I've seen more and more posts on Social Media lately about abusive dog trainers come to light, and my heart hurts for the dogs (and the owners of the dogs) that have been affected by these people. Some of these trainers (and I use that term lightly) have credentials and years of experience behind their names, which makes it even worse that they would be committing atrocious abusive acts towards dogs entrusted in their care. It's downright sickening, and it's time that we talk about how to find a proper trainer that you can trust, and red flags to look for in those that may not be so trustworthy.
So how does one find the right dog trainer for themselves and their dog? I'm glad you asked.
You want to look for a trainer that you click with- if something feels off during a consultation, trust your gut. You are going to be spending a significant chunk of time with this person, and you're going to be trusting them to train and take care of your dog, so finding someone that you can have an easy, open conversation with and someone that you can get along with and take direction from, is vital.
Speaking of easy and open conversation, you should be able to freely ask questions about the trainer's methods and any training tools they may use with your dog. If they hesitate or seem hostile, run. Some trainers can talk a good game to unsuspecting dog owners, so be sure you research training methods and tools from unbiased sources to educate yourself before calling. If the trainer uses terms incorrectly ("shock collar" is a big one, the proper term is "eCollar" for example) then you should question them further. Ask them how they correct a dog that isn't listening, and see what they say. A good and reputable trainer should never get upset or refuse to answer questions pertaining to their training style.
Another thing to ask about is where the training will take place. Some trainers train out of their homes, while others are mobile and come to you. Some do both. Some have a facility. Find what works best for you and then ask more questions about how it works. Many dog owners want to see where their dog may be staying or spending a lot of their time, which is understandable. For insurance reasons, many trainers cannot freely give access to their facilities, especially if the dog owner isn't under contract with them, but they should be willing to provide photos or videos to you at your request. Ask about the typical schedule for dogs in their care when the owner is away. Do they provide video updates to their owners? How frequently? If there's no contract, there's nothing protecting you or your dog, so always make sure there's a contract for dog training should you decide to move forward with a trainer. Be sure to read line by line and ask questions about anything you may need further clarification on. When in doubt, don't sign.
Dog Training as a whole is an unregulated industry, which means that any Joe Schmoe off the street can one day decide to pick up a leash and say they're The World's Best Dog Trainer. There's a lot of Hobby Trainers around, and some people that claim to be more than they are. They may use buzzwords to make themselves sound better, but ask them for their credentials. Look for trainers that are part of training organizations that follow training methods you identify with, and verify they're in Good Standing. Ask if they have any certifications, and if those certifications are up-to-date. Do they attend seminars regularly? Experience alone doesn't count- just because someone has been a dog owner for 20+ years doesn't mean they're a trainer; just because someone claims they're a trainer doesn't mean they have adequate experience with dogs. There's a huge difference between working with 100 dogs in 20 years and 100 dogs in two years, for example.
References and referrals are also integral in finding a good trainer. Ask for current client references if you desire. Post in your local Facebook Groups asking if anyone has used said trainer and what their experience was. Reviews are nice, but not every client reviews a business. If you do check reviews, be sure to read the good and the bad, and see how the business owner responds to them.
Look at their Social Media posts- do they have a Social Media Presence? What about their website? When were things last updated?
Are they familiar with different breeds? Do they specialize in any specific training (obedience for example, or fearful and reactive dogs)? Are they a Pet Dog Trainer or a Working/Sport Dog Trainer? These things make a huge difference.
Are they licensed with their county and state? Do they have insurance? These separate the Hobby Trainers from the Professionals. If they are taking your money, they need to be legitimate and follow the laws, otherwise they're operating illegally and that alone is a big red flag.
Bottom line is to ask question after question after question. Beware of anyone that guarantees anything with your dog or that promises certain results, especially if it sounds too good to be true. I hope this article has helped you, dear Dog Owner.
Honest dog trainers exist - I'm one of them - and I always welcome questions and am happy to discuss any of the above with potential clients in my free Consultation Calls.