With so many trainers out there, it can be challenging to find a trainer who is right for you, and more importantly, who is right for your dog. Before seeking out dog training you should first identify what it is you want to accomplish through training, and what type or style of training you are comfortable with. If you are like most dog owners, you will want your dog to listen to you when it matters most. This means having the ability to help your dog to be successful in responding to you during times of excitement, distraction, or anything else that causes your dog to ignore you. I commend those of you who seek out training before or around the time they plan to adopt a dog. Proactiveness in planning ahead will set you up for more success with minimal frustration. However, the reality is most do not seek out training until they feel there is a need. A major reason dog owners seek out a trainer is that they are facing some amount of difficulty or frustration at times with their dog.
Hire a Professional
If you are facing real issues with your dog, you don't want to hire an amateur trainer. Understanding the basics of dog training is so easy that practically anyone can call themselves a dog trainer. This is why there are so many trainers out there but only a select few who can really help you achieve progress through the most difficult situations. A professional trainer will be able to not only help you through the issues you are facing but will set you up for success for the long term. To get the most out of training, you should plan on learning and adopting the right mindset (the framework that will guide your decision making in handling your dog's training, behavior, and lifestyle management) while teaching your dog the basic obedience skills and learn how to practically apply them in your day to day lifestyle. Beware of learning just a few "tips" or "tricks" that are claimed to "fix" specific issues with your dog. There is no quick fix in dog training. You need to take a look at the big picture as it encompasses all factors affecting your dog's behavior. Tips and tricks for solving a specific behavior issues may work for some dogs but not most. (Besides, who wants to walk around with a squirt bottle or a tin can filled with rocks or pocket change when they are with their dog? These are not practical in addition to the fact that they are "deterrents" and don't really help much with your dog's confidence.) The right trainer will be able to help you overcome issues you are facing while helping your dog become the happy and confident dog he was born to be. Trainers who focus on teaching you how to help your dog with what "not to do" instead of what "to do" have it backwards. A good training program begins with teaching the dog how to do things properly instead of only focusing on correcting unwanted behavior. Think about what is logical if you were to help a shy or insecure dog. The idea is to help the dog learn and overcome, NOT to increase the shyness or insecurity because our mindset was to first correct unwanted behavior. A real professional knows how to help dogs with any type of personality traits.
Understand Mindset and Lifestyle Effects
Dog training is so much more than just classical conditioning. Conditioning your dog to respond to what you are asking is only a small piece of the much larger picture in the potential success you can achieve. Dog training is also about proper mindset and lifestyle. Mindset has a lot to do with philosophy, ethics, and values. It is what guides our approach to dog training as a whole and it varies dramatically from trainer to trainer. Your prospective trainer should take the time to explain his or her approach to training and why it works. Use your best judgment in determining if your prospective trainer's philosophy, ethics, and values make sense and are in line with your beliefs.
Corrective-based mindset: When a dog makes a mistake, the first reaction from the trainer would be to correct the dog's behavior instead of helping the dog understand what he should be doing instead.Passive mindset: Some trainers may have a much more passive mindset, where they only acknowledge the dogs successes and completely ignore mistakes. This does little to help or prevent mistakes that have the potential to become habit.
Proactive leadership mindset: Here at Intelligent K9, we teach the proactive leadership mindset. "Leadership" meaning we want provide the right guidance and help our dog learn to make the right decisions and "proactive" meaning we are going to help your dog be successful from the start and not wait for him to make a mistake and then feel the need to correct. If we wait for our dog to make a mistake, then we are late and our dog already practiced a behavior we may not agree with. If this happens frequently, that behavior can/will become habit. In addition, the first step in ridding our dog of habits or behaviors we don't agree with is to not practice them. If we focus our attention on being much more proactive and providing the right guidance, we can help our dog learn successful behaviors and skills while preventing behavior we do not want. This rids us of the need to be overly harsh or correct our dog and leads to a much more happy confident dog throughout the learning process. By adopting the right mindset and understanding how lifestyle affects your dog, you will be in a much better position to understand how to help your dog be the best dog he can be.
The Mental Challenge
A good dog training program should include teaching the dog how to do things properly such as responding to your guidance. Your dog should first learn the basic obedience commands (such as "come", “sit”, "stay", etc.) and learn them well. Learning these fundamentals will enhance your dog's understanding of following your lead. This takes practice and should be done with patience while gradually introducing varying levels of distraction. The real key to success is overcoming the challenges of distraction. This takes knowledge, skill, patience, the ability to read a dog's actions/intentions, and the ability to apply the right communication with the right timing in guiding and rewarding the dog. This requires quite a bit of mental energy from your dog. This mental exercise is a fantastic supplement to the physical exercise you may already be giving to your dog.
Hiring in the Blind
One thing a dog owner should never do is sign up for training with no knowledge of the trainer's abilities or what to expect as a result of the training. Not all dog training is the same. When hiring the right trainer, you should plan on some amount of private instruction. The group class format typically does not have the ability to help you with your specific issues. Dog training starts in the home. If your dog does not listen to you at home then he will definitely not listen to you outside of home with a ton more distraction. To have a thorough understanding of all things a trainer can help you with, you should seek one who is willing to do a private consultation with you and your dog. Keep in mind that words like "consultations", "evaluations", and "free introductory lesson" are used interchangeably. Just make sure you can get some private time with the trainer so that you can learn about each other before signing up for training. A professional trainer should take the time to see and understand your situation with your dog before advising you on training. They should also take the time to explain how training works in addition to how it will specifically help your case with your dog. And finally, you should see the trainer's portfolio. You should ask the trainer to show you a dog he has trained. While videos will suffice, nothing compares to an in-person demonstration.
While there are many trainers in your local area who are available and willing to help you with your dog, there are fewer professionals who really understand what they are teaching and possess the right abilities to help you. Keep in mind, a real professional will know and understand so much more than just classically conditioning your dog to respond to a command. The right trainer will have the patience, knowledge, and skill to teach you and your dog while assisting you in developing the right mental framework and lifestyle application to set you up for the most success possible. Setting you up for the most success possible means you should learn the skills and knowledge you need to continue to help your dog well into the future and thus negating the need to work with a trainer indefinitely.