10 tips for finding a qualified dog trainer

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By Sandy Model

Alexandria, VA – At the beginning of each year, the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT) proclaims January as National Train Your Dog Month. Now is the perfect time to initiate or re-engage your puppy or dog training program. Research shows that training and socializing dogs when they are young can reduce or even eliminate behavior problems in the future.

But it’s never too late to get started. If you’re ready to get on the training cart, how do you find a qualified dog trainer? Here are some attributes you should consider and some questions you may want to ask in your search for a trainer for you and your canine companion.

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1. Although there are currently no licensing requirements to become a dog trainer, there are certifications that all future dog trainers should have. These certifications show that they have met the minimum standards of canine training and education. The largest certifying body is the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT).

2. What methods and techniques does the trainer use? The profession of dog trainer has evolved a lot in 20-30 years. Look for trainers who use modern, scientific and positive, reward-based training methods. Run the other way if a trainer tells you that you need to exercise dominance over your dog.

3. Ability to communicate with humans and dogs – your pup isn’t the only one learning. Teaching you how to communicate effectively with your dog, reinforce the behaviors you want, and teach your dog to make good behavior choices will go a long way towards achieving your goals of training good reliable behaviors and having a dog that is a joie de vivre in your home and in the neighborhood.

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4. The positive is not permissive, but there is no need to yell, shake, shock or punish normal but inappropriate dog behavior. By focusing on reinforcing the behaviors you want and learning to react to the behaviors you don’t want, your dog will repeat the desired behaviors, without inadvertently paying attention and thereby reinforcing the bad behaviors.

5. Look for a trainer with significant years of experience using positive training methods and techniques and a track record of success in the areas you want to address. Some trainers may have experience teaching basic manners but are not versed in solving behavioral problems.

6. Say it, show it, do it. Experienced trainers will expertly guide you to motivate your dog and set him up for success by modeling careful and thoughtful techniques. Combined with positive reinforcement, your dog will learn what is expected and eventually experience the desired behavior.

7. Training should be fun for you and your dog. Find a trainer who incorporates play into your dog’s training and uses play as a real reward. Dogs are party animals and express themselves through play. Play can provide mental and physical stimulation, encourage them to use their instincts, and prevent boredom. Spending time with you hunting, fetching, or just having fun while walking increases the positive bond between you and your dog, and your dog will enjoy the interactions much more. Your dog will look to you, rather than his environment, as a source of pleasure. Now, what’s better than that?

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8. Results! You should see a few in the first session, and your trainer should have a realistic and comprehensive plan for moving forward.

9. You should leave your first training session excited and motivated to go home, start and come back for the next session. Incorporating training into your daily life will allow you and your dog to succeed.

10. And, finally, look for a trainer who wants to help you become your dog’s big cookie and not your dog’s big alpha. The dominance or alpha theory of dog training is old fashioned and out of step with all the research and studies on how dogs think and learn. It has been debunked by major organizations including the ASPCA, Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT), International Association of Behavior Consultants (IAABC), and American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB). Positive reinforcement works, is more humane, and you and your dog will have a lot more fun training together.

Sandy Modell, CPDT-KA, is the Founder, Owner, and Head Trainer of Wholistic Hound Academy, Alexandria’s first award-winning canine training and learning facility, offering private lessons and tuition in puppy training, adult dog mannerisms, behavior modification, agility, dog sports, canine fitness and conditioning, children and dogs, pre-pet planning and pet selection. Classes start soon! To visit www.wholistichound.com to sign up for our programs, like us on Facebook.com/wholistichoundand follow us on Instagram at Instagram.com/wholistichound.

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