Having been in the dog training industry for a while, I understand that choosing a dog trainer is not a straightforward decision. I’ve seen just how many different approaches and philosophies there are. I’ve seen – and heard – just about every training ‘method’ under the sun.
Perhaps you are at the stage where you’re looking to choose a dog trainer. Maybe you’ve encountered a problem with your dog’s behavior that you can’t resolve on your own, or you’ve just acquired a new puppy and you want to make sure it starts off on the right track. How do you know which dog trainer will be right for you?
As a dog owner, if you’re doing your research on potential trainers, I do believe it is important to take the time to understand a little bit about the dog trainer you intend to work with. What are their aims? What are their priorities? Where did they gain their understanding? Who has influenced them?
These are just a few of the questions I would encourage any prospective client to think about. By choosing a trainer who can take the time to answer these questions, I believe you are more likely to achieve your goals when it comes to dog training – no matter what those goals are.
In this article, I want to lay out a little bit about my philosophy, approach and attitude to dog training. This isn’t the final word on my thoughts on dog training – in fact, I don’t think there will ever be a final word. Learning is a lifelong process, and dog training is no different. Every single day, I am informed by every dog I come into contact with. I learn from every conversation I have with their owners. But hopefully, this should give you an idea of the overall fundamentals that have guided my outlook on dog training, and the things I believe lead to successful outcomes for dogs and humans alike.
Building relationships is fundamental to success
For me, dog training is about much more than just teaching a dog to perform commands. It always has been. In itself, obedience from your dog can be an end result, but it might be a temporary one. Obedience on its own will not create a harmonious relationship between your family and your dog.
Instead, we have to take a step back to something far more fundamental – relationships.
Building relationships is extremely important. If your dog does not trust you, or does not respect you, you’re never going to get reliable obedience or a reliable recall. Simply put, your dog is never going to truly listen to you.
That’s why I would say that as much as 90% of what I teach in my programs is focused on relationships, and not on things like obedience. The interesting thing about being a dog trainer is that it’s actually more important to train the owner than it is to train the dog. If the owner knows how to deal with situations and has the right tools and techniques at their disposal, that alone can clear up a large number of behavioral problems. After all, the dog is going to take its cues from its owner – so if the owner doesn’t know what they’re doing or why the dog is behaving in a certain way, it will be very hard for the dog to just ‘learn’ what to do and what not to do.
Of course, commands are important. But you have to layer those commands on top of a solid foundation of that trusting relationship between you and your dog.
Different types of dog trainers
Dog training is full of labels, and as much as I would love to get away from them, I do think they’re here to stay. I do identify as a balanced dog trainer, and I think it’s important to think about what that means.
I like that term because, as the name suggests, it is a balance of making sure that you’re keeping everything positive and fun, whilst still making sure you’re communicating when the dog does something that’s inappropriate or not allowed. It isn’t one way or the other. It’s working to get a solution that works in each situation.
Training tools is a topic that is often talked about when it comes to dog training – especially with balanced trainers. Personally, I love training tools, but obviously they do need to be used responsibly and correctly, or they can do a lot of emotional damage. I think they should be used with guidance from an expert – always.
Some dog owners have concerns around e-collars. If they’re used correctly, e-collars are not a punishment tool as much as they are a communication tool. When you think about it, it’s actually pretty magical – you have a dog, off-leash, who is 200 yards away from you and you can actually communicate with them and they will listen.
Dog training influences and mentors
In terms of influences and mentors in my dog training career, there have been quite a few. In fact, it’s hard to pin it down to just a few, because if I counted them all up there would probably be about a hundred of them.
As I said before, dog training is an ongoing learning process as far as I’m concerned. Even if I encounter a ‘bad’ trainer and don’t agree with anything they’re doing, I can learn about what not to do.
If I had to name those influences on me as a dog trainer, obviously, Highland Canine and the education I got there was huge for me. The biggest one since then has probably been Heather Beck at K9 Lifeline. She’s really someone who I feel aligns a lot with my training style and the methods that I use the most. But there have honestly been so many others. Larry Krohn or Robert Cabral, as just two other examples. There’s really quite a few.
My motivation for getting into dog training
People often ask me how I got into the world of dog training, so here’s the story. When I was a teenager working at a doggy daycare facility, just observing dogs – studying their behavior and watching how they interact – was fascinating to me.
The moment I knew this was what I wanted to do was when there was a local service dog organization offering an apprentice opportunity. Unfortunately, I had missed the deadline for the application.
I was in college at the time, and I heard about the apprenticeship, and I was like ‘that’s it – that is what I want to do – I want to become a dog trainer!’.
I actually ended up dropping out of college the next week to pursue this dream of becoming a dog trainer, and the rest is history.
A final point - why dog training should be fun
In every training session, I do think it is vital to make sure that the dog has a positive experience. It should be positive for the dog and for the owner. That is really important. I’m not just going in and correcting your dog, and then leaving, because in the long run that doesn’t solve anything. It has to be a positive experience for everyone involved.
Finally, I also think it is important to remember that dog training should be fun. And that means fun for everyone – your dog, yourself and your family.
We learn best – by retaining information, and maintaining our enthusiasm for learning – when our experience is enjoyable. That’s no different when it comes to dog training. And that’s why it’s crucial that dog training remains fun.