dog-trainer

“How does this work?” It’s a common question I hear when speaking with new training clients, and refers to the entire training process and the unknowns that come with it:

– Does my dog need to be well-trained?
– Will you reject me and my dog?
– How will I know what to do?
– Can I ask you questions?
– What if I don’t understand?
– What if my dog doesn’t get it right?
– What do I do when a trainer comes to my home?

While some have experience with group classes, many people do not experience private training until they face a problem: house training woes, pulling on leash, barking, aggression. Mix the stress of a misbehaving dog with the uncertainty of how private training works and you have quite the anxiety-producing scenario. And that’s before picking up the phone and giving a trainer a call.

In the next few paragraphs I will address some ways you can make the most out of your dog training appointments, and how you can feel more at ease with the trainer you hire.

1) It’s ok if you’re not perfect

Remember why you hired a trainer: You need help with your dog’s behavior. A good trainer will realize you’re not reaching out because you have a perfect dog. In fact, a good trainer will be interested in your dog’s particular behaviors and will be excited to start working with you.

When speaking with your trainer about your dog’s behavior history, refrain from sugarcoating or omitting important events. Your trainer wants and needs this information to conduct a thorough assessment of your dog’s behavior history and to set appropriate training goals. If you omit an incident where your dog bit another dog or growled at a child, you may save yourself some initial discomfort but risk shortchanging your dog’s chances of success during training.

Good trainers never judge you for your dog’s behavior. If your trainer does this, look elsewhere.

2) Compliance and consistency

Trainers cannot be with your dog at all times. Even if you hire someone to do board-and-train or day training, you’re eventually going to take over the training reins. Because of this, you are crucial when it comes to meeting your dog’s training goals. It’s important to heed your trainer’s instructions regarding homework, managing your dog’s environment, and providing exercise and structure. Behavior modification is not easy. It’s impossible if the parameters are not put in place to facilitate success.

Consistency is also paramount. Just as cramming for an exam yields less than stellar results, training your dog sporadically will produce unreliable, flaky behavior change. If you put in the work a little bit each day and make time in your schedule, the payoffs will be immensely rewarding. You’ll also be much more likely to get your money’s worth out of the training because the your dog’s behavior will improve and stay that way long after the trainer is gone.

3) Ask questions

Find a trainer who welcomes questions. Dog behavior and animal learning are tricky subjects. Good trainers ask their colleagues and teachers questions about these topics all the time, so don’t feel intimidated if you are confused by or don’t understand something. You’ve hired your trainer to teach you how to work and communicate with your dog, not just to fix a behavior problem. A question can make a difference between a successful training session or an unsuccessful one, so be an active learner each step of the way.

4) Record video

One of my colleagues taught me the benefits of using recorded video with training clients. While description can be effective in troubleshooting a particular training plan or assessing a dog’s overall behavior, video can make the assessment much more nuanced. If your dog is behaving a certain way and you want your trainer’s input, take a quick video with your smartphone or camera. Videotape training sessions you have with your dog and share them at your next appointment. Your trainer will be able to provide helpful feedback on your technique and how to address specific behavior scenarios.

5) If you’re uncomfortable, say so

The dog training world is sadly unregulated. Anybody can call himself a dog trainer, despite having no formal training or credentials. Thankfully, there are incredible dog training schools throughout the world and just as many ethical, brilliant trainers. That being said, protect your dog from harmful and ineffective training techniques by researching and interviewing a trainer before hiring her. If you’re in a training session and feel uncomfortable about a technique or protocol that your trainer is asking you to do, say something. Ask what your trainer is doing, and assess whether your dog could be in any pain or fear. Training should be painless and should not elicit fear in a dog.

6) Have fun

Training is a beautiful thing. It creates a stronger bond between you and your dog. If done correctly, your dog enjoys the training sessions and receives great mental enrichment. If you find yourself feeling stressed during a session with your dog, take a breather. If you are so worried about making mistakes that you avoid training altogether, remember: your trainer is there to mentor you. The world doesn’t end if you make little mistakes here and there, so be kind to yourself and your dog.

– Maureen Backman, MS is the owner of Mutt About Town dog training in San Francisco. She is also the founder of The Muzzle Up! Project. To get in touch, email her at muttabouttownsf@gmail.com.