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Choosing a Trainer

Training is a necessity, like food, water, exercise, and trips to the vet. Teaching your puppy or dog how to live peacefully with his people and others is a quality-of-life issue for your dog and your family. If you can’t get along well with your dog, neither of you will be very comfortable living together.
Training your dog should be an enjoyable activity – not a power struggle or battle of the wills. Whether you decide to attend a group class, or you prefer private one-on-one training, the Humane Society of the United States advises, “It’s essential that the (professional) dog trainer you select uses humane training techniques that encourage appropriate behavior through such positive reinforcement as food, attention, play, or praise. Look for a trainer who ignores undesirable responses or withholds rewards until the dog behaves appropriately. Training techniques should never involve yelling, choking, shaking the scruff, tugging on the leash, alpha rolling (forcing the dog on his back), or other actions that frighten or inflict pain.”

So what do you look for in a good trainer?

Dr. Terry Curtis, DVM, Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Florida recommends:
  •     A trainer who treats dogs and owners with respect.
  •     A trainer who uses treat-based, positive-reinforcement techniques.
  •     A trainer who uses good-fitting harnesses, head collars, or other non-choking, non-shocking collars.
  •     A trainer who teaches the owner what to do and how to do it.
  •     A trainer who uses a variety of non-aversive techniques.
  •     Training that is tailored to the individual dog.
  •     A program that allows the dog to progress at its own speed and that isn’t forced into situations that he/she isn’t comfortable with.
  •     A trainer who applies basic learning theory correctly.

Dr. Curtis cautions dog owners to avoid:
  •     A trainer who uses correction collars (choke, prong, shock) as a primary way to train.
  •     A trainer who uses harsh/repeated corrections.
  •     A trainer who hits the dog with hands, leash, or feet.
  •     A trainer who takes a dog away to its facility for “boot camp.”
  •     A trainer who says that an owner is “loving too much” or is “being too soft.”
  •     A trainer who follows a dominance-based training model.
Do not allow a trainer to handle your dog in any manner that makes you or the dog uncomfortable. And beware of anyone who guarantees results. No one can predict future behavior because there are an infinite number of variables that can affect it. None of us are perfect. Don’t expect your dog to be.

Ask a friend, neighbor, veterinarian, or humane society for a trainer recommendation. Remember, training should be an enjoyable activity for you and your dog. So find a competent trainer who employs humane techniques, and raise a dog that’s easy to live with.

For more information about what to look for in a professional dog trainer, visit the Humane Society of the United States at, or the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers at

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