How to choose a good dog trainerChoosing a trainer

How do you go about finding a trainer who is right for you? Whilst there are many trainers to choose from, unfortunately for dog owners this industry is unregulated and trainers are not required to hold qualifications or have any professional training.

We know more about dogs than we have ever done and this new found knowledge has transformed the way we train. No longer is it necessary, or accepted, to use harsh methods to train animals.

As a dog owner, it is important to know that standards of professional competence within the industry vary. Theories based on concepts such as 'dominance', 'the alpha role' or 'correction' have now been replaced with more modern approaches to training. Evidence supports that adopting such methods is detrimental.       

A dog’s wellbeing and behaviour can be determined by the type of training they receive and the advice you decide to follow. Not all trainers are knowledgeable in all aspects of training and behaviour, and may give advice beyond their level of knowledge and skills. Not all qualifications are equal. A list of letters after a name does not necessarily guarantee suitable competence.

To find a trainer, or behaviourist, look for one who uses methods of training that reward for desirable behaviour, and who has undergone a bona fide assessment process to an accredited and nationally recognised organisation.

Whilst convenience and location are valid reasons for choosing a dog trainer, it may be that a little extra effort travelling to a trainer you prefer will ultimately be time well spent.

Red flags to watch for when making your choice

The term 'trainer' or 'behaviourist' can cover a wide range of services, skills and experience. Before engaging help with your dog, consider carefully when making your choice and watch out for 'red flags' that indicate you could potentially be choosing the wrong trainer for your needs. Some considerations to help you make your decision:

Puppy parties and socialisation - proper socialisation and good quality training is necessary and when carried out properly gets puppies off to a good start.  However, it is not okay for puppies to play uncontrollably in a class in the name of socialisation. Negative experiences during a puppy's sensitive time are likely to have a long-lasting and deterimental effect.Harsh dog training methods

Dominance or a pack leader - be wary of such terms. The dominance theory has been long been debunked, as it causes more harm than good. It is no longer regarded as a useful or valid explanation for a dog's behaviour. Read more about 'dominance'.

A wealth of experience - the length of time someone has been training dogs should not be the only factor in your decision. Without continuous personal and professional development to improve knowledge of the latest research and techniques, it is possible to persistently apply poor and outdated practices. Engaging a trainer or behaviourist who has not received suitable training or unknowingly implements inappropriate methods can risk your pet’s welfare and even worsen their behaviour.

Startle devices or gadgets - distraction techniques, such as rattle cans or water squirters, have no place in animal training. A true positive reinforcement trainer will not use such methods that have potential to startle or scare a dog, or punish a dog for making mistakes.

"Treat training is bribery" - if a trainer will not use treats because they consider your dog should 'respect you', or want to 'please you' then they do not understand the principles of how dogs learn. The science shows that rewarded behaviour will be repeated! If you know how to use treats correctly in training, then it is NOT bribery.

Advice over the phone - problems and behavioural issues cannot, and should not, be determined based purely on descriptions given by an owner over the phone. It is the symptoms that owners are seeing, therefore before offering any advice your dog would need to be assessed to identify what is the actual cause of their behaviour.

Guaranteed results - it is not possible to guarantee results because trainers facilitate the training process and, in effect, train you, the human handler. A successful outcome depends on many factors that are separate to the trainer, such as the dog's genetics, past experience and learned outcomes. Also, an owner's commitment and ability to comply with the training plan is important. However, a trainer should be able to ensure satifisfaction from using their services.

Whilst trainers are unlikely to advertise the use of harsh methods, or are even aware they are using aversive techniques, do not be afraid to ask questions and check out the credibility of their qualifications. You could end up paying for training or an expensive consultation from someone who is no more qualified than you.

Don't be afraid to ask a potential trainer the following questions:

  • Where did you learn how to work with dogs?
  • What books do you recommend?
  • What qualifications do you have?
  • What was the last seminar/workshop you attended?
  • What is your training philosophy?
  • What types of training equipment do you recommend?

Beverley Saucell training and behaviour expert Why choose me?

Dog training and pet behaviour counselling is my full time occupation, and being able to do my job depends on my ability and skills as a professionalI love dogs and am passionate about working with them. This is a great job to have, which is why I continue to keep up to date with latest research and methods.

I am a member of professional organisations that represent practitioners with the appropriate qualifications and experience, requiring a high level of education and assessment, rather than on a fee paying basis. I am proud to be a member of these organisations, as they advocate only the use of humane methods and oppose the use of any type of punishment.

I have extensive academic knowledge and remain current with the science that supports the methods I use. These methods are gentle and motivational and I am confident you will feel comfortable using these, since they are as kind as they are effective.

020 8892 2435

07929 292909




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