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A Practical Guide to Choosing the Right Dog Trainer

For Effective, Humane Training That Honors the Human Animal Bond

Working with a quality dog trainer is the best way to navigate behavior challenges with your dog. But how do you know when you've found a 'quality' dog trainer?

Keep reading to find out!

In this practical guide to choosing the right dog trainer, we walk you through how to identify professional dog trainers that are using humane, science-based methods that will not only help you through behavior challenges with your dog, but will actually improve your relationship with your dog at the same time!

Why is this guide necessary? Can't I just google trainers in my area?

Dog training is not a regulated industry. This means that anybody, regardless of ethics, expertise, experience or skillset, can label themselves a dog trainer. This lack of regulation has made it so there are many 'trainers' out there that, despite appearing legitimate, are in reality using outdated, ineffective and often inhumane methods.

The good news? Once you know what to look for, there are many clear ways to distinguish between the illegitimate providers and the high-quality ones!

What to Look For When Choosing a Dog Trainer

Only Reward Based Methods Are Used

The most important distinction to make when choosing a dog trainer is that the trainer plans to use only reward based methods. This approach may be referred to as positive reinforcement, R+ or force-free. This approach to dog training focuses on rewarding your dog for doing the behaviors we want, rather than using aversive methods to punish the behaviors we don't want. Positive reinforcement is not only the most humane approach to training, but it is also the most effective, as evidenced by the American Veterinary Society for Animal Behavior's position statement on training, which states "training methods are most effective when they focus on teaching the animal what to do, rather than punishing them for unwanted behaviors". In this position statement, the AVSAB goes on to describe the long-term negative impacts aversive training methods can have both on your dog's welfare as well as on their relationship with you.

To learn more about the importance of using only reward based training methods, explore the below statements from credible, leading organizations in dog behavior and training:

"AVSAB recommends that only reward-based training methods are used for all dog training, including the treatment of behavior problems. Aversive training methods have a damaging effect on both animal welfare and the human-animal bond. There is no evidence that aversive methods are more effective than reward-based methods in any context. AVSAB therefore advises that aversive methods should not be used in animal training or for the treatment of behavior disorders"

"The ACVB stands against training methods that cause short or long lasting pain, discomfort or fear. Aversive training methods can be dangerous to people as well as animals and pose a threat to animal welfare by inhibiting learning, increasing behaviors related to fear and distress, and causing direct injury."

"The IAABC strongly warns against the acceptance and use of dominance theory when working with behavior and training with animals."

"AVSAB is concerned with the recent re-emergence of dominance theory and forcing dogs and other animals into submission as a means of preventing and correcting behavior problems."

"APDT takes the stance that there are no training or behavior cases which justify the use of intentional aversive punishment-based interventions in any form of training ranging from general obedience and tricks to dealing with severe behavior problems."

Words + Phrases You WANT to Hear, Indicating Reward Based Training Methods

Reward, mark, reinforce, stress threshold, management, redirect, emotional well-being, body language, high value treat, decompression, enrichment, operant conditioning, classical conditioning, learner, teacher

Words + Phrases You DON'T WANT to Hear, Indicating Inhumane Training Methods

Correction, alpha, pack leader, dominance, balanced training, results guaranteed, boss, misbehaving, using all four quadrants

Equipment You WANT to See, Indicating Reward Based Training

Treat pouch, harness, clicker, food rewards, toy rewards, management tools such as gates or x-pens, mental enrichment tools such as lick mats or snuffle mats

Equipment You DON'T WANT to See, Indicating Inhumane Training Methods

E-collar (tone, vibrate or shock), prong collar, citronella collar, slip lead, spray bottle, shake cans

Credentials, Certificates and Methods Are Clearly Advertised

Reward-based trainers will make it very apparent that they use positive reinforcement methods only - look for this explicit declaration. Additionally, credible trainers who have received formal training in humane, science-based methods will make their credentials easily accessible. Some examples of certifications to look for that indicate an evidence-based approach that meets the LIMA (least intrusive, minimally aversive) code of ethics include:


  • CPDT - KA

  • CDBC

  • CBCC - KA

  • PCT-A

  • Fear Free Certified

You Will Be Involved In All Aspects of Training

It's important that you will be present for all training sessions. In quality dog training, the pet and pet parent learn together. Effective, humane dog training is less about demanding blind obedience from your dog and more about building a relationship with them - one that consists of clear, respectful and reciprocal communication. While your dog is working hard to learn what you want from them, you're also working hard to learn what your dog needs from you!

There Are No Guarantees Promised

A quality trainer using humane methods works at the speed of the learner, not the other way around. There should never be any results guaranteed or time-frames promised at the start of any training relationship. Instead, there should be discussions around strategies to successfully manage the challenging behaviors while you are working at your dog's speed to teach them appropriate alternative behaviors.


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