methods better than others. And if you’re not sure what your dog will respond to right away, that’s okay.

“What is ‘positive reinforcement’?”

Teaching animals is rooted in psychology, specifically a method called operant conditioning. Most trainers learn about this very early on in their careers. They should answer that positive reinforcement is “when you add something to increase the odds of a behavior occurring again.”

“What do you do to keep up with current dog training methods?”

Continuing education is key, as there are constantly new studies, conferences, and certificate programs coming out. Ask your trainer how they stay current with what’s going on in the field.

“Can I observe a class? Do you have any references?”

Most trainers will let you observe a class for free (without your dog there) so you can get a good feel for their training style. Look for references online on sites like Yelp, or ask if they have any testimonials from past clients. Testimonials and reviews provide real-world feedback and paint a picture of a trainer’s style. From there, you’ll have a better idea of whether or not a particular trainer is right for your dog.

Words to Watch For

There are two main types of trainers: classic trainers and positive trainers. Classic trainers tend to lean toward methods that are aversive for the dog, including prong collars, shock collars, and alpha rolling. Positive trainers tend to lean toward methods that include reinforcement with treats and toys, or non-aversive corrections like withholding attention when a dog jumps up.

Classic Trainers

These trainers tend to use the following words and phrases:

  • alpha
  • obedience
  • commands
  • master
  • dominant
  • corrections
  • leash corrections

They may cite trainers that inspire them including Cesar Millan and the Monks of New Skete.

Positive Trainers

These trainers tend to use the following words and phrases:

  • positive reinforcement
  • cues
  • positive methods
  • science-based
  • clicker training

They may cite trainers that inspire them including Karen Pryor, Victoria Stilwell, Patricia McConnell, Pat Miller, and Grisha Stewart.

The Bottom Line: Try Before You Buy

We suggest researching 3–5 trainers in your area before choosing one. Try to attend a class as an observer to make sure you like their training style, and don’t hesitate to switch trainers if the first one you choose isn’t working for you and your pup. As the pet parent, the call of who trains your dog (and how they do it) is up to you!