We have vast amounts of information at our fingertips. With the click of a button and a Wi-fi connection we can be connected to more information than we would ever have time to digest. Personal recommendations and reviews can be a quick and efficient way to cut through this information and make our decision.
For many years we have had a magazine in the UK called "Which?", Which? Magazine promises to test and compare products without prejudice to allow consumers to make educated choices. The internet provides other ways to help us make comparisons - personal reviews, lists compiled by experts, comparison websites.
A daily scroll through social media will regularly feature appeals for assistance in choosing a dog trainer. Usually an encouragingly long list of names comes back but what do we do next? Without our own Which? magazine to review trainers, how can we find the best trainer for us? With an explosion in the numbers entering the dog training industry this type of evaluation will be one of the critical skills for dog owners. For those of us who are teachers of dogs and their people it is our job to help.
Points to Ponder
Do qualifications matter? Dog Training and Behaviour is currently an unregulated industry. Letters after names, membership of organisations and other information on websites can either be useful information or a distraction. Research the organisations and find out what the trainer had to do to become a member. Some letters are earned after years of study and require annual ongoing assessment. Some letters are earned after paying a membership fee only. If the letters refer to formal education then find out what subjects were studied to gain the qualification - it is easy to assume that the study was an animal based subject.
Who is managing the information? We live in a world that understands marketing. Some dog trainers now employ people to 'market' them - no experience of dogs required. This can have huge advantages for the dog owner, quick and easy information, plenty of it, updated regularly. Occasionally it hides what the trainer actually believes and which methods are applied.
Can you question the trainer? We appreciate that finding the right help for your dog is important. Asking questions is essential to getting the best care. Trainers are busy people but will take time to answer questions or refer you to other resources to get you the information you need.
Can you work out the ethics or values? Who does your trainer learn from? Who has inspired them in the past or teaches them today? Are you comfortable with the ethics of these teachers and trainers? Look at videos the trainer has made of their work, videos of them working with their own dogs and photos. These can give you some information on how the trainer is likely to work with you and your dog. Most trainers write blog posts these days, it is a quick and easy way to educate and share information. If your trainer doesn't write their own blog, check the type of blogs they share - do the ethics and values match your own?
Watch the language Take note of the language used - words like 'commands' or 'control' can be (but not always) evidence of a more traditional approach. Words like 'cues' or 'connection' can be evidence of a trainer who has been exposed to more modern teaching - beware language can be used in a politically correct fashion!
Are you being blinded with science? It is essential that all modern dog trainers have a good grasp of the science of behaviour however they also need to be able to apply the practical skills. If your trainer uses a lot of scientific terms ask them to explain them clearly and how it relates to the practical work with your dog.
Does the trainer know your breed? If they don't are they willing to find out all about it? Understanding a breed and how they instinctively behave can be essential in behaviour modification.
Does the trainer practise their practical skills? Has your trainer trained a dog to a high level, their own or someone else's via a class or consult? Do they participate in dog sports or work with dogs in breed specific settings. Dog training and behaviour modification is more than just theory, a good grasp of the practical skills is essential.