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Finding the Best Dog Trainer for You and Your Dog

When a puppy or dog joins your family, the sooner you start setting routines and expectations the better. Working with a reliable and certified dog trainer can also make a world of difference. They can come to your home to work with you, your family and your dog, or you can sign up for a series of dog training classes outside of your home. Some places even offer digital training on demand. The following tips will help you find the best dog trainer for your needs.

How to pick a dog trainer

To find the best dog trainer for you and your family, you’ll need to consider a number of factors, says Lina Eklöf, CPDT-KA, Petco’s dog training education manager. These include:

  1. The type of classes you want: Think about what type of training scenario would work best for you and your pet. Does a group training class appeal to you, or would personal training be better? This can help you figure out where to start your search.
  2. Availability of class schedules: To properly train your pet, you’ll need to be consistent with your training exercises and schedule. Keep this in mind before you commit to a time and location.
  3. Reliability and reputation of the trainer and/or institution: Once you know the type of classes you want and your availability, do some research to find trainers who have a track record of success. Search online for reviews, ask friends and family for references or check in with your veterinarian or local Petco.
  4. Training methods: Different dog trainers have different training methods and it’s important that their values align with your own. Do your research and find a method that is backed with scientific outputs such as positive reinforcement.
  5. Specialized support: While many trainers and programs can help with basic training and many common behavior concerns, some cases require consultation with a specialist.

Good questions to ask dog trainers

Once you have a list of potential dog trainers to choose from you can narrow it down by asking specific questions. Eklöf suggests the following:

  1. What is your training method? How will you get my dog to do what you want them to do?
    Studies show that the most effective training methods involve positive reinforcement. Training methods that rely upon corrections instead of positive reinforcement don’t teach behaviors but instead suppress them. And when you suppress a behavior, one of two things typically happen: a different problem behavior occurs or the behavior explodes. “The best approach is to give your dog something they like when they are doing what you want them to do, says Eklöf. ”That way we are increasing the likelihood of that behavior happening again.”
  2. What will you do when my dog is not doing what you want them to do?
    Again, you’ll want to look for a trainer who sticks to positive reinforcement methods versus someone who is using negative reactions. For example, “we recommend ignoring it and redirecting the dog to do what we want them to do instead,” says Eklöf. “If that’s not possible, using management tools—like crates, gates and dog walkers—can be key.”
  3. Do you have references from active or past clients or a partnership with stylists and/or veterinarians?
    If you got the dog trainer's information directly from a reference, you’ll already know their history, but if you didn’t, this is a good way to check their background and performance history.
  4. What was your learning curriculum?
    This question helps you better understand their training methods. For example, “at Petco, our trainers go through training with a certified mentor—someone who has been training with us and received additional training to become a certified mentor,” says Eklöf. “Ongoing support allows trainers to get their questions answered from colleagues and ask for tips related to specific situations.”
  5. How much experience do you have?
    This question is important, but just because a trainer is new doesn’t mean they aren’t skilled. “Passion to set you and your dog up to succeed is one of the main components of successful training,” says Eklöf.
  6. What is the class structure/curriculum?
    This question helps you determine what your dog will learn in class and may help you determine if your pet has specific behaviors that might benefit from private lessons.
  7. What tools/products will you need to buy for the class, and what will they be used for?
    Along with understanding the purchase requirements for class (if any), this is a great opportunity to talk through some specific recommendations of products for particular situations or behaviors so you can be successful, says Eklöf. For example:
    • A variety of treats may be needed for rewards and to keep your pet’s interest
    • Treat pouches are excellent for quick and easy treat access
    • Front-hook harnesses can help with pulling
    • Puzzle toys can help with ongoing mental stimulation to prevent destructive behaviors
    • Chew toys can help prevent chewing, especially through times of teething
  8. What do you like most about being a dog trainer?
    This helps you not only gauge the trainer’s passion for their job but will also help you get excited about the process.

Finding the right dog trainer for your situation does require a little bit of legwork, but it’s an important step that will help set you and your dog up for success. When you’re ready to get started, Petco has a puppy and dog training option that works for every scenario.