How to use the APDT Trainer Search
The APDT's mission is to promote caring relationships between dogs and people by educating trainers in canine behavior and emphasizing professionalism and reward-based training. Members of the APDT who are featured on the APDT search reflect a variety of methodologies and training philosophies, not all of which may reflect our mission statement. Please keep in mind when using the APDT Trainer Search that we do not endorse our members. We have provided the information in this "choosing a trainer" section to help you interview prospective trainers to find the right person for you and your canine companion.
When you look through our directory at each individual listing, keep in mind that you should speak to the trainers you are interested in, or at least "interview" via email. We do not advise choosing a trainer based simply on their trainer search entry information and the information provided on their web site, as often this information can be incomplete. We have compiled a list of the types of questions you should be asking when you talk to a potential trainer.
1. What education and continuing education has the trainer had?
You want to make sure the trainer has pursued a valid dog training education and understands how learning occurs. The trainer should also understand the science of reinforcement and punishment (known as "learning theory") and be committed to using the least aversive methods possible.
In addition to how they became educated to become a trainer, they should indicate that they regularly attend continuing education opportunities. A conscientious trainer will stay informed about innovations in dog training and behavior tools and techniques. (APDT Professional members all are required to get a certain number of continuing education hours to maintain their status.)
2. Is the trainer affiliated with any dog training or behavior associations?
Obviously if a member is on our Trainer Search Directory, they belong to the APDT, but in case you are considering a trainer who may not be listed, this is a good rule to follow. The Association of Professional Dog Trainers and a few other associations are designed to offer a professional forum. They establish professional guidelines for dog trainers, and provide educational opportunities. Other organizations have different philosophies and mission statements to guide their members and these can be found on their web sites.
While certification is not required to be a dog trainer, trainers who have gone the extra step to become certified demonstrate a commitment to knowledge and professionalism.
3. Does the trainer hold any certifications?
While certification is not required to be a dog trainer, trainers who have gone the extra step to become certified demonstrate a commitment to knowledge and professionalism. You can review the What Do All Those Letters After Everyone's Names Mean? section for more information on specific certifications. Remember that not all certifications are created equal! Certifications that are recognized for APDT Professional Membership require regular continuing education in order to maintain the certification and the tests are independent of any school or program.
4. Can the trainer communicate well with both people and the dogs?
You want to make sure that the trainer communicates kindly and effectively to your dog, and yet also explains procedures well enough to you, the dog owners, who will need to maintain training once the trainer is gone. One of the biggest misconceptions dog owners have is that they are hiring someone to train their dog. A good dog trainer should really be teaching and coaching you on how to train your dog. Even a trainer who does board and train, or "day training" (where they train the dog initially for you) needs to be able to show you how to work with your dog in the end. If the trainer does not seem to explain things well, or has poor people skills, this could impede your ability to learn effectively.
A skilled trainer, whether in a private or group class setting, should:
- Provide a clear explanation of each lesson.
- Demonstrate the behavior(s) that you will be teaching to your dog.
- Give you ample time to practice the lesson.
- If in a class setting, assist students individually to ensure that training is being performed properly.
5. Does the trainer answer questions in terms you can understand?
Make sure that you can comprehend and connect with a dog trainer you are working with. You should feel welcome to ask questions and feel that you are learning more about your dog.
6. What methods and tools does the trainer use?
You want to make sure you are comfortable with the trainer's methods of working with dogs before he or she works with your dog. You should feel comfortable asking for references from veterinarians or former clients.
A skilled and professional dog trainer uses humane training methods which are not harmful to the dog or the owner, and does not use practices such as hanging, beating, kicking, shocking, and all similar procedures or training devices that could cause the dog great pain, distress, or that have imminent potential for physical harm. Remember that you have the absolute right to stop any trainer or other animal care professional who, in your opinion, is causing your dog undue harm or distress.
When speaking with a trainer about their tools and methods, they should be willing and able to answer any questions you have about them and how they relate to the training of your dog. Be wary if the trainer is evasive or seems unable to answer your questions.
If you still feel unclear about how a particular trainer trains, ask them how they would teach a simple behavior, such as "sit" or ask them how they let the dog know they did something right and what would they do if they asked a dog to sit and the dog did not comply.
You can also review the Understanding Training Methods section to help you decide.
When speaking with a trainer about their tools and methods, they should be willing and able to answer any questions you have about them and how they relate to the training of your dog.
7. If you are looking for a trainer who teaches classes, keep the above questions in mind but also make sure to look at the following:
Ask the trainer if you could observe a class. While you are there, look for a few things like:
- How big is the class? In general, up to ten dog/handler teams is a good number to follow, unless the trainer has assistants and can handle a larger class.
- Are the dogs happy? The dogs should look like they are enjoying the class – remember training should be fun!
- Are the people enjoying themselves? Look for a class that encourages all family members to attend and participate.
- Is there a good ratio of trainers to people & their dogs? You want to make sure the trainer gives people and dogs individual attention as well as communicates to all on a group level. For larger classes they may enlist the help of assistants to manage the class and ensure that you and your dog are still receiving some one on one attention.
- Does the class facility or outside area look appropriate? Make sure that the area is secure, clean and sanitary. Is there enough room for all the people and dogs to participate in all of the activities comfortably?
- Are all family members encouraged to participate, especially in the puppy classes? Class attendees should be encouraged to participate, invited to join in the activities, and the trainer should be able to incorporate all significant figures in the dog's life.
- Must all participants present proof of a dog's vaccinations before starting the class? A good trainer will always require proof of vaccinations before a group class in order to ensure all participants are healthy and safe!
8. Does the trainer guarantee his or her work?
Because of the variables in dog breeding and temperament and owner commitment and experience, a trainer cannot and should not guarantee the results of his or her training. Be wary of any trainer who gives you such a guarantee. However, a trainer can and should be willing to ensure client satisfaction with her or her professional services.
9. Does the trainer ask you information about your pet?
A trainer should ask you some basic information about your dog, particularly if you are calling regarding resolving a behavior problem. The trainer should at least ask you some information about your pet's behavior, what you have done to resolve it, and other background information. Be wary of a trainer that does not ask you any questions but presses you to make an appointment, or that explains solutions for the problem before they've gotten any background history from you, or even worse, recommends euthanasia for a pet!
10. What will the trainer's availability be for follow-up?
Look for a trainer that is open to follow up questions regarding your pet, whether via telephone or email. Particularly with a dog with a behavior issue, you want to find a trainer who is reasonably accessible if you have questions regarding the training program.
In addition to the above questions, some other things to look out for when looking for a trainer are:
- Trainers who spend an inordinate amount of time either on the phone and/or on their web site and marketing materials denigrating other trainers and training methods. A trainer should spend their time telling you in a positive manner why you should hire them and not bashing the competition.
- Trainers who use and rely on an overuse of marketing spin, i.e. "natural dog training," "whispering," "red zone dogs," etc. A trainer should be able to explain what they do in clear and simple language.
- Trainers who use scare tactics to intimidate you into hiring them. If your dog has an aggression problem, then obviously yes, this is a serious issue and you need to work with a professional, but you should work with someone that you feel comfortable with and who is supportive.
- Trainers who appear to dislike your particular breed, or mixed breed, of dog. While it's obviously unlikely that every trainer in existence loves every breed of dog equally, and every trainer has their preferences and breeds they do not care for, a trainer should not express openly their dislike for your breed of dog and indicate that they may treat your dog differently because of this dislike.
- Trainers who describe using food as bribery. While many good trainers do use other forms of reinforcement such as toys, play, tug, etc. instead of food, calling the use of food "bribery" indicates that the trainer has not kept up with science-based facts regarding food rewards and animal behavior. This is one of the values of a trainer continuing their education through CEUs.
- Trainers who do not want your children involved in training. While it is of course acceptable to restrict certain interactions between children and dogs due to their age and safety issues, a trainer should be willing to work with the children in your family to teach them how to interact with their pet. Avoid a trainer that indicates that he or she does not want to work with your children or any other members of the family.