How to Choose the Right Dog Trainer

The difference between a good dog trainer and an excellent dog trainer is incalculable. Every dog and owner have specific needs, wants and desires. Choosing the right trainer and program can make all the difference in the world.

"I absolutely will never use, and do not advocate, the use of electronic shock collars! - a good dog trainer, behaviorist or experienced handler would never need one."
John M. Rubin
Read our latest article "The Shocking Truth"

I know coming from a professional dog trainer, located on a website promoting our dog training services, writing an article of this nature might seem odd. But, part of our commitment to the community is to provide information about dog training. We feel this article is a great way to help you find the right dog trainer for you.

Not all Dog Trainers Are Created Equal  

While many claim to be "professional", not many train dogs full-time. By full-time I mean 40 hours a week. If a dog trainer cannot assert that they work their job as a profession, it is possible they have not developed a good enough reputation to do so. I am sure you would want a plumber or electrician who performed their trade full-time and a dog trainer should be no different.  In today's dog trainer community, which has exploded over the last decade, most have decided to take up the profession because they love dogs.  Others might have spent thousands of dollars attending a dog trainer’s academy - basically a course developed and conducted by another dog trainer or organization of trainers. Having just graduated, they are now in business for themselves. And finally, there is the dog trainer who spent months or years working or apprenticing for a reputable dog trainer and finally ventured out on their own.

Certification and Awards as Qualifiers

The recent trend in the last decade is for member driven organizations to offer dog trainer’s certification. While in some instances this might be better than nothing, it can possibly lead dog owners into a false sense of security. Here's why; there is no governing board or "certification" requirement for dog trainers in the State of California, or any other state for that matter. Today’s certified dog trainers simply join an association, study a curriculum written by other members, and then fill out a form or on-line quiz answering basic questions on methods and experience. They then send in a 15 to 30 minute video demonstrating their methods. They pay a fee for their membership and to keep their certification current. They are not regulated nor are they monitored by any agency. Membership does not ensure that the certified trainers employ similar methods nor does it guarantee the skill, competence, or experience of the trainer.

Training Methods and Equipment

Dog training methods are diverse and varied. What has evolved over the years has been a trend toward more politically correct methods - or so they seem. A common selling point for dog trainers is "positive reinforcement" training. Many new-age dog trainers criticize "old fashioned" techniques touting their methods as being more humane.

Read article on How Dog’s Learn

The truth is that many of the so-called old fashioned techniques are actually pretty good. Unfortunately many of today’s dog trainers incorrectly implement them.  And even truer is that food-training, which is now sold as the term "positive reinforcement" has been used for centuries. What has been added, just to make it seem new and improved, is the "clicker".  Food training using your voice has now been replaced by food-training using a plastic device.

Tried and true methods, deemed "old fashioned", unfortunately continue to be taken to extremes. Heavy handling has become the norm, training collars are misused by inexperienced "trainers" and the aspect of dog psychology is never truly explored.

A drift towards quick results has led to the electronic shock collar. Let's face it; we want fast food, faster internet and the fastest car. Our society has now demanded instant results in training our dogs too. The end result is the dog trainer, with limited experience in canine behavior and psychology, and a quick trigger finger, willing to shock dogs into compliance.
Another interesting development was the introduction of the “gentle” method of training and the equipment to accomplish it. Somehow it was decided that the same device used for training horses could be used for dogs and it would be considered "gentle". But, because the canine's true inherent characteristics and drives are quite unlike the equine's - canines being predator and equines being prey - what is hailed as gentle might actually be very harsh psychologically for the dog.

Read article on Dog Training Collars

The Pet Business and Industry

It is mind boggling to realize that Americans spend over $40 Billion on their pets each year. According to the 2007-2008 APPMA National Pet Owners Survey, basic annual expenses for dog owners in dollars include:

Surgical Vet Visits
Kennel Boarding 
Routine Vet
Groomer/Grooming Aids 


My experience is that it is much higher than these figures would indicate. The reality is that owners love their dogs and will spare no expense for the furry family members. Then consider how the industry has responded to these needs.

  • Breed and size specific food/diets
  • Specialized training and exercise equipment
  • Canine Communicators and Behaviorists
  • Pet spas, resorts and hotels only our pets can enter; everything imaginable can be provided for your canine companions.

What we must keep in mind is that marketing plays a major role in each product and service offered whether your dog needs it or not. It's all in the advertising as every pet business wants a piece of that $40 billion.

What Every Owner Should Ask Before Choosing a Dog Trainer

  • How many years have you been a full-time professional dog trainer?
  • How many dogs on average do you train per month/year?
  • Have you ever received and AKC Obedience Title on any of your dogs or a client’s?
    (In my opinion this is far more telling about a trainer's experience than a Dog Trainer's Certification as the time, knowledge and work that goes into working with a dog and competing in the AKC Obedience ring is much more than what is required to become a certified dog trainer. Also, the AKC Judge could care less if you and your dog title - you have to truly prove you know what you are doing.)
  • What methods of training, and what equipment do you use and why?
  • Can I observe a dog training class?
  • What is your refund policy?
  • Can you supply references?

Our Opinion

  • The number of years a dog trainer has been training dogs full-time can tell you a lot. Obviously the more experience with dogs, the better. You can trip-up a lot of interviewees here as well. If they hesitate, change the subject or do not directly answer your question, this is not a good start.
  • The methods they use, and the equipment they use or recommend will give you a better idea of their experience and knowledge. Again, hesitation or unwillingness to explain can be a disqualifier.
  • If a trainer is not willing to allow you to observe a class you would have to wonder what the problem is.
  • The refund policy is very important because things happen. Dogs and people get sick or injured, family issues arise, or you just might not like the trainer in person. Sadly, some rescued or adopted dogs just don't work out and need to be returned. Many rescue or shelter dogs come with issues that busy families are not made aware of beforehand and are therefore not prepared to handle.
  • Finally, references are always good to get. You are paying your hard earned money to get the right training for you and your dog.

Things to Ponder

When a dog trainer claims these items listed below, think "marketing gimmick" or possibly lack of experience.

  • Free Demonstration
  • Celebrity Clients - Dog Trainer to the Stars
  • Fast, Guaranteed Results

Our Opinion (Part Two)

  • The dog trainer that offers "Free Demonstration", in my opinion, has the need to drum up business, or the competition is so fierce that they use this as a way to get their foot in the door. You will most likely get very little training or information during this demo and more likely will get a lot of false or misleading information designed to push you into using their services. Also, the Free Demonstration often involves the use of a shock collar and usually lasts only about as long as it takes you to tell them, "no thanks", or "please leave".
  • I can only speak from experience, but, I value my client’s privacy. I would never exploit famous clients in an effort to boost my reputation. Besides, what makes their endorsement a better reference than your next door neighbor, or a stranger at the dog park?
  • As far as fast results, dogs are ever-evolving. Every day they change, grow and mature just like we do. The term "results" and "guaranteed" are both vague and extremely subjective. What the trainer thinks and what you think can be very different.
  • Another important consideration; a good trainer is training you too! Training your dog takes patience and practice. Learning to communicate with your dog in order for you to happily live together will take time. 

Need Help Fast?

We offer full customer care and support. Please contact us if you need assistance: 877-447-8597. John can be quickly reached at 858-395-0050.