Choosing a Pet Trainer
Whether it's puppy kindergarten or show dog or cat training, a great trainer can make a world of difference. But not every trainer can be a "dog whisperer" either!
Here are tips from pet owners and trainers themselves on choosing a trainer:
Do Your Research
WHN Tip: Start a folder or keep a notebook to track your research.
Evaluate your pet's training needs and your options.
What hours/days are you able to drop off/join your pet for training?
What can you afford to spend?
Where can you get recommendations and referrals?
WHN Expert Tip: Sit, Spot, Sit!
"Ask owners of well-mannered dogs where they received their training." Martin Deeley and Karen Palmer, International Association of Canine Professionals
- Family, friends, neighbors, co-workers
- Breeders, animal clubs, or local animal shelter
- Your veterinarian--Ask your vet if your pet should be a certain age or size before beginning training.
- Local and online directories
Find the Right Trainer and Training Type
Training Specialties: Obedience, agility, protection, tracking, hunting, herding, search and rescue, therapy, hunting, herding, fly ball, etc.
Training Sessions: individual (one-on-one), group classes, obedience schools (no pet owner required)
Ask the Right Questions
Where is the practice located? (Is the location convenient for you?)
What is the training schedule? (Will the sessions work for your schedule?)
Is the trainer or obedience school accepting new clients?
Is the trainer familiar with my breed of animal?
What types of training is available?
How soon are those classes available?
How many classes are in a series?
How many weeks/months is the series?
What is the cost?
WHN Expert Tip: Costs can range anywhere from $30-$75 an hour, depending on where you live. Humane Society of the U.S.
Does the organization or trainer hold "open houses"?
Do I need to bring proof of vaccination or other important records with me?
How involved will I be in the training?
Visit the Trainers
Make appointment to meet with trainers or visit some classes so you can evaluate the facility and the instructor.
If you bring your pet along on the visits, ask what documents you need to bring with you, such as adoption papers, medical and vaccination history, registration papers (if you have them),
WHN Expert Tip: "Mention any medical or behavioral problems (i.e. thyroid problems, food allergies, aggression, separation anxiety, etc.)." Debbie McKnight, PetSmart Area Trainer for the West Texas District.
Inspect the facility:
- Does it feel safe and inviting?
- Are the rooms clean and in good shape?
- Are there any unpleasant odors?
- Are toys and equipment sanitized daily?
Interview the trainer:
The Association of Pet Dog Trainers recommends choosing a trainer who:
Provides a clear explanation of each lesson.
Demonstrates the behavior(s) that students will be teaching to their dogs.
Provides clear instructions and written handouts on how to teach the behavior(s).
Gives students ample time in class to begin practicing the day's lesson.
Assists students individually with proper implementation of techniques.
- What type of education programs did you attend?
- Are you a member of any training organizations such as the National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors or the Association of Pet Dog Trainers?
- How many years of experience do you have?
- Are you familiar with my type of animal?
- Do you have liability and other necessary insurance?
- What kind of animals do you own?
- Do you have a list of references of past clients that I can contact?
Evaluate the teaching practices
WHN Expert Tip: "Ask for details regarding their method and teaching styles. If they won't tell you or use vague terms, consider going somewhere else." Debbie McKnight, PetSmart Area Trainer for the West Texas District
- What training methods do you use?
- Do you offer private sessions as well as group sessions?
- Do you have "puppy" training classes?
- Are there different levels of training (beginner, intermediate, advanced)?
- How many animals are in each session? How many sessions are there?
- Am I required to participate in the training?
- Are lesson handouts available?
- What is the range of services that you provide?
- What do you do if a pet is sick or there is an emergency?
- What are your safety practices?
WHN Expert Tip: Not all dogs and owners can be trained to the same performance standard in the same length of time. Look for trainers who offer to make time for students who need extra attention." Martin Deeley and Karen Palmer, International Association of Canine Professionals
Ask about cost and payment
- Do you have a breakdown list of services and fees?
- Am I responsible for purchasing any training equipment?
- How do I pay you?
- Do you offer payment plans?
- Do you offer discounts for senior citizens or multi-pet households?
Share your goals
WHN Expert Tip: "If you have a specific problem with your dog, ask trainers how much experience they have had with the problem." Martin Deeley and Karen Palmer, International Association of Canine Professionals
WHN Expert Tip: "Pet owners should share the goals they hope to accomplish in training. The training should fit the pet owners' goals, not the trainer's goals." Debbie McKnight, PetSmart Area Trainer for the West Texas District
Evaluate Your Training Session Experience
Were the trainers helpful, courteous and knowledgeable?
Did they use humane training practices and use positive reinforcement (food, attention, play, or praise)?
Did they really listen to my questions and answer them in a way that I understand?
Did the trainers take the time to explain their methods?
Were the trainers respectful and considerate to me and my pet?
Did the trainer ask me questions?
Did the trainer seem rushed or attentive and willing to spend time with me and my pet?
Did the other pets and owners seem to be enjoying themselves?
Would I prefer this trainer to be the primary trainer for all my pets or should I select different trainers for each pet?
WHN Tip: Trust your own reactions when deciding whether this trainer is the right one for your pet. If you aren't comfortable with the trainer or methods, consider finding another instructor. But remember that it can take more than one visit for you, your pet and your trainer to get to know each other and for a relationship to develop.
Do Your Part
Before class, assemble all necessary documents as well as your pet's leash, collar and any other necessary training equipment the trainer requests.
If you are leaving the pet, be sure to give them emergency contact information for you and your vet.
Once your pet starts classes, keep up with the training and do your homework.
WHN Expert Tip: Follow the Program
"Don't pick and choose which parts of the instruction to follow. If you're unable to practice it as presented, be honest with your trainer and he/she should be able to come up with an alternative." Debbie McKnight, PetSmart Area Trainer for the West Texas District
WHN Expert Tip: Don't Expect Perfection
"The phrase 'use it or lose it' applies to dogs as well!" says Debbie McKnight, PetSmart Area Trainer for the West Texas District. "Once trained, [remember] the dog won't be reliable 100 percent of the time. Humans aren't reliable 100 percent of the time... how can we expect the dogs to be?"
For more advice, read the Humane Society's article, Who's Got Cred? A Guide to Behaviorists, Consultants, and Trainers.
PetsAdopting a Pet