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Friday, 23 September 2011

How do you select a good dog trainer?

If you have a problem with your dog how do you find someone reliable to help you solve your problems. Having watched the One Show I now realise that anyone can call themselves a dog trainer! Is there a checklist of questions I can ask to reveal whether the trainer knows what he or she is doing?
Patrick Farnsworth, by email


  1. Here at Xtra Dog we often get asked if we can recommend a trainer. We always advise people to consult a member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (UK)(APDT). We are not saying that this is the only good organisations but we know that all APDT members have passed exams to qualify, both theory and practical and as importantly conform to a code of coduct banning any punitive training techniques or the use of punitive dog training equipment, ie choke chains, spray collars etc. Their website is

    We also recommend our customers to Tellington TTouch practitioners. TTouch is a method of working with animals without fear or force, the non-habitual movements release tension using gently bodywork and physically balancing groundwork exercises. This is brilliant for dogs with fear, anxiety issues etc. Their website is

  2. Questions to ask:

    1. "How many years have you been a dog training professional?"
    2. "Do you hold any academically recognised qualifications? HNC / HND / Diploma / Bsc etc. (Ask for photocopies of qualifications and then check the institution that provided them for the level of education it required)".
    3. "Do you hold professional indemnity and public liability insurance? (Ask for photocopies of insurance)".
    4. "Have you dealt with the problem I'm dealing with before? Can you tell me briefly how you have dealt with it in the past?"
    5. "What types of equipment do you use in your work?" (if they say prong collar, electric shock collar, choke chain or anything that you think will cause the dog pain, end the phonecall!)
    6. Ask to come along to a session to observe the way the professional works. If at any time you wince, or feel uncomfortable with their methods, don't go back. Your hunch is usually right...).
    7. Do not be afraid to question the professional and if you don't like their answers in any way, don't use them!

    That's just a few - I'm sure there will be others out there that will think of a few more. I'm happy to answer / comply with all of the above and I think every GENUINE professional would.

    ~Jaqi Bunn~
    DogPsyche UK

  3. I`ve had great trainers with no qualifications, and highly qualified ones I walked out on. The only sure way for me is to go and watch a session without your dog. If you`re happy, return with your dog.
    But first, read at least 4 books by trainers/ behaviourists and compare. That gives you a knowledge base to work from and a few sassy answers when your trainer tells you something you don`t agree with.

  4. Word of mouth is a good way to find someone in your area - happy clients will always readily spread the word if they were happy with the training they received! Go along and watch some classes - look for happy dogs that really 'smile' as they're working. Look for lots of positive rewarding - food and play.

    Ask about Continuing Personal Development - any trainer worth their weight should be regularly attending seminars and workshops with top trainers to ensure their knowledge is up to date and they aren't just doing the same old thing they've been doing for the last 30 years. Ask if they've been to workshops/seminars/how they ensure their methods are modern and effective.

    And how about asking if they have any qualifications in teaching the people as well as the dogs, as after all it's the people that are being taught? You want someone who knows something about learning theory as it applies to the dogs and the people in a class, and who know something about how to structure a lesson to make it informative, dynamic and organised, as well as fun!

    Membership of a body can be a good starting point, though I know of members who still use punitive or outdated methods, so it doesn't necessarily mean much.

  5. My advice would be, if you want a trainer use a full member of the APDT and a full member of the APBC or a CCAB (Certified Clinical Animal Behaviourist) if you want a behaviourist. That way you know they person you get is = a) extremely academically qualified b) will only used reward based methods c) in the instance of the APBC / CCAB behaviourist have part of their fee covered by most major pet insurers (depending on each individiual case of course) for behaviour consultations and d) have had years of practical experience as they can only obtain membership to these organisations by having this. Much better to use people who have been properly assessed by independant authorities and have all the necessary qualifications and practical experience to do a really good job than to take the word of someone you meet in the park. The last gentleman I saw who had seen a trainer that had been recommended by someone in his local park had been bitten so badly he had been in hospital for 7 days.

  6. I reckon DogPsyche's answer to this question is pretty much spot on - the only thing I'd add would be to ask "how many years have you worked with animals" because a number of canine behaviourists have come into the field after first studying other useful aspects of Animal Welfare. Maybe also ask "which professional body do you belong to?", since there are more than just the largest ones (i.e APDT, APBC) who do some great work and offer some excellent CPD and vocational courses.

  7. I would also avoid those that train your dog without you even being present!

  8. Personally I would ask what qualifications they have done and how long they have been studying dog behaviour. I do feel it does not always reflect the on the trainer if they have recently started dog training, they may have been studying for years before starting up and we all have to start somewhere. I would ask what experience they have of dealing with the situation you have. I do feel that the APDT is an amazing place to check but there are also some very good trainers that do not register with them for many different reasons. Reccommendations are always a good way to find a good trainer

  9. Whilst the APDT is an admirable organisation, they have members who sell and promote products which their code of conduct bans. Also only those who have joined more recently have had to pass a practical and theoretical exam.

  10. I am Trainer and went along with a friend to watch an APDT trainer. I was doing a study for my Canine Psychology qualification and needed to observe a few classes. My friend's dog could be a little reactive to other dogs and the APDT trainer advised (and did it!) pinning the dog to the floor in a headlock. He also had all of his students bringing along treats as rewards but also a Jif Lemon to squirt at the dogs!!! Is that what they call balanced training????? Funny, I never bothered to join the APDT!!!!

  11. I have to respectfully disagree with a post above that implies that someone only needs to have studied / have qualifications to set up as a dog trainer or behaviourist. I've taken on many animal behaviour degree students over the years on work placement and they have all agreed that their studies did not prepare them to go straight into the workplace. A high level of hands-on skill is required that can only be achieved through years of hands-on work with dogs. A careful balance of experience, qualifications and Continued Professional Development (in the form of regularly updating knowledge through seminars, workshops, books, research papers etc) is ESSENTIAL in this profession. I know everyone's got to start somewhere, but that should be serving a kind of 'apprenticeship' with an experienced professional before setting up on their own.

  12. This is such a difficult question to answer. Qualifications, years of experience, membership of an organisation - none of these tells you about how a trainer/behaviourist operates. A recommendation by word of mouth is also no use - look how pleased Roxy's owners were with Jordan Shelley. I would not allow a potential client to come and view me working with another client on a case as it is not professional so this option is not reliable either. I have racked my brain for 2 hours and cannot decide on any good answer. I have qualifications, experience, am a TTouch practitioner and an animal physiotherapist and I work at a vets who recommend me. And I have insurance. Still I do not think this tells people how I work and do not expect people to be impressed by any of it. I do not know the answer to this question but would love to see it debated because it is an extremely good question and people out there are so confused by conflicting information.

    A lady contacted me after seeing my comment on the Jordan debate to discuss her dogs behaviour. She asked me how I work because she has spent lots of money to get lots of conflicting advice and she no longer knows what to look for. I said she had my complete sympathy and explained as well as I could how I work. The rest is now up to me when I go to see her but would she know if I am doing it right or wrong - particularly if I do things no-one else has tried, which I have no doubt I will be doing as I am a TTouch practitioner also!

    I will continue to ponder this issue and I hope it prompts others to do the same and come up with a brand new way to bring together good people from all paths of experience and education. I think the main qualities have to be flexibility of thought and methods within the positive training sphere, the ability to problem solve and think laterally, an excellent understanding of and ability to communicate with people and dogs and the ability to adjust constantly to developements during the training programme/session.

    The question is how do you package that for people to see easily? Interesting debate!!

  13. Sarah - you should inform the APDT about that training class - both of those actions breach the APDT code of conduct and they would investigate if a member was doing/recommending this in classes.

  14. I compete and I couldn't give a damn about qualifications. I look and see what the trainer's students are achieving and decide if I feel comfortable with the methods. The best trainers are not necessarily the easiest to get on with but they can read dogs and handlers like a book, observe minutely and have incredible flexibility in their approach to each different breed and dog and handler combination.

  15. Ask people out walking their well behaved dogs who they train with. Always go along to a training session on your own before you sign up. Look for happy dogs and owners, is the trainer relaxed and in control of the class (without using aversion techniques). If you don't like the atmosphere, look for another class.

  16. Definitely ring them up and have a chat. You can find out whether or not it would be someone you feel you can work with. Ask them about their methods of training - do they use choke chains, and what would they do if your dog started barking in class, for example? If they mention any kind of dominance techniques, or talk about being a pack leader, politely decline. Ask them how long they have been working with dogs and whether or not they have kept their skills up to date. If you ask about association membership, in my case the APDT had only just got started when I took my BIPDT instructor exam! Methods, experience, outlook, skill, are the makings of a good instructor. No instructor is perfect and you have to put in the work yourself as well, remember!
    For a behaviourist I would be looking at employing a full member of either APBC or UKRCB and your Vet should give you a referral. Anyone calling themselves a behaviourist who does not ask for vet referral, criticises other behaviourists or offers a 'magic' solution is to be avoided, and especially those who charge what appears to be an outrageously high fee. A good behaviourist does not overcharge for their services.
    Karen Wild (WildPaw), Full member APBC, Associate Member of BIPDT, Pawprint Puppy and Dog Training and

  17. Val Harvey, Chairman Association of Pet Dog Trainers, UK24 September 2011 at 12:12

    Sarah and Anonymous regarding APDT members breaking the Code of Practise: I don't know how long ago you saw these breaches, but if they were recent please - as Janet said - put a complaint in. Details are on the website, or contact the office. We have 538 members currently, and we cannot check on all of their classes all of the time. We take complaints connected with training very seriously. We ask that you give us your name, details of the breach, dates and locations and any other witnesses who we can talk to. Someone from the complaints committee will talk to you, the member and any witnesses and the complaints committee will come to a decision as to the appropriate course of action. We cannot investigate anonymous complaints, but all named complaints are investigated and if upheld the member can have their membership taken away.

  18. Val Harvey, Chairman Association of Pet Dog Trainers, UK24 September 2011 at 12:48

    I think it is important to remember that trainers/instructors are not necessarily behaviourists. A lot do both, but not all. So if you have, for example, a problem with your dog being aggressive you should consult a behaviourist following a vet referral. Have a look on the Animal Behaviour Training Council website (www.abtcouncil) for organisations who have a code of practice/conduct and are regulated by their organisations.

    If you are looking for a Training Instructor - someone who will teach you how to train your dog - then I would obviously recommend APDT, UK, but again check out the ABTC for regulated organisations.

    If you are looking for a class to attend ALWAYS go and look at a class before enrolling. If there is any shouting (except in emergency training), lead jerking, water squirting, choke chains, pinning, other physical punishment (eg smacking), an instructor dragging the dog from under a chair/into the hall, or an instructor 'showing the dog who is the boss' then you should walk away and try somewhere else.
    How does the instructor deal with a barking dog? Are the owners and dogs relaxed? (That is not easy to judge on the first night of the course, but if it is week two or later then they should be comfortable). How do they help someone who can't manage an exercise? Does the instructor work with everyone, or just a select few who are doing really well?

    You should also check how many dogs are in the class - eight is about the maximum for one instructor and an assistant. This would obviously depend on the instructor's skill - folk new to instructing will sometimes only be able to give adequate attention to four or five dogs - and the available space.

    Just because someone has been instructing for 30 years does not make them a good instructor (nor does it make them a bad one!). As said in a previous post, ask questions about what they have done, whether they keep up to date with their learning etc. I have been instructing for 17 years, I keep up to date by attending seminars and workshops, reading books, internet papers etc, but in all that time I have only been asked once about my qualifications/membership /knowledge. Sadly, a lot of dog owners assume that you need to be qualified or regulated to call yourself a trainer or behaviourist and don't find out differently until things go wrong. We have numerous calls to the office asking to make a complaint about an instructor who is not a member and the owners are shocked to discover that anyone can set themselves up as a Trainer.

    If you are looking at someone's qualifications, do not assume that having a lot of 'letters' makes them a good instructor. Try and find out what those letters actually represent - it could mean a lot or very little. And on that note, only members listed on our site ( are currently members of APDT, UK - there are other APDT's across the world and their membership criteria varies greatly.

  19. This has turned out to be a really informative thread that I'm going to refer people to when they ask what they should be looking for in a Trainer or Behaviourist. Thanks Val, for explaining that Trainers aren't always Behaviourists and vice versa. I see the difference as similar to that of a School Teacher or Psychotherapist; both highly skilled professions with lots of crossover areas but essentially different.

  20. "Also only those who have joined more recently have had to pass a practical and theoretical exam. "

    Sorry, coming to this discussion late and someone else may already have commented on this but...

    I have been an APDT member since 1997...and I had a written exam, oral exam and had my classes assessed when I became a member 14 years ago.

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