You Gotta Be Picky When Picking A Trainer
Nowadays when I’m looking for a trainer for myself I almost always find him/her through word of mouth from other colleagues. It makes finding a trainer much easier–if my other positive reinforcement colleagues suggest someone, it’s rare that I don’t end up liking that trainer. Unfortunately good trainers are not often thrown at the feet of potential students.
Like I mentioned the other day, there is no one governing body regarding trainers so there is no one place to find a good trainer. I don’t know if it would be helpful to you or not, but I’m going to write out how, pretty much step by step, I go about finding a trainer and what I personally value/look for in a trainer.
Where are all the trainers?
A simple Google search is not a good way to find a trainer for me. I’m much too picky to trust a Google search. Generally I check four sources for trainers (there may be some overlap). I will check APDT’s trainer search (not all trainers here are force-free or good trainers but it’s a start), Karen Pryor Clicker Training Academy trainer search (all of these are clicker trainers), Pet Professional Guild (these are all force free trainers), and I will check out Truly Dog Friendly (another positive training list–this is less than complete list though it’s good to check). APDT, PPG, and KPA have little trainer bio pages which gives me the very first glimpse at a potential trainer. Truly dog friendly lists contact information and website links. I go through these trainers and before looking at methods, I see if the trainer offers what I’m looking for (group classes, reactive dog classes, agility, behavior modification, etc).
Once I have my list of trainers who are local to me and offer whatever service I’m looking for, then I start checking out the details of their profiles, websites, and information. I’m not going to lie, if a trainer does not have a website, does not have an online profile, I pretty much stop there. It takes much more time and much more commitment to “weed out” trainers via a phone conversation–this is probably very wrong of me…but it is what it is, only having a phone number is pretty much the end of the road for a potential trainer.
I go through the online profiles and websites of each trainer finding out information about the trainer’s experience, their methodologies, and the language that they use. This is really about narrowing the field of potentials. There are certain things that will turn me off from a potential trainer that I can write and describe… others are just the feeling I get from the information.
- Any mention of “balanced” training methods–this normally means they include physical punishments
- Multiple mentions of “dominance” or “leadership” almost always make me dismiss a potential trainer
- No “methods” or “philosophy” information anywhere
- Any photos of dogs wearing shock, choke, or prong collars (or excessive head collars)–trainers be aware of the little details of the stock photos you may use!
- Immature use of language or too many grammar errors–honestly, a lot of dog training is the ability to communicate clearly with another person and if I don’t get that impression from what’s written on a website/profile, I am much more reluctant to pursue that trainer
- Misinformation (or what I consider to be misinformation) is a big turn off
- Design/layout/logo that is too serious, or too immature, or too casual, or simply a mess in some cases–I’m not looking for professional design, layout or anything… but trailing mouse designs, broken links, bright colors I can’t read make it difficult to dig around enough to get the info I’m looking for
- Lack of information about experiences, qualifications, certifications, professional organizations, professional development all make me a little concerned and not likely to hire someone
- Too much emphasis on a Certification Program–I’ve found that trainers who have “ABC Graduate” (for example) plastered across their website are hiding their lack of experience behind a program name and it does give me some cause to pause.
Any of the trainers that have one or two of these turn offs are likely discarded from my list of potential trainers. It sounds long and drawn out but this is actually a pretty quick step–click through the links and close the “tabs” of trainers I’m not interested in pursuing.
- Clear information about methods used in dog training and philosophy. If someone cannot confidently explain their methods and clearly explain their philosophy, I’d have concerns about how honest they are being in their responses.
- A trainer bio that is a little bit resume, a little bit biography, a little bit business description is such a turn on. It really shows when a trainer has taken the time to think about what things would be important/interesting for potential students/clients to know and write it out
- Photos of happy dogs in training classes, dogs doing fun activities, or private students working
- Videos of the trainer working with dogs or teaching classes (or link to youtube videos)
- Recommended reading–a list or a link to a list of books that they suggest for their students. This is really helpful in getting to know just who influences this particular trainer
- An FAQ or blog that addresses some common questions–either basic training tips, talking about some hot-button topic, or answering questions about the trainers specific training style.
- I’ve only seen it a few times, but I love seeing a wall of ‘fame’ –a page with photos/text that highlight the accomplishments of students (titles or special activities and awards).
After going through the initial list of trainers, I may email or call some of the trainers left in my list if I have some questions or concerns about the information I found. It may be something as simple as, “I didn’t see anything mentioned about your experience with reactive dogs… are you comfortable working with reactivity?” or it could be more of a philosophical question if there was something questionable that I read but it seemed out of context or I really liked them otherwise.
Narrow it down to a few…
After getting answers to potential questions I narrow it down to my favorite 1-3 trainers. This is often the hardest part but I look at what I’ve found out about each trainer and make some choices (it’s not like I’m choosing a life-altering event… I can always go back and look at a trainer again).
Plan a visit…
Once I have my list down to a few trainers that I’m really interested in I will call or email the trainers to find out a little more information (often it’s asking questions that I already know the answers to based on my recon.). In this conversation I will ask if i can sit in on a class and observe. I think getting to sit in on a class is really a great way to see if what a trainer portrayed online is actually how they run their classes. Anything can be written on a website but that doesn’t mean it’s true. Sitting in on a class allows you to see if the trainer follows the methods/philosophy listed on their website and get a feel for how that trainer works with people. I’m sad to say there are many positive reinforcement trainers who are not terribly nice to people and are not fun to work with, sitting in allows you to know this up front and perhaps avoid that trainer.
Pick your Favorite
Now that you’ve gotten all your questions answered, have seen the training space, have seen the trainer teach the class, you should have everything you need to make a decision. Pick the trainer you like the most and go from there! Yay!
Writing it out, it sounds like quite the process, but it really isn’t as involved as it sounds. I can go through and find a trainer (minus the visit) in an hour or two starting from scratch, when looked at over a day or two, it’s not too bad. I figure it’s better to put the time in before making the financial and time commitment to hiring a trainer than to just pick the first trainer I find on Google and find out the hard way this is not someone I would trust with a pet rock let along my pet dog.
I hope this helps give you an idea of a starting point to finding a good trainer… it really isn’t as elaborate as it sounds… writing it down step by steps elongates the process more than it actually it–like if I were to write down the steps to tying your shoelaces it would seem like a very difficult task but in reality, it’s not terribly difficult.