If you have a reactive dog, working with a good dog trainer is one of the first things I’ll recommend to you. I understand that a lot of people either can’t afford a trainer or can’t find any suitable ones in their area; since I was in that same position five years ago when I adopted my dear Bailey, I write about these topics as much as I can so that everybody can learn for free, no matter where you live! In fact, I even have a free 5-day email course for those of you with reactive dogs!
But if you can afford a dog trainer, I encourage you to do so! When the decision falls, “Okay, I need help from a professional,” your head is immediately filled with a billion questions. How will I know who’s a good trainer? What would I even ask? What if they give up on my dog? What if I don’t like them? What if they suggest something I’m uncomfortable with?
I want to share the four most important things I believe you need to pay attention to when picking out your dog trainer, one that will become your support system and an important piece in the grand puzzle that is training your dog!
1. Training Philosophy
What makes a good trainer? Is it the experiences that they have, the number of owners they have helped or is it their values, the respect they show towards the dog, their knowledge about dog psychology and body language?
Personally, I put a person’s training philosophy first. Anyone can strap up an aversive collar on a dog and call it a day. Anyone can shove a dog into the ground and repeat the word “alpha” because they heard it on TV from a self-proclaimed expert. Anyone can do leash corrections, raise their voice and blame everything on the dog.
But not anyone can sit down and try their best to understand your dog. Not anyone can care enough to ask you as many questions as needed to get a full picture of your dog’s current mentality. Not anyone will try to figure out the why of your dog’s outbursts. Not anyone will be your team member, seeking to work together with you to help your dog. Not anyone will be able to do that - but a good positive reinforcement trainer will.
Your core values need to be aligned with a dog trainer’s training philosophy. If you believe in raising your dogs with love and kindness, compassion and patience, then invest into a force-free trainer!
It’s obvious that your dog trainer needs to have some working experience but I want to stress this: if you are looking for a dog trainer to help you with your reactive dog, not every force-free trainer will do. They need to have experience with fearful/reactive/aggressive dogs!
This is a very vulnerable group of dogs, you know that. This group always gets targeted by trainers who use force. I don’t want this to happen to you and your dog! Find a force-free trainer that has worked with reactive dogs before. Somebody that understands their psychology and is fluent in body language. Somebody that will be able to commit to you for a longer time and won’t make promises about “fixing” your dog in a matter of weeks. Traumas don’t work that way.
You can ask your friends for recommendation or utilize Facebook groups. There are many groups on reactivity and positive reinforcement. The good thing about social media is that it brings together people all over the world. Ask in the groups if anyone can recommend a good positive reinforcement trainer in your area. The answers may surprise you!
Theoretical education has nothing on field experience, but I do think it’s important to bring it up. Nowadays, anyone can call themselves a dog trainer. People might choose them because they are cheap or conveniently close to their home, but just because someone calls themselves a dog trainer doesn’t mean they are a good one. It sounds harsh, but it’s the truth.
I would advise you to check out where your dog trainer has acquired their education and then make a decision whether that particular training institution aligns with your dog training values or not.
Words like “certified” and “recognized by” and “featured in” sound very fancy - but make sure you do your due diligence on where those certificates came from in the first place.
By no means do I think dog trainers should be subjected to a popularity contest - not at all. But you do need to find a trainer whose personality you can cope with. They will be teaching you how to work with your dog, how to help them overcome fears, you will be spending a respectable amount of time together and if something goes wrong they will be your first call.
You should find someone that you’ll enjoy working with - even on the really rough days!
Find someone that tells you the truth, even if it’s hard to hear. Someone that won’t treat you as just another client but will fully be present with you and your dog in the moment. Someone that will also be compassionate if you are ever struggling and will encourage you not to lose faith. Most of all, somebody that you can trust.
Tell me, do you have any experience with hiring a dog trainer? What did you learn from it and what advice would you give to someone still on the fence? Share your insights in the comments below!
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