As a dog owner, you are probably thinking or have thought that basic obedience training or some other dog lessons would be a good idea. I thought the same thing, when I rescued my dog, Henry. I quickly discovered that there are a lot of dog trainers out there. Above all, I rapidly learned a positive reinforcement dog trainer is top dog. Not sure what I mean? Let me explain. Here’s what I learned and would do differently.
*Update: November 10, 2022
Budget Tip: Training your dog is an essential part of being a good pet parent. Establishing basic commands can prevent your dog from running into the street or jumping on a small child. These commands are also useful when visiting the vet. Think of it as basic education for you and your dog. Training your dog can be done inexpensively. However, if you have a dog with behavior issues or goals you wish to achieve with your dog such as therapy training, you will probably need to attend in-person classes. You can budget for it within your dog budget. It’s definitely worth it to train your dog and will make your life with your dog even more magical. That's a budget winner!
Positive dog training vs. dominance training
While there are about nine recognized dog training methods, these are the ones you will most likely encounter.
What is positive reinforcement dog training?
This type of dog training method rewards a dog for a positive behavior while a negative behavior is ignored. For example, if you want your dog to learn to sit, you reward your dog with a treat when you say “sit” and your dog sits. However, your dog is not given any treats until the command is achieved.
What is dominance or alpha dog training?
On the other hand, alpha dog trainers may use something your dog doesn’t like to correct your dog into the command that is given. Some of these types of trainers might use things like e-collars, choke chains, prong collars, and the like that will make your dog see the trainer as the “alpha dog” and get your dog to submit to the desired command.
Do you learn best in a positive or dominant teaching environment?
As a simple correlation, think back to all your teachers. Do you have one that sticks out because you learned something you didn’t think you could? How did you learn it?
For example, I remember Mr. Glanzmann because he could teach anyone to do algebra calculations. There was no “I can’t” in his classroom. He genuinely loved his students. That was a good experience. He taught with positive reinforcement.
Now, think back to a not-so-good teacher. How did that teacher treat the students? I remember Mrs. Shultz. She delighted in humiliating students to the point they would cry. That’s dominance teaching or training.
With this experience in mind, which did you enjoy most? I really hope you said positive reinforcement. And which would you like your pup to experience? Again, I really hope you said positive.
How to find a positive reinforcement dog trainer?
1. Ask for referrals
- Pet parents
- Dog owners at the park
- Pet store
- Dog walkers
- Doggie daycare
- Animal shelter
- Rescue organization
When I adopted Henry, his rescue organization informed me they offered positive reinforcement training classes, including therapy dog training and service dog training classes. His foster mom was even the dog trainer for most of the training programs. At the time, it seemed perfect even with factoring in 90 minutes round trip once a week to attend class.
However, if I had to do it over again (and I did later) I would get a list of positive dog trainers and narrow my list down.
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2. What to know about certified dog trainers
There is an alphabet of dog training certifications. While it’s nice to know that the trainer you select has a background in their field, it may not be essential if you find the right fit in your area.
For instance, some people just never take the time to get certified but are excellent in dog training. Here’s a little breakdown of the most encountered trainer certifications.
CPDT-KA – Certified Pet Dog Trainer, Knowledge-Assessed
Over the past five years this trainer has:
- At least 300 hours of dog training experience
- Passed a test with 180-questions covering training, instruction, equipment, theories, animal husbandry, etc.
- continuing education credits are required or the exam must be retaken every three years
KPT CTP – Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner
This is a six-month certification program that includes:
- Online lessons and quizzes
- At-home training exercises
- In-person workshops
- Final exams
CTC – Certificate In Training and Counseling
This is an online program, which takes about two years to complete and includes:
- Dog training and behavior consultation curriculums
- In-person training
VSA-CDT – Victoria Stilwell Academy for Dog Training and Behavior
This certification program offers:
- In-person hybrid courses
- Online-only courses
- A positive reinforcement training curriculum
PCT-A – Professional Canine Trainer (Accredited)
This is the second-highest level of certification offered by Pet Professional Accreditation Board, which is part of Pet Professional Guild.
Qualifications for this certification include:
- 70 hours of training classes over 2 year period
- 10 hours of continuing education
CTT-A – Canine Training Technician (Accredited)
This is the top level of certification offered by Pet Professional Accreditation Board
Qualifications for this higher level certification include:
- 200 hours of training classes over 2 years
- 20 hours of continuing education
You may also find a dog trainer who is certified as an animal behaviorist. There is a list of certifications for this type of trainer as well. Here’s a simplified list of what you might encounter:
- CAAB (requires a Ph.D.)
- CDBC – Certified Dog Behavior Consultant
- CBCC – KA – Certified Behavior Consultant Canine – Knowledge Assessed
- CCS – Certificate in Canine Studies
- PCBC-A is a Professional Canine Behavior Consultant (Accredited)
- UW-AAB – the University of Washington applied animal behavior (this is an online program)
3. Contact the top dog trainers on your list
You’ll probably find a name(s) that keeps popping up. Contact that trainer(s) and discuss what you want to do with your dog. Your goal might be basic training, correcting a behavior, learning agility, therapy dog training, or even service dog training. Find out the dog trainer’s experience and how they will teach you and your dog.
Ask questions such as:
- Do you use devices to train?
- What do you do if your dog won’t pay attention?
- Do you leash correct?
If the trainer hedges a question with anything like “oh, sometimes a pop is required for attention” then steer clear. This type of trainer will be mixing positive and alpha dog training methods.
NOTE: If you have an aggressive or fearful dog, research has shown that dominance training can enhance these behaviors.
4. Observe a dog class in person
If the dog trainer refuses to let you watch a class, then you know that is not the trainer for you or your dog.
Prior to dog class
- How does the trainer interact with the dogs and the dogs with the trainer?
- Are the dogs avoiding the trainer or happy to see the instructor?
- Does the dog trainer know the dog’s names? (Often the trainers will know the dog’s names and not the owners.)
- Are the dogs relaxed?
- Or are they stiff with a tucked body?
During dog class
- Is the dog trainer patient with each dog and owner?
- Does the trainer take extra time for any issues that may come up?
- Are dog parents allowed to ask questions?
- Does the instructor use any sort of negative or dominant training method, even a pop of a leash?
- Are the dogs rewarded for completing a command?
- Is each dog rewarded equally?
- Does the trainer purposely reject any dog?
- If a dog is being rejected, can you detect why?
- Are all the dogs’ adults?
- Is the class geared more toward puppies?
- Or is it a mix of puppies and adult dogs?
- Do the class participants match what you were told, i.e., puppy class, adult dogs, or all dogs?
- Was there an altercation in class?
- If there was an altercation, how did the trainer handle it?
Additionally, did you see anyone in class mistreat their dog or treat their dog in a way you thought was inappropriate? If so, tell the instructor after class or during a break. Chances are a good trainer just didn’t see it. With the information, a good trainer will take it as a learning moment and show the person or class the better option.
After dog class
- Are the dog parents relaxed?
- Do the dogs still seem relaxed and happy as they leave class?
- Does the instructor hand out printed materials?
- Is there homework?
- Or is there anything that the trainer suggests the class or each dog work on between classes?
- Was that communication given clearly?
- What’s your overall opinion of the trainer?
- How did you feel the class was taught and the dogs and owners were interacted with and treated?
- Were you satisfied?
- Do you feel your dog would fit in and it would be a good experience?
What I learned from Henry’s training classes?
With Henry’s first trainer I skipped this step and went with the fact that she was his foster mom. However, I didn’t realize she ONLY liked big dogs. Henry is a 14 lb rescue cockapoo. She did not treat him like the rest of the class.
While she used positive reinforcement training for most of the class, she withheld the high-end treats from Henry and positive interaction with him. Additionally, even though I spoke to the dog trainer/foster mom on the phone, she neglected to tell me that the class was mostly puppies and young dogs. Henry already was an adult dog.
However, the positive of this class was that Henry and I bonded greatly because we were left alone. And much to his foster mom’s dismay, Henry graduated top of his class and performed all the commands perfectly. That was the last we saw of his foster mom.
If I had to do it again, I would’ve asked for a refund on the first day and found a new dog trainer.
What to expect of positive dog training?
If you’ve just recently adopted or rescued your dog, training will be a chance for you to bond with your new family member. It should be a fun and rewarding (no pun intended) activity.
However, keep in mind that it will take time and lots of practice. You may find yourself frustrated at times. That’s when you walk away and play with your dog. This is supposed to be fun! Come back and practice in short sessions. You and your dog will get it.
Moreover, if you need help, ask your trainer either before or after class for additional suggestions. It could be as simple as your voice or stance needs to be adjusted.
Not up to training your dog? Send for help.
Additionally, it should be noted that you can always send your dog away to training classes. Personally, I like to be involved in the process and know exactly what’s being done and how my dog is being treated.
However, if you think this is your only option, you can research this as well. I would highly recommend visiting the facility and getting lots of positive recommendations from a variety of sources before selecting one.
Although, it would be preferred if the boarding trainer has a camera you can look in on your dog from home. Then you can observe at least body cues to make sure your dog is not in distress during the training process.
What you’ll need for your dog training classes?
Your dog trainer should provide you with a list of what you will need. It will also depend on the type of dog training class you have enrolled in. However, at a minimum, you should expect:
- 6’ and possibly 15’ leash
- training treats, including high-end dog treats
- pouch for carrying treats is also helpful
Your dog trainer may also provide you with written materials for you to read prior to class. Make sure you do it.
Also, keep in mind to enroll in an in-person dog training class you’ll need to provide proof of your dog’s vaccinations.
Is there anything else to know before your first dog training class?
It’s okay to walk away and try again with another trainer. If you get in your first class and discover that even though you did all your research and thought you knew what the dog trainer and class was about, but you see something that makes you uncomfortable you can walk out. That’s okay. This is your dog!
Honestly, I should’ve walked away with Henry that first night when his foster mom/trainer showed her colors. However, she wasn’t being harmful to Henry. She just was rude and unhelpful. Something in me just wanted to show her what an amazing dog Henry is and do a mic drop at graduation. Hopefully, somehow that experience has impacted her and she’s now a better foster mom to small dogs.
What would I do differently with Henry and his dog lessons?
I would’ve visited one of the training classes of his foster mom’s prior to signing up. In doing so, I would’ve easily recognized that she was not a fit for Henry or me.
I did correct this mistake with his following classes. I asked around, talked to trainers, and even took Henry in to meet a trainer. The trainer Henry met got down on all fours to meet him. I then sat through her class and I was sold! She still doesn’t know my name, but she knows Henry from a mile away. Never once has she ever done anything that wasn’t positive in her class. Nor has she ever been rude or unhelpful.
Where did I find my local dog trainer?
After much searching and asking, I finally found my gem of a dog trainer at my local PetSmart. That’s not to say that every PetSmart dog trainer is like Elizabeth. But it is to say that you may be shocked where you’ll find a great dog trainer. Plus, PetSmart will offer discounts about every 6 weeks or so. Elizabeth will even do private dog training classes.
How much does a dog trainer cost?
That depends on your location, what you want to learn, and the dog trainer. However, you can generally expect to pay in the range of $120-$200 for a group 6-week basic dog training class. Naturally, private classes are more.
Is it possible to do remote dog training?
There are many YouTube dog training videos available and some dog trainers are offering virtual lessons in our current environment. Again, when you select a trainer to watch or follow, make sure that they practice positive reinforcement training. However, this could certainly be an option for at least the more basic commands.
Henry’s certificates he’s earned in various dog training classes.
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Summary of how to find a positive reinforcement dog trainer for your rescue dog
It’s always a good thing to learn basic dog training, or even more if that’s your dog goal, especially if you’ve rescued your dog. Training is another way to bond with your rescue dog. It certainly helped build a great bond with my dog. However, the trick is to know how to find the right dog trainer for you and your pup.
After my first epic fail, I learned to ask around, talk to the trainer, sit in on a class, and be willing to walk away if, in the end, the class isn’t right. I also learned that the right dog trainer can be found in sometimes the most obvious locations. Henry and I have been very happy with his positive reinforcement classes since I found a better trainer after his foster mom.