6 Signs Of A Good Dog Trainer

Training Philosophy

6 Signs Of A Good Dog Trainer

Looking for a dog trainer, and unsure whether he/she is the right one for you?
Unfortunately, there is no governing organization that decides who is allowed to call themselves a dog trainer (contrary to e.g. a doctor).

While there are different certifications out there, these don’t always tell you how qualified and well-suited a trainer may be for your particular situation. In fact, sometimes the un-certified ones are the ones with the most experience and training expertise – because they developed their methods themselves, rather than relying on a school’s curriculum (see point 4).

Surprisingly, not many top dog trainers (such as agility, obedience or Schutzhund champions) have certifications – they simply learned through trial and error, and trained a lot of dogs.

Confused already? Do not worry, it is no rocket science to find the dog trainer suited for you. Here are my top requirements for a good dog trainer.

1. They welcome questions.

Pick a trainer who likes you to ask questions. Good trainers want their clients to understand why they are advising them to do things a certain way – and are thrilled to receive questions regarding training. Questions and some confusion are natural parts of learning, and receiving questions shows me that we are on the right track.

Sometimes I get questions that make me go home and think for a day or two before I come up with an answer that satisfies both me and the client.
These are my favorite ones!

Asking questions shows engagement and interest. A trainer should never feel challenged or doubted by clients with many questions.

If your trainer ditches questions or gives you unsatisfying answers, look elsewhere!

2. They share information for free.

Do they have a website? Do they have a blog, a Facebook page, or maybe free handouts at the local vet office?

Before you commit to becoming their client, you should be able to get a glimpse of their training philosophy, their approaches, their methods and their ideas.

Call them and ask for a brief description of their training program over the phone.
Ask what their general approach to your dog’s issue is.

(If you want to be very bold, use some learning theory terms – operant conditioning, terminal bridge, unconditioned stimulus – and see if they know their stuff 😉 )

If a trainer is reluctant to give you any insight into his methods before you put money on the table, run!

3. They have well-trained dogs of their own.


Would you see a dentist with rotting teeth? Would you see a car mechanic whose car isn’t functioning? Or would you see a personal trainer who cannot jog for a mile?

A dog trainer’s personal dogs are their training ground. My dogs have gone through all of the training I have ever taught to a client, and in many different forms: They are the ones I experiment on to tweak little details to make my program as effective as possible.

If your trainer’s personal dogs seem not so well trained (unless they have been recently adopted), be suspicious: If they haven’t trained the dogs they are living with day in and day out, how can they train their clients’ dogs in much less time?

4. They train with methods they developed.

Sure, when starting out everyone relies on methods that are already out there. However, as a trainer grows, he/she should develop their own ideas to fit his/her own personality and style of training.

If a trainer appears to be mostly using the ideas of others, maybe it would be better to learn from those others in the first place?

Search for someone who has developed their own approaches and ideas. They will be well thought-out and effective – it takes much more skill to come up with a novel idea than to copy what others have done.

That trainer will be able to adapt these methods to you and your dog’s needs and offer you a personalized training program.

If you cannot find a local trainer like this, the internet offers plenty of online training options to train your dog with someone who knows their methods inside out.

5. They see you and your dog as individuals.

They do not give you a step-by-step program regardless of your dog’s age, breed, temperament, history, his favorite rewards, your living situation, the amount of time you have available for training … this would not only be inflexible, but actually detrimental – what works for one dog and handler team may set others back in their learning!

A good trainer takes time to get to know you and your dog, and they never stop inquiring about your dog’s behavior in certain situations, his treat preferences. He will see you, your dog and your relationship as the unique situation that they are, and train accordingly.

If a trainer tells you already on the phone that you need this or that collar – hang up. If a trainer appears to give you “the talk” – you know, the separation anxiety talk, the reactivity talk, the leash pulling talk – without taking you and your dogs as individuals into account, search elsewhere.

6. They have a high client retention.

A not-so-great trainer can consistently recruit new clients, have them go through a training program and then have them leave him – not unsatisfied, but also not so thrilled that they immediately sign up for the next set of classes.

Good trainers have high rates of recurring clients that take multiple classes or even are “lifetime customers” – dog owners that have taken their dogs through years of training at one training facility, or even brought back their next puppy because they were so happy.

If unsure, ask around – previous clients’ feedback will tell you more than any sales pitch.

Good luck finding the trainer who suits you best! Do not be afraid to shop around a bit and ask others. Don’t settle for what doesn’t feel right. Don’t fear telling your trainer it is not working out and you are looking elsewhere. If he/she is in it for the right reasons (helping people and their dogs), they will not mind.

Happy training!

(Here is more reading on trainers:
Use Your Own Words Trainers
A Day In The Life Of A Dog Trainer)