Vetting: How to Find the Right Trainer For You!
Most people find it surprising when I tell them that dog training is an unregulated industry. Anyone can make up a business card, website or social media account and say they are a professional dog trainer, and there is no one out there waiting to call them out for being dishonest, or possibly even dangerous. Think about it: your plumber is licensed, your massage therapist is licensed, even your baby-sitter probably has at least a course in CPR. Yet the dog training profession is pitifully behind the times.
When Dr. Ian Dunbar founded The Association of Professional Dog Trainers in 1993, the goal was to create an inclusive forum where dog trainers could share information and knowledge about our profession, and ultimately legitimize trainers through education. In 1999, the APDT started to look at the possibility of a program in which trainers could fulfill a multi-tiered certification process including a written exam, various letters of recommendation and a certain number of hours of hands on experience. In September 2001, at the APDT annual conference, the first exam was administered, and 117 trainers passed the exam. They were then able to add CPDT-KA after their names to show off this new credential! This was a huge step for the field of professional dog trainers, and I added my name to that list of credentialed trainers in 2003.
To be clear, the credentials are not an endorsement of any one particular trainer, but rather indicate that this induvial has at least a basic understanding of learning theory, ethology and animal husbandry, among other topics.
Why is this important? Choosing a trainer is more than initials after one’s name. Like any professional relationship, a client and trainer need to mesh in order to be successful. I am always thrilled when prospective clients grill me about what I do! In fact, I find it shocking when people contact me and never once ask me what is my philosophy, my methodology, how do I accomplish the goals set forth? Most of my business comes from personal referrals, either from veterinarians or satisfied clients, so perhaps some people who contact me already know how I work, but I still find it interesting that many people would still consider all dog trainers to be equal.
If you're in the market to find a reputable trainer (assuming you are since you're reading this)... here are some things to consider and ask before you hire:
How long have you been in the industry? Are you certified, and through what organization(s)?
What is your training methodology and what equipment do you use?
What type of on-going support do you provide, if any?
Do you have a few references that would be willing to share their experience working with you?
I recently received a call from a man who has a new puppy and was looking for some support. He had been making some calls and spoke with someone from a large franchise chain of trainers and day care facilities. He kept trying to ask what their philosophy was but was given a total runaround instead of a concrete answer. That would be a major red flag for me, and a hard pass!
I think that people are still under the impression that if you are a “professional” in any field, that makes you qualified. Not necessarily! Dog training has evolved by leaps and bounds in the last 30 years. We have science behind us and those of us that are passionate about what we do are always striving to be better, to learn more and to serve our clients with the best information out there.
Do your due diligence when you are looking for a trainer. Make sure you and the trainer are on the same page with methodology, time frame, and cost – but don’t forget to enjoy the process, too! Training should be fun and rewarding for both ends of the leash. Afterall, isn’t that why we have dogs?
All my best!