There are many dog trainers, organisations and clubs out there offering solutions and advice to “fix” your dog’s behaviour. So which one is best for you and your dog? To make the right choice, start by doing some homework.
Unfortunately what some dog trainers don’t tell you is that the dog training profession is not regulated, which means that you don’t need any formal qualifications or training to call yourself a dog trainer. A problem with this is that there are trainers out there who are underqualified, inexperienced and still using outdated and potentially dangerous dog training methods.
To get the best trainer, you should ask them what qualifications and experience they have. Select a dog trainer who has completed either a Certificate III in Dog Behaviour and Training or a Certificate IV in Companion Animals attained from a reputable training organisation such as Delta or the National Dog Trainers Federation. These trainers will be familiar with current training methods and will also have an understanding of dog behaviour and how dogs learn. Also ask the trainer to explain what practical experience they have in the industry. How long have they been training dogs and what other relevant experience do they have?
The dog trainer you choose should use positive training methods. Modern behavioural science has shown that dominance and punishment based techniques (“traditional” or “old school” methods) are less effective and can potentially damage your dog if not employed correctly. The principle underpinning positive training and learning theory is that behaviours that are rewarded are reinforced and will occur more often. Guess what? This learning style works for people too! Try it out on your family.
Positive training methods make our dogs more motivated to learn and builds trust. On the other hand, punishment focussed methods can result in your dog seeing you as an adversary and make your dog fearful or aggressive. (For more information refer to positive training resources below.)
Think about what it is you want to achieve with your dog and select a trainer that will help you reach those goals.
Ask the trainer what sort of training they offer. Do they offer:
Group classes (check the size of the group, smaller groups are better);
Agility or other dog sports;
Solving problem behaviours?
Ask to watch some of their training sessions. A good trainer should not be concerned about you observing them.
If you are seeking a trainer because your dog has a particular problem behaviour/s, first make sure the behaviour is not caused by an underlying health issue by having a health check-up with your vet.
More serious behavioural issues such as reactivity towards humans or dogs are complex and it is best to seek advice from a qualified animal behaviourist (this is usually a vet who specialises in behaviour) who can conduct a thorough behaviour assessment of your dog. Taking a reactive dog to group classes or to off-leash parks is likely to make your dog’s behaviour worse. Your dog may benefit from one-on-one training and following a behaviour management plan. It may be that your dog needs medication to put her in the right mental state to be able to learn. A fearful or anxious dog is too concerned about its safety (whether the threat is real or perceived) and will not be able to focus on learning.
A good trainer will know their own capabilities and will refer you to someone else if they believe that your dog’s issue is outside of their area of expertise.
Training is a great activity to do with your dog and will help develop a well socialised, happy dog that you will enjoy spending time with. Happy training.
Positive dog trainers in the Bellarine and Geelong region: