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Choosing the Right Dog Trainer
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My own view is that the best dog training is solidly grounded in science and requires no force to develop desirable habits in place of undesirable ones, and of course, I’d like to steer you to trainers who share that view. Gail Fisher, the owner of All Dogs Gym in Manchester, N.H., has more than 30 years of professional training experience. An expert traditional-style trainer now wholeheartedly committed to clicker training, she says that “over the past 15 years, there has been a sea change in dog training philosophies. Trainers using positively oriented, dog-friendly techniques can be found virtually everywhere … And we are all the better for it.”

In conclusion, if someone who makes her living as a professional dog trainer avails herself of others’ expertise, the rest of us mortals should probably consider it, too. Many people don’t know where to start, or have a hard time translating the words they read into physical movements. Some just need encouragement. As for the dogs, even minimal training greatly increases their chances of staying in their home for life. Good training takes work, but it isn’t drudgery—it’s a joy. And out of joy grows love.
 


 

The Name Game
Generally, a trainer is someone who works on mannerly behavior (polite leash-walking, waiting at the door instead of barging out, ignoring that pork chop on the sidewalk), while behavioral counselors (or behavioral advisors, or behavior modification specialists or any of a number of variations) are the people you call when your dog barks and lunges at other dogs on-leash, or growls over her food bowl. Just as anyone can call himself a trainer, anyone can legally call himself a behaviorist. To be certified by the Animal Behavior Society, an individual must have a PhD, or a DVM with at least a two-year, university-approved residency in behavior, as well as three years of practice in applied animal behavior. Visit certifiedanimalbehaviorist.com for more on how to find a certified behaviorist in your area.
 

FAQs
Your initial contact with a potential trainer will most likely be over the telephone. The answers to a few quick questions can help you decide if the person to whom you’re speaking is a likely candidate. And remember, you have to be willing to fully participate in the process—your dog isn’t the only one being trained!—so check your own reactions to the candidate’s tone and attitudes.
1. Training philosophy and background?
2. Training specialties?
3. Size of classes? Are classes divided into ages/sizes of dogs?
4. Is it possible to observe a class or two before signing up?
5. Are references available?

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This article first appeared in The Bark,
Issue 39: Nov/Dec 2006
Brooklyn-based Jolanta Benal is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer who has studied positive-reinforcement methods with Pat Miller.

Illustration by Donna Grethen

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