Humane training techniques. This is by far the most important criterion. Dog training should be fun for everyone involved, including your dog. Why should learning hurt? Look for a trainer who uses food, attention, play, and praise to motivate your dog, and who ignores unwanted behaviors or simply withholds rewards until the dog gets it right. Training should never involve yelling, choking, shocking, shaking the scruff, tugging on the leash, alpha rolling, or any other behavior that frightens or inflicts pain on the dog.
Education/training. Unfortunately, dog training as an industry has no formal standardization, which makes it difficult to tell the academically sound dog trainer schools from the less so. But there are a number of things you can look for in a dog trainer. For example:
- Certification from a school that teaches only positive reinforcement methods.
- A proven commitment to ongoing education through workshops and seminars.
- Membership of a professional organization like the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT), the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC), the Association of Animal Behavior Professionals (AABP), etc.
- Reputable certificates/certifications such as CPDT (Certified Professional Dog Trainer), CTC (Certificate in Training & Counseling from The San Francisco SPCA), CAP (Competency Assessment Program from Kay Lawrence), and KPA CTP (Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner).
Professionalism, not guarantees. Dogs are animals, not appliances—they don’t come with guarantees. Anyone who claims to be able to ‘fix’ every dog is playing hard and fast with the truth. A good dog trainer can make a big difference to almost any behavioral issue a dog can have, but occasionally a problem can only be lessened or controlled. However, a trainer should always be willing to guarantee your satisfaction with his or her professionalism. Look for someone with good credentials and a positive but realistic approach.
Sensible rates. As in, not too low. The cost of dog training varies, depending on where you live and the type of instruction you want. Private lessons are more expensive than group classes. But on the whole, if a dog trainer asks less for an hour’s work than your kid would make at Starbucks, chances are he or she has little or no education. Dog training is hard to do well and harder still to teach. Nobody says you have to hire Victoria Stillwell, but if you want a professional, be prepared to pay a professional’s wage.