Whether you have a brand new puppy or an old dog you’d like to teach some new tricks, working with a trainer to help ensure your dog is a well-behaved and safe member of the family is always a good idea. However, considering there are so many methods and practices in dog training today, how do you choose a trainer who is right for your and your pup?
We spoke to Amy Calkins, a licensed dog trainer on Thumbtack with a certificate from Animal Behavioral College and almost twenty years of experience to find out how and when dog parents should hire a trainer.
When to Hire a Dog Trainer
Training is the best way to safely control a dog’s behavior and ensure your pup will respond to your commands. Even though most people rationally understand it’s important to start training immediately, Calkins says, she still gets clients tell her they’ve never done anything with their dog and now he’s 80 pounds and they desperately need help. The good news is: it’s never too late. Whether they’re ten weeks, ten months, or ten years, dogs are always learning and they really do want rules (otherwise they’ll make up their own).
When it comes to the safety and happiness of your dog, she says, “It’s always helpful to consult with someone who knows more than you do.”
“Every situation is different,” Calkins says, “but the number one thing people reach out to me for help with is aggression.” That can mean a whole array of things, she says. “There are roughly 11 different kinds of dog aggression that manifest in tons of different ways. A dog may be hoarding a toy and growling or it may be attacking and biting.” While aggressive behavior is largely preventable, once it appears, it’s best to let a professional treat it and show you how to keep it from happening in the future.
Your dog doesn’t need to show signs of aggression, however, to seek out a trainer. A trainer can help with basic commands, potty training, walking on a leash, chewing or digging, new home acclimation or any specific issues you and your dog may be having.
What to Expect During Training
The truth is, most dog training is people training, which means the first thing Calkins does when she’s hired is go into the person’s home, look at the family and household dynamic, and assess the issues and the psychology behind them. Then it’s time to get to work.
“If you have a large family, it’s important to get the whole family together for training lessons,” Calkins says, telling a story about a dog who was jumping on people to explain her reasoning. She asked the parents if the teenage boy encouraged the dog to jump and they swore up and down he would never do such a thing. But then the daughter chimed in and told them actually her brother did that all of the time. This was crucial to realize because if even one family member isn’t following through, the dog won’t learn. “Training is about family communication and family effort,” Calkins says. “And if it’s an individual, it’s about educating that person.”
What it’s really going to come down to is how much work you’re willing to put into it. Calkins says, “If you can work with your dog for 15 minutes a day in five minute intervals, you’re going to see an exponential difference in just a week.” And though some of that time may be frustrating, remember that you’re also tiring your dog out and bonding while working together, so it’s really a win-win situation.
How to Find a Great Trainer
“Every dog is different,” Calkins says. “And every family is different. So the best advice I can give is that you want to seek out a trainer who works on multiple facets of training since there isn’t just one method that works every time.” You’ll also want to take into consideration your family dynamic and the history of the dog.
“Unfortunately,” Calkins says, “There are very few states in the U.S. that require a dog trainer to be certified.” This really puts the pressure on you to ask the right questions and rely on your instinct.
Questions to Ask When Hiring a Trainer
1. What training methods do you use?
You want someone who uses humane methods and positive reinforcement, like food, play, and praise.
2. What’s your background and training?
Calkins points out that there have been a lot of advances in training in the last 20 years, which is why she’s constantly furthering her education.
3. Can I see your references?
“You want to call people who aren’t their buddies,” Calkins says. “Which is why a website like Thumbtack is good. You know those reviews are legitimate.”
4. How long will we work together?
This depends on what you’re looking to do with your dog, but Calkins says that most behavior issues can be corrected in two to four sessions as long as you’re consistently working with your dog.
Those questions will help you figure out if someone is a good fit for you and your dog, Calkins emphasizes you also want to make sure that you get along with the trainer and that your dog has a good reaction to the trainer.
Once you find the right person, it’s just about putting in the work. But if you’re willing to make an effort, you’ll improve your life, your dog’s life, and have a lot of fun doing it.