how to choose a positive dog trainer

When it comes to finding a rescue or breeder, we know to do our research because we want our dogs to live happy and healthy lives with us. But when it comes to finding a dog trainer, who inevitably effects our dogs for years to come, things get a little more complex.

A positive dog trainer will save your sanity, help build a strong relationship with your dog and could even save your dog’s life (a solid recall is one of the most important things your dog will ever learn). You don’t need a degree or a license to be a dog trainer and there are many methods of training, so finding a positive dog trainer may require some research.

So how can you tell if your dog trainer knows their stuff?

At Dapper Dog Press, we share only positive training tips and advocate this method as the best way to build a positive relationship with your dog (or any other animal, for that matter). Many trainers label themselves as positive while still using physical corrections or intimidation which can create new behavioral problems, damage the relationship between you and your dog or even cause injury or death.

how to tell if your trainer uses positive methods

Any good trainer will not object to you observing a class before you decide to work with them. Pay attention to how the trainer interacts with both people and dogs – because let’s be honest, you and your dog are kind of a package deal. And dog training is really about teaching people how to teach their dogs, so it’s important to have a trainer who understands that. As you observe these interactions, look for the following:

In positive training, you will see:

  • Treats (usually in treat pouches), toys, praise or petting as rewards
  • Dogs wearing regular collars, harnesses or head halters (no metal choke chains or prong collars)
  • Use of words like cue, luring, capturing, shaping and marker
  • Happy and relaxed people, even when the dogs are misbehaving (mistakes are a natural part of learning)
  • Happy and relaxed dogs (tails wagging, ears up, interested in owners and surroundings)

Positive trainers may refer to their methods as reward-based, positive-reinforcement, clicker training, relationship-based, force-free, motivational, progressive-reinforcement or R+.

In positive training, you should NEVER see:

  • Physical manipulation of dogs (such as pushing a dog’s butt into a sit or “alpha rolling”)
  • Choke chains, prong collars or electric/shock collars
  • Physical or psychological intimidation (such as yelling, scolding, raising hands, staring, standing over or threatening with objects)
  • Physical corrections (such as yanking or “popping” the leash, jabbing/hitting/tapping/kneeing, throwing objects or use of spray bottles)

These are commonly seen in correction-based training, although usually not all at the same time. If you see even one of these actions during a class, or your trainer recommends any of these actions, your trainer is not using only positive methods. This style of training compromises you and your dog’s safety and negatively impacts your relationship.

Correction-based trainers may refer to their methods as balanced training, dominance-theory, dominance-based, compulsion training, koehler method, electronic training, or ecollar training.

While we strongly believe force-free training is the best type of training for all dogs, there are certain types of dog that should never be trained with correction-based methods because they are at high risk for injury or increased behavior problems. These dogs include puppies under 6 months of age, small/toy dogs, sighthounds or other breeds with long necks, brachycephalic (short muzzled) dogs and dogs with severe behavioral issues (especially anxiety or aggression).