I am a dog trainer. I became a dog trainer before I became a photographer. My business was dog training and dog walking before it became photography. And even though I no longer teach dog training classes and take on private clients I will always be a dog trainer and I’m passionate about the well being of dogs and the relationships with their family.
I became a dog trainer shortly after rescuing my dog, Kota. Kota is now 10 years old, but when we rescued her, she was more than a challenge. I went through 3 dog trainers with her, and while most people would have given up, these horrible experiences paved the way for me to learn all I could about working with dogs and helping them.
I will never forget the day a trainer was in my house and put a prong collar on Kota, determined to get her on our treadmill. The trainer “corrected” her so hard, Kota screamed. Her tail was tucked, ears pinned back, and she was terrified. I almost vomited right there. My “gut” told me this can’t be right. I remember shaking and asked the trainer to leave. I cried. That was my last straw. Kota was a stray found with her mom and siblings. She was a feisty puppy. She spent the first few months of her life in survival mode. It was my job to now give this dog her best life, and I’m getting teary eyed as I write this. There is absolutely no reason at all to use pain on a dog. I could go on about what I put Kota through with these dog trainers. Aren’t they the professionals? Shouldn’t they know what they are doing? Remember this….if you feel in your heart that something is wrong, always follow your heart.
Maybe you just rescued your first dog and you’re out looking for a dog trainer. Where do you start? I’m here to help you! I’m here to get you off on the right track so you won’t make the same mistakes that I did. My main goal as a trainer has always been to reinforce the bond in humans and their dogs – isn’t that why we get a pet in the first place?
1. What dog training experience and education does this trainer have?
Did the trainer complete a professional training program? I completed the CATCH trainers master program and I also worked one-on-one with a mentor. Find out the training along with the experience the trainer has had. Do they do continuing education throughout the year? Do they belong to any professional organizations? The Pet Professional Guild is popular for positive reinforcement trainers. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and do a bit of research.
2. What training methods and philosophy are used?
Unfortunately, dog training isn’t regulated. Pretty much anyone can call themselves a dog trainer. I am a positive reinforcement trainer. My training is based on science. In order for dogs to learn, there must be a “reinforcer” involved. The most common reward a dog will work for is food! Dogs learn by associations and consequences. This is the type of training you must look for.
If you see a “balanced” trainer, that is a red flag. They my claim to use positive reinforcement, but they ALSO use punishment. I”m not sure about you, but if I had a prong collar around my neck that was jerked, that would NOT make me enthusiastically want to do a “sit”. And if I did sit, it would sure as hell be out of fear rather than enjoyment. Show me a scoop of coffee oreo ice cream and I will sit all day, every day! Show a dog a rack of ribs and I promise you they will learn a “sit”.
That leads me to use of prong and shock collars for training. Yes, dogs respond to it. But when using these methods your are most likely instilling fear in the dog. Of course they are going to do what you want at that moment, in fear that there will be punishment and pain caused.
As a photographer, I choose not to photograph dogs on prong or shock collars. I let my clients know this ahead of time, and they can switch to a safe flat or martingale collar before the session. If a dog ever felt pain the moment my camera was aimed toward them, a negative association could be formed. I’m never taking this chance.
3. Is a guarantee offered?
Guess what? If the so-called “trainer” is offering a guarantee, that is a big red flag waving high above! Dogs are living, breathing animals. They are not electronic devices. There are no guarantees! If the website says, “guaranteed to have the best behaved dog in just 6 weeks”….. run for the hills!!! What about “board and train”? I will stop you right there. Is there anything that will strengthen the bond between you and your dog if you are sending them away for a period of time? (* there are board and trains that are safe, but very few of them – ask questions.)
4. Is training fun?
It better be fun! Yes, please ask this! Training is all about strengthening the relationship. It’s important that training is fun for the BOTH the owner AND dog! Training is all about setting our dogs up to BE successful.
I loved teaching group classes! I enjoyed seeing the relationships of owners and their dogs strengthen over the 6-12 weeks that I had them in class together. That’s what it’s all about!
5. Do you work with all dogs are do you happily refer out?
Not all dog trainers are experts in everything! Dog behavior and training are very different. Even though I have first hand experience in challenging behavior with my own dog, I’ve never considered myself an expert in teaching this, and always referred these cases out to others.
I can’t say it enough that the most important part of dog training is strengthening the relationship between you and your dog.
If you are looking dog training north of Boston, these are my top pics:
- MSPCA Nevins Farm in Methuen – I taught classes here and did private instruction for 5 years
- Blue Dog – I personally know the owners and what they are all about
- Ruff n’ Tumble Playcare – I’ve known the owner for years and have met their new trainer and she’s wonderful
If you have any questions at all, please feel free to reach out! I”m happy to guide you in the right direction! There is so much information out there it can be overwhelming.
This week’s blog is part of a blog circle with Pet Photographer’s around the world. Next up is Nancy Kieffer Photography, capturing the journey with your pet! Serving Syracuse, Central New York, the Adirondacks and Beyond. Have a great weekend!
Love the five tips on picking a dog trainer & what’s involved in searching for a qualified trainer.
I’m so glad you told that ‘trainer’ to leave your house. Ugh, this is a topic I can easily go off on – so I’m going to shush, because you said it all above so well.
It’s interesting how many people got started in training because of a challenging dog. It’s easy to love those perfectly behaved dogs that just fit into your life, but the difficult ones teach us so much making the bond well worth the journey to get there.
I am a balanced trainer 🙂 There is a big misunderstanding in what we are and do. But, I love the blog! Having fun when training is #1 and so important. Glad you brought that up!
I would roll over and play dead for ice cream! These are great tips on how to find a dog trainer near Boston. But it sounds like I know the right one for me! You!
I loved your article. I also had a bad experience with a dog trainer that was ‘supposed to be’ all about positive reinforcement. I believe positive reinforcement only would be great..and was used for my last 2 dogs. I have relaxed my stance though as all dogs are individual and my current dog needed a more balanced approach.
It’s not letting me post my comment- saying it’s a duplicate. maybe I hit the comment button before I was actually done. Great article though.
Great post, I had a very similar journey with my reactive rescue dog Ginger, 4 trainers and about $2k later I finally connected with some science-based trainers and we started making progress. She too is the reason I became a dog trainer!
Thank you for this content on how to choose the best trainer for my dog tucker!