Selecting an obedience trainer for you and your puppy can seem overwhelming. Depending on where you live, there may be so many to choose from you don't know where to begin. Or, you may be frustrated with how little is offered, and wondering how to make the most out of it.
Once you have decided to register your four-legged friend in obedience classes, the next step is to select a class.
There are several methods of training available. Clickers, training collars, and treats are often markers of various techniques used by instructors. You will likely meet people who can tell you great stories as well as horror stories about each of these methods.
In my opinion, the instructor is far more important than the method used.
The best place to start is with a personal recommendation. Speak to your breeder, friends, family, or other dog owners at the dog park about who they have used. Two things should stand out in their recommendation:
1. The owner should praise the instructor – not just the institution or training method they represent. How is the trainer’s personality? Is she condescending or respectful? Is he professional? Etc.
2. Does the dog’s behaviour stand as a recommendation of the trainer? Ask yourself – “Do I want my dog to behave like their dog?”
Looking at a dog’s behaviour at the dog park in your community is a great way to choose who to ask for a referral. If the dog comes immediately when called, obeys commands, and is good with people and other dogs, that owner can be a good starting point.
Once you have your starting point, whether it is (hopefully) a referral, or simply scouring listings in your area, the next step is Do Your Research.
Start by looking online.
1. Make sure the trainer is certified and do a quick search with their registering board to ensure they are actually certified and not falsifying the letters after their name.
2. Do a Google search on the trainer’s name/company name to find out any additional information you can about them.
3. Do a search for “reviews” about that trainer.
**Don’t rule someone out just because nothing comes up. Some trainers are small operations, and there simply isn’t any information out there. This is not a bad thing.
** DO worry if you find substantial negative claims about them –about their treatment of either the animals or the owners.
Next, begin calling prospective trainers.
Ask the following questions:
1. What is your training philosophy?
2. What training methods do you use?
3. What books do you recommend?
4. Where did you learn to be a trainer?
5. Can you provide references? (and actually ask for them, not just a “yes” answer)
6. Are they willing to meet with you in advance?
Also ask extra questions about your dog/puppy specifically. Continue to ask questions until you feel comfortable with them.
Be wary of:
- Any trainer who becomes argumentative or condescending when talking with you. If you feel they have something to hide, move on to the next trainer.
- An institution where you cannot speak to the trainer directly that will be teaching your class. *Relationship is Everything!*
- Anyone who will ‘diagnose’ your dog or puppy over the phone/email without first meeting both you and your dog.
- Offers guarantees regarding the results of your training. Too many variables (including your willingness to practice) can affect the outcome of your obedience training.
- Any institution, business, or ‘school’ offering multiple instructors where you will not receive the same trainer for the entire duration of the course. Even if the trainer has to call in sick, the class should be rescheduled – Not a substitute teacher offered.
- Any trainer that is unwilling to meet with you in advance in one way or another. Though not all trainers will allow you to sit in on another class (it can be distracting to the dogs to have a stranger in the room, and may not be allowed by their insurance), they should be at least willing to meet with you in one way or another before expecting you to pay. Some offer a free consultation. For others, a first “introductory” class or “information night” is free.
Once you have done these steps, look for the following keys to determine if this is a good fit for you:
Do you have respect for the instructor?
If not, you will get very little out of the class as you will question and doubt everything taught.
Are you excited about attending the obedience classes.
Your puppy will pick up on your mood, and if you’re sceptical, they will be too.
Do you feel the trainer has respect for you?
Your self-confidence (or lack of it) will go straight down the leash into your dog. If the trainer does not encourage and support you, by the end of it, neither you nor your puppy will be doing very well.
Do you agree with, and feel comfortable with, the methods the trainer is using? (whichever kind they are – clicker, treats, collars, etc.)
Are simple things such as location, parking, etc. acceptable to you?
Does the instructor expect you to do training at home between classes?
If not, they may be offering a ‘miracle cure’ class which at the end will leave you with a poorly behaved dog, and less money in your wallet.
Can you get along with the personality of the trainer?
Whether they are fun and bubbly, or serious and straight-faced, it should be someone you can enjoy being around.
Remember, at the end of the day, training your puppy should be a fun, enjoyable experience for both you and your pet. Hopefully with these tips you can confidently step out and secure an obedience trainer that will teach both you and your dog what you need to know to live a long and fulfilling life together.