Sunday, January 25, 2015

Choosing the Right Dog Trainer

I've only lost money on a return a couple of times. Last summer I bought a life jacket for our dog off Amazon. When it arrived it was slightly too small for her and I had to pay the cost of return shipping. I understood why since it was my fault-I had debated between the two sizes since her measurements were right on the border and went with the smaller size. The smaller size was a couple bucks cheaper and I was trying to save some money, but because I was being cheap I ended up losing money.

The same things applies to dog training (or really any other service)-when you cheap out you get what you pay for. Shortly after we got our dog we decided we should take her to obedience classes. We were really struggling with her anxiety and thought some obedience might help. A guy in town was advertising on the billboard of the gas station and he had great prices. He advertised that he had 25 years of experience and that he had trained police dog and other working canines.

We got in touch and made arrangements to take his Saturday class-which was held half an hour from our home in the grass lot of an abandoned school. It wasn't exactly the nicest area of town and we felt slightly out of place among the other people in the class (who were a bit on the rough side).

The classes themselves were a mess. They weren't conducted professionally and I felt the trainer gave bad advice sometimes. I have experience training animals so I do know something about the subject and a lot of his information was outdated. He had advertised as being a positive reinforcement trainer yet he regularly used prong collars and choke collars. He didn't seem to understand that we really didn't care what our dog learned at that point-we just wanted to get her around people and other dogs without having a panic attack.

We stuck it out even though we felt uneasy. Then the trainers father died and classes were cancelled for several weeks. It was a blessing for us and we realized that this wasn't working. After several weeks I called to request a refund-his phone was shut off and his Facebook page deactivated. I tried to find him, but I gave up rather quickly. He was toxic to the health and safety of my dog.

The next two trainers we had were wonderful! Here are my tips for picking a great one:

1. Do your homework: Don't sign up for the first class you see or the cheapest option. Check around and talk to other people. Ask for references from former clients and ask other pet parents if they've heard of the trainer. If nobody's heard of the person it's probably a poor choice.

2. Get recommendations: Ask your vet, the local shelter, your breeder, pet store employees and random people at the dog park. Our local shelter actually provides basic obedience and it's really cheap! The trainer there was wonderful and really worked with us! Plus we saved money and the money we did pay went back to the shelter to save another dog :) When we were done with basic obedience she was able to refer us to another trainer to do our higher level training.

3. Get multiple recommendations: When we went to the shelter for basic obedience I already knew the trainer there from other community events so I knew she was good. However, when we went to our current trainer I got recommendations from every body I could think of. Her name kept coming up over and over again-plus she worked at the kennel where we boarded our dog already. We knew if our kennel employed her she must be good. Talk to lots of people-usually one name will come up many times-that's the one to research more!

4. Go watch a class: My trainer actually invited me to do this before we started CGC. She wanted to make sure we understood what we were getting into and see her personality. You have to make sure that their philosophy matches yours.

5. Check out their credentials: Check what experience they have, what organizations they are accredited by. A simple Google search for "dog training organizations" brings up a huge list-most of them have databases where you can search for trainers.

6. Pick a trainer in your specialty: Our first trainer focused more on police dogs and bite work rather than obedience and therapy dogs. Because of this his style was a little more rough and tumble than what our dog could handle. Dog trainers that focused on what we actually needed her to do were a much better choice.

7. Do a dry run: Make sure that you take your dog to where ever class will be before class starts. Our trainer at the shelter had our first class at the shelter-it sent our dog into a tailspin of anxiety. This was the shelter she had been adopted from and she was terrified at being back there. We moved other classes to a local park and they went swimmingly.

I'm glad that we had our experience with our first trainer as it made me learn a lot about how to choose a professional (I definitely didn't put that into practice when we bought our couch-see my previous post). I also learned to stand up for my dog and do what's right for her-even if we had to lose some money and make some people angry. However, I wish we had done it right in the first place so we didn't waste several months of time with her.

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