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Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Train and explain!

How do you choose a good dog trainer?
There are several people locally who advertise their services in the vets, post office, pet shop etc and all have different initials after their names and catchy business names that all sound very familiar. Exactly how many Dog Listeners/Whisperers/Tamers/Botherers are there in Britain? Is this a recognised training method - or a chain? Or just a name lots of people have chosen to adopt? Are there any chains of dog trainers who all agree to use the same methods? Be a good idea if there was.
What do all these initials actually equate to?
Can it just mean they've paid to go on a correspondence course?
Does it ever mean they've actually been assessed and have passed some practical tests? Knowing the theory and being able to teach are two very different skills.
Do any qualifications mean you follow a specific doctrine? For example that you follow Cesar Milan or Victoria Stilwell for eg?
Most of all I want someone that will make things better - not worse!
I think it's very hard to choose.
If you go off personal recommendation you're often talking to someone who has nothing to compare their experience with. And they might not mind someone zapping their dog or using a choke chain!
I have two dogs with very poor recall and I want to be able to let them off the leads without worry. One is already a bit spooky, don't want someone frightening the life out of them.
What questions should I ask to make sure I'm getting the best person?
What do you have to do to get those initials? An idiot's guide would be appreciated!
If you're a dog trainer can you explain to me what you did to get your qualifications and which courses you found the most helpful/testing? I know that everyone will probably think they've picked the right courses to go on, but I suspect there's more than one that's good. Would just like to know the differences!
Ray Wheeler


  1. When I got my Staffy the RSPCA recommended I look for a local Association of Pet Dog Trainers trainer. I did and have been pleased (although at 18 months old I'm still trying to catch said Staffy at the end of a walk!). I checked out the APDT website and found they used reward based training. The trainer I chose was really local (which was a bonus) and the name said it all (Tricks 4 Treats). The fact that they insist on a small class size (8 maximum) is also a good indication in my opinion. Plus I get of lot of additional support via email and phone if I want it. My second dog (another rescue - a Springer this time) is now attending beginners class there.

    I admit I dodn't have any reference points other than TV trainers. But I've never watched The Dog Whisperer and really like Victoria Stillwell's programmes, so my choice was based on that and the RSPCA's recommendation.

  2. I believe another organisation of good, reward-based trainers to check-out is COAPE (Centre of Applied Pet Ethology) - founded or co-founded by Dr Peter Neville (who writes up one of his cases in Dogs Today each month)- on their website they list trainers who've studied with them (I don't have any personal experience but I really like Peter's approach judging by his articles).

    Best of luck


  3. Good question!
    Ensure that your trainer is part of a nationally accredited organisation. (and also, that they have a complaints procedure as part of this). Go and watch the classes BEFORE taking your dog and before paying any money. Do you like what you see? Can they teach? What are their own dogs like? Can they take someone's dog and demonstrate the point they are trying to make? WIth one-to-one training, are they interested in your needs? Or are they a 'one-size-fits-all' (disaster!)
    Check that the trainer has a proper, accredited qualification - not an online certificate, and not a day course spent with a celebrity! If you are unsure, ask them to explain.
    If the trainer seems to be asking for an enormous amount of money, think again. Most accredited trainers have a code of practice which states that they are not allowed to charge unreasonable fees.
    Finally, ask them about their experience. Wide range of breeds, other people's dogs? Or their own dogs, and only one or two breeds?
    I have both practical and academic qualifications and have worked as a dog trainer in the Lincs/Cambs area for around 15 years. Very few clients of mine have EVER asked me directly about my training background! I do put letters after my name and I am happy to explain them to my clients. My qualifications were hard-won and took a long time!
    Behaviour organisations such as the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors (APBC) insist on a rigorous application procedure.

    My advice to you is, yes it is a minefield, so you need to trust your instincts on this one.If it sounds dodgy, it probably is.

  4. It is a minefield. I would recommend:
    Search if you would like help with a training problem
    Search if you think your dog has a behaviour problem. Your vet can also refer you to a qualified behaviourist.
    Ask for references, at least 3, and to view certificates for relevant qualifications.
    Attend a class to observe, or a one-2-one session to observe.
    Check the trainer/behaviourist has insurance.
    Make sure they use kind, positive training methods.

  5. Don't assume fabulous facilities mean fabulous training, or that good-hearted and well-meaning trainers are well-trained trainers.

    Don't go for the company who 'don't need to advertise' or 'pay as you go training' where anyone can just turn up at any time because class size is very important. If 20 people all turn up and they don't turn anyone away, how much 'training', realistically are you and your dog going to get, as opposed to just following what the instructor says and having no real idea if you are doing it correctly because there are too many dogs for them to watch them all.

  6. I would just add to all these excellent comments that if your dog has a behaviour problem (i.e. not teaching sit, down, heel, etc) you should always go to see your Veterinary Surgeon FIRST.

    Behaviour consultants, unless they themselves are Vets, are not medically trained and cannot detect underlying physical/medical causes which often affect behaviour. From serious complaints such as an animal that is suffering arthritis, thyroid or congenital defects through to an animal that is in pain from a simple infection, all of these can affect behaviour. Your 'disobedient' pet may simply be feeling unwell. It would be unethical for any trainer/consultant to take action without a medical screening first. If they offer - say no thank you.

    Your Vet should be able to refer you to an accredited Behaviour Consultant such as one from the APBC (link is above). This may also mean that you can claim on your pet insurance since insurers often have a list of 'trusted' accredited practitioners.

  7. I have just set up doing this, and can certainly say from experience that its all baffling territory! Look up letters before you think they are worth anything, meet the people who will be teaching, and watch their classes.

    Small classes are better, or one on one, but even trainers who have lots of letters after their name may not teach the way you want.