Dog training is an unregulated industry, and finding a trainer with the ability to help you and your dog can be difficult. We hope the following information helps you find a skilled dog trainer and the right type of training for you, so that together you can achieve the results you’re looking for.
Let’s start by working out your goals: what are you trying to achieve? Are you keen to teach your dog basic obedience, or provide more stimulation? Do you need to resolve a specific problem? Does your dog love socialising or seem particularly agile? Are you looking for something fun to do with your dog? Answering these questions will help you to identify the type of trainer, and training, that you’re after.
Board & train facilities
Board & train can be a great option for giving you a kick-start with some basic obedience work – especially if you are away from home, such as when on holidays or having home renovations done.
A good facility will welcome inspection of their premises and meeting the trainer/s in advance. They should have an interview or questionnaire process that sets the expectations (for both of you) and covers insurance, what happens in an emergency, etc. There should be a way to obtain regular updates on your dog’s progress, especially if on an extended stay.
A handover appointment should be arranged upon collection, so you see your dog’s skills and understand how to use and continue them at home. This handover is important, as it teaches you how to integrate the training at home and facilitates an ongoing commitment. Some facilities offer in-home visits as part of the package, so that is definitely something to look for as a value-add.
Sometimes board and train options can be quite pricey, depending on the length of stay, boarding add-ons, and other factors like booking in peak season. Note that board & train cannot always address behaviours that are influenced by environment, such as toilet training. Remember that unless you commit to continuing the training at home, you’re likely to be wasting your money, as your dog will not generalise his new skills to within the home and his family.
Group training / Sports clubs
Group training and dog sports can be a great way to socialise your dog and yourself with like-minded dog owners, as well as develop the bond between you and your dog. Different clubs will offer different kinds of fun stuff to extend your dog’s skills. Some options include:
Different dogs enjoy different activities, as do people. So if you’re unsure of which one will suit you and your dog, why not check them out first to see what they’re all about (without your dog)? Many clubs run annual events where members of the public can observe their techniques and outcomes, which are worth attending for a more in-depth look at how the club functions.
Group classes can be great for anything from simply building a stronger bond with your dog, to using innate dog instincts and burning excess energy. Some clubs may have tool restrictions. Some clubs will have industry contacts that can further your learning, if you find your dog is a natural worker.
Instructors are usually trained within the club, serving first as assistants to gain experience and earning their position as head instructor.
Prices will vary and may include a casual visit rate or a yearly club membership fee.
One-on-one / In-home training
Whether at a facility or in your home, this kind of one on one attention is usually best for specific problem behaviours. In-home sessions are especially great for behaviours such as toilet training, separation anxiety or barking.
One-on-one training, in the home or an external environment, gives the trainer an opportunity to learn more about you and your dog. Training is then more easily tailored to suit your goals, any issues you might be having, the dog itself, and your own handling skills. The trainer should be able to explain why they are teaching certain behaviours, doing certain things, or using certain tools. They should listen to you and your dog, and explain what your dog is trying to communicate. The plan they develop should be realistic and account for your lifestyle and limitations. Set agendas, quick fixes, or guaranteed results could be red flags to look out for that may indicate a lack of knowledge or experience.
Prices will vary greatly in this area. Depending on qualifications, experience, reputation, and any number of other factors, trainers can essentially charge what they wish for a consultation. Some will offer a flat rate and some will quote you depending on your needs. Either way, make sure you are comfortable before agreeing to or signing anything.
You may wish to consider a Veterinary Behaviourist as they can be invaluable for significant and protracted behaviour issues in dogs, such as extreme anxiety, and can dispense medications if necessary. The majority of dogs do not require medication, so again make sure you are comfortable before agreeing to anything. This will often be the most expensive option, given the qualifications they have and one-on-one time required.
It’s important that you and your dog are comfortable with the person/s that will be training you. Remember that the industry is not regulated. Most anyone can call themselves a trainer just because they’ve had dogs all their life.
It is reasonable to expect a trainer have some formal qualification. There are a huge number of courses in behaviour & training, though not all would be considered quality or offer hands-on work. Check for a certification from a Registered Training Organisation, such as the following:
A certificate does not always mean good, real-world handling experience either. Ask how many years the trainer has been in business, how many dogs they have worked with, what real life handling experience they have. Look at testimonials and references.
Look for a balance between qualification and experience. Even with no formal qualification, a trainer should show commitment to their own ongoing learning. A trainer stuck in one ideology (everything from “he’s a dominant dog” to “be the pack leader” to “any physical touch or manipulation is abuse”), pushing a ‘one size fits all’ method, vehemently against certain tools, and/or not focused on practical results should be a red flag. We’ve talked about how we feel about tools before: Training Philosophy. While we have no problems with the judicious and considered use of punishment in training, the vast majority of the work you and your trainer are doing with your dog should always be weighted very heavily towards positive reinforcement and motivation.
Ultimately, if you know what you want, and you are comfortable with a trainer that is prepared to work with you to get it, it should be the start of a great partnership for you and your dog.