As a dog owner who may be looking into hiring a trainer, you’re likely to have a lot of questions before you start. We’ve compiled a list of nine common training questions so that pup parents can understand more about how the training process works.
1. What Kind Of Training Do You Do?
The level of success you have in training depends on how well you work with with the trainer you hire. If you hire a strict trainer that uses methods like prong and choke collars, and you don’t feel comfortable using them yourself, you’re not very likely to keep up with those methods. Conversely, if you hire a trainer who refuses to use a prong to train and your dog requires a firmer method, you’ll have the same issue.
I personally do force-free positive reinforcement training. It does depend on the dog, and very occasionally they need a more assertive type of training, but I have found that force-free positive reinforcement gets the best results. Dominance (think: Cesar Millan), in my experience, generally only makes the dog fearful or teaches the dog to be dominant themselves, and many of these older methods are being traded in for positive reinforcement.
There is never a reason to hurt a dog in any way. Even a light swat can turn ugly if the dog feels the need to defend itself, because that fear can lead to a bite.
2. How Many Sessions Will It Take To Train My Dog?
Oftentimes trainers are asked this question before they have met the dog, so it’s tough to know without being able to first properly and professionally assess what’s going on. You might have a puppy that gets started with training early and grows up without a hitch, or you might have adopted an older dog that has been abused.
There’s a large range of issues people seek a dog trainer for, so answering with an exact number of sessions is tough. The length of training also depends on how much the owners are practicing techniques with the dogs. A trainer may give you instruction, but unless you are ready to work with your dog consistently, you aren’t likely to see a swift change.
I tell new clients that they can likely expect at least three sessions: a consultation for me to meet them and figure out what’s going on; a follow-up to make sure things are moving in the right direction; and a finishing session to take care of any last-minute problems or issues if they have gotten the results they needed quickly.
Some clients I work with for a month, some I’ve had for over a year. It generally depends on the dog and the time you are willing to put into it. One thing is for sure, training your dog is likely to take more than one session, so be prepared to see it through to the end.
3. How Did You Get Started?
Trainers enter their field in all kinds of ways, from taking online courses and doing internships with established trainers to getting a masters degree in animal behaviorism. Many have worked with dogs for years without formal education in the field, but have developed their methods through experience and are equally qualified.
I began studying training methods when I got my first dog several years ago, but even when I was young I was an animal lover and would teach tricks to our family dogs. I was also a dog walker for several years in Manhattan, and it came naturally to me to train the dogs and make my job easier. I realized I had an uncommon skill that could help lots of people and their dogs. I really loved the work so I decided to strike out on my own, and now I’m a full-time dog trainer.
4. Is My Dog Too Old To Train?
That old saying “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is just that… a saying. Older dogs may take longer to train because they are more set in their ways and have displayed the behaviors for longer, but any dog is capable of learning at any age. Never let a dog’s age or behavior deter you from working with a professional, because even older dogs can learn proper obedience.
5. Is My Dog Hopeless?
I get this one all the time, and my answer is always the same: “Absolutely not.” Behavioral problems are difficult and can make the situation feel hopeless, but there is always something that can help. There are very few dogs that are so far gone that training can’t improve at least one aspect of your life with them. No matter what the problem, everyone can benefit from better understanding the root of the issue and working from there to either manage or modify the behavior.
Related: Can Dogs Really Cry Emotional Tears?
6. Do You Work With Medicating Dogs?
Before you look into medication, most veterinarians, trainers, and even behaviorists will try to work with behavior modification. The important thing to know here is the difference between a trainer and a behaviorist. Behaviorists have masters degrees in animal behaviorism, and are the only trainers able to prescribe medication.
I myself am not a licensed behaviorist, but I absolutely work with and sometimes recommend that a dog try medication to help ease anxiety while we work on modifying behaviors. If a dog is too anxious to focus or learn, medication might help them relax enough to learn to work out those issues. It’s preferred as a temporary fix with training, but some dogs need lifelong medication.
I used to be against the idea of medicating a dog — it seemed unnatural. But the reality is, if there’s something we can do to help our dogs feel better (and I have seen the results personally), why don’t we try and see if it works?
7. Why Should I Hire You When There Are Less Expensive Trainers Out There?
“Cheap” trainers, in my experience, have usually just started out and don’t have lots of experience, or they aren’t confident enough to charge the going rate in your area. If they don’t have confidence or experience, you’re likely to pay the same amount of money (or more) because you’ll end up doing twice as many sessions.
I’ve had several clients leave for “cheaper” training and end up coming back because they didn’t get results. Training is expensive, yes, but it’s an investment and something that will help you and your dog for years to come — which ends up making your life easier and more enjoyable with your pup.
8. How Soon Should I Start Training My Dog?
Now! Training is great at any stage, but the sooner you get started, the better. A lot of trainers start basic obedience with puppy clients around four to six months of age because that’s when they start to focus more. Six to eight months is the “puppy adolescence” stage, in which a dog’s personality and behaviors (including problem behaviors) start to show. Laying the groundwork before that and developing a leadership role with your dog before problems begin helps tremendously.
Training can be started at any time, though, so don’t let your dog’s age or behaviors discourage you — they just haven’t had the training that they need yet. (If you have a biter, contact someone immediately, as that can lead to serious problems down the line.)
9. Why Private Training?
While group classes are great for puppies and socialization, sometimes a dog needs specialized, one-on-one attention. Oftentimes, behavior problems are developed and triggered in the home, like jumping on guests or barking at the doorbell. Working with dogs in the home gives trainers the chance to address the issue directly and set up the situation as it would normally happen, while teaching the owners how to work with the behavior when the trainer isn’t present.
Lastly, one common thing I hear from clients is: “That’s not how Cesar Millan does it.” My reply is always: “Is that working for you?” If you’re at a point where you’re seeking professional help to train your dog, be open to the fact that there are many different training methods — including positive reinforcement training, which I’ve used with success with hundreds of dogs. Just because you see a training method on TV does not necessarily mean it will work for your dog.
Cesar Millan’s show is a very fascinating one to watch, but remember that it is television. There’s no telling how many dogs were unsuccessfully trained and didn’t make it to air. They choose those specific stories because they make for good television. I’ve personally known people who tried those dominance methods on their dogs and have gotten bitten or hurt in the process.
When choosing a trainer, I typically advise owners to stick with force-free trainers before trying older methods. Positive reinforcement may sometimes take a little longer, but it makes for a kinder, gentler dog who trusts you in the end. Building trust is always better than forcing submission, with humans or dogs.
Now that some of those questions you may have had before looking for a trainer have been answered (or now that you have a better idea of what to ask when you find one!), we wish you all the luck and happiness in training your pup.
Header image via Andrea Arden / Flickr