Working with a professional dog trainer after I adopted Sitka was one of the best decisions I made for the both of us.
I felt resistant at first because I believed that needing to hire a professional meant that I had failed. However, I realized that I had plateaued with my knowledge and wasn’t reaching my dog training goals alone.
Despite having a solid foundation of dog training knowledge from my own research and practice with previous dogs, hiring a professional dog trainer forced me to slow down, practice the little details, and provided me with additional learnings that I never would have picked up from a book.
If you’re considering whether or not to hire a professional dog trainer, this post might help you come to a decision. You’ll also learn how to find a reputable trainer.
Tips for Finding a Professional Dog Trainer
In my experience, finding a dog trainer is far easier than finding a new doctor, but it can take some time if you’re just starting your search.
Because anyone can call themselves a dog trainer, you want to do your research and homework to ensure you’re choosing a good fit for you and your dog and that the trainer is reputable.
The tips below will help you identify what to look for in a trainer and provide some advice on how to go about your search.
Identify Dog Training Goals
Having an understanding of the training goals you want to achieve for your dog will help you pick the right dog trainer to achieve those objectives. For example with Sitka, my goals included:
- Solid off-leash recall
- Place Training
- Loose-Leash Walking
- Crate Training
- Duration practice with essential commands like sit/down/place
- Minimizing leash reactivity
Once I identified these training goals, I was able to narrow down my search for a trainer in my area that could help me achieve these exact results.
Decide Which Dog Training Method You Want to Use
Before looking for a dog trainer, you first need to decide which method of training you want to use. The most common method are Positive Reinforcement or Force Free. I personally went with Balanced Training methods.
I compare the difference between the various methods in my article explaining why I chose to go with a balanced dog trainer.
Talk to friends who have used both methods and gather information from them, rather than from articles alone.
Balanced training has a bad reputation because of its incorporation of training tools like e-collars and prong collars, but it’s mostly just biased marketing noise from people who have never used the tools.
Remember, YOU know your dog best. Dog owners are incredibly opinionated and will push their method on you. Make an educated decision based on your comfort, training goals, and dog’s personality.
Look at Certifications and/or Education
Finding the right dog trainer for your needs and purposes can take some work. You need to make sure that they are a good fit and that they do what they say they do.
Since dog training is not a certified profession, doing your homework is important. Having a certification doesn’t guarantee a level of expertise, but it does mean that the trainer had to go through some kind of education and pass some tests to earn the certification.
I personally don’t require the dog trainers I work with to hold specific certifications.
What is important to me is that they have proven that they can help me achieve the training goal I want to reach with my dog.
Regardless, look for the following, whether the trainer is certified or not:
- Proof of skills – before and after videos, explanatory videos and social media posts, etc.
- Education – shadow training, courses taken, workshops attended, etc.
Information about their methods, tools used, pricing, and education should all be readily available on their website or upon request.
Ask for References
A reputable dog trainer will handily provide references upon request. Ask for three to five references and give them a call or shoot them an email to get deeper insight into their experience.
In addition to direct communications with past clients, look for testimonials on their website. Video testimonials are always nice because you know the person is actually speaking their mind.
You’ll also want to look for before and after videos, training videos, etc, on social media channels. Most dog trainers will have a YouTube channel and Facebook and Instagram accounts.
Visit the Facility
When you think you’ve found a good fit, ask if you can tour the facility and/or attend a lesson to observe.
This will let you know if the place is clean and you can get a better sense of how they train dogs.
Find a Trainer Who Does Similar Activities with Their Dogs
Look for a trainer who engages in similar activities as you do with your dog.
If you want to hit the trails, look for a trainer who does as well. Is agility your thing? Seek out someone who also participates in the sport.
The reason for this is because you may have very specific goals with your dog depending on the activity.
You want to be sure that your dog trainer understands what you are asking for so they can help you get to that point.
Make Sure They Train the Dog Owner, Too
Much of dog training is really about training the owner. Board and trains are great, and they’re also not magic fixes to dog training.
If the owners don’t know how to carry out the training at home, then the dog is just going to revert back to their old ways.
When you’re looking for a dog trainer, you want to find someone who teaches the humans as much as they teach the dog.
Most board and train programs will include a go-home session, a follow-up session, and a mid-way session.
I was originally planning to do a board and train with Sitka, but I ended up doing 1:1 lessons and am so glad that I did. By doing so, I became the dog trainer and I had a great grasp of what I needed to implement to achieve my dog training goals.
Where to Find a Dog Trainer
If you don’t have a trainer in mind already, use a variety of methods listed below to find 3-5 options.
Schedule a call with each one after you fill out their intake form to get a better sense of whether you feel like it’s a good fit.
Some good places to find a trainer include:
- Ask friends for recommendations
- Check on the IACP website
- Search on Google and read the reviews
- Instagram (I have a list of dog trainers to follow to give you some ideas)
- Your local independent pet store (I don’t recommend big box stores, like PetSmart and Petco for training)
- Ask for referrals from previous clients
Most importantly, trust your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, then move on.
Questions to Ask a Dog Trainer
When you schedule a phone call with the dog trainer, ask the following questions:
- What methods do you use?
- What tools do you use?
- Are you comfortable working with [insert dog’s issue]?
- Are you accepting new clients?
- How do you involve the humans in the training process?
- What kind of access do I have with you after we finish training? (most will provide advice via phone and email for the life of the dog)
- Do you have follow up training packages?
- How do you stay current with your education?
How to Spot Red Flags When Selecting a Professional Dog Trainer
Because dog training isn’t a certified industry, it means there are no set of rules and regulations every dog trainer must follow in order to call themselves a dog trainer. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it just means that you need to be diligent about your homework.
Here are some red flags to look for in your dog trainer search:
- It doesn’t feel right in your gut
- Their website doesn’t mention what tools or methods they use
- The website doesn’t list pricing
- They don’t have any testimonials or proof of concept (like a YouTube channel or Instagram account)
- Communication is slow
- The trainer becomes defensive when you ask questions
- The trainer puts down other dog trainers
- The dog trainer talks negatively about other training methods without any experience using them
- They refuse to let you visit the facility
How Much Does a Professional Dog Trainer Cost?
Rates vary depending on the number of sessions, weeks of boarding, and experience of the dog trainer.
A realistic expectation would range between $500 and $5,000. I realize this is a HUGE range, but the good news is, it means that there is likely something within your budget.
Board and trains will be the most expensive option, but will require less work from you during the initial training process. Your dog will be fully trained when they complete their stay and you will continue the work at home.
Private 1:1 lessons are more cost-effective because you will be doing the bulk of the training. During a lesson, your trainer will show you how to perform a skill and you will work on that skill in between sessions.
If you have the time and dedication, 1:1 lessons are great because, ultimately, you will be the one training your dog over the course of their life.