Judging a Pet Dog Trainer by Their Own Dog?

This is a place to gain some understanding of dog behavior and to assist people in training their dogs and dealing with common behavior problems, regardless of the method(s) used. This can cover the spectrum from non-aversive to traditional methods of dog training. There are many ways to train a dog. Please avoid aggressive responses, and counter ideas and opinions with which you don't agree with friendly and helpful advice. Please refrain from submitting posts that promote off-topic discussions. Keep in mind that you may be receiving advice from other dog owners and lovers... not professionals. If you have a major problem, always seek the advice of a trainer or behaviorist!

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Because I'm- Duncan, that's- why

Barked: Sun Nov 25, '12 11:15pm PST 
So this is just something I've been mulling over. For me, it is hypothetical, as I am not intending on hiring a trainer anytime soon. My personal dogs are just pets and we get along fine. They don't always have perfect manners but with management, and lifestyle considerations, it doesn't matter that much.

But here's what I was wondering. What if I did want to hire a trainer to help polish their manners? Or, what if I somehow in future ended up with a pet dog with a behavior problem, and wanted professional help to address the problem?

In performance venues, trainers are often judged by their success with their own dogs. Is it fair to apply the same standard to pet dog trainers? In other words, if I were to seek a trainer to help with my pet dogs, I would want to meet the trainer's dog(s) and expect that they'd be model pets...? I mean, if the trainer is specifically in the pet-training business. Does this make sense?

And then how to define this model pet behavior? I picture it something like this... We meet at a store, like PetCo or something. The trainer's dog greets strangers (including me) in a friendly, happy, relaxed manner; walks around the store calmly without pulling or straining on the leash; greets other dogs properly; seems attuned to the owner and obeys commands even with distractions present naturally in the environment. Because, this would be a "real" pet type situation, in which I would like my dogs to function well... so I would like to see that the trainer, basically, is capable of creating that well adjusted pet.

I really would not want to hear excuses from the trainer if his/her own personal dog did not function at that level. No matter what the trainer's dog's background... if they're a skilled trainer, they should have been able to fix/ overcome any such issues? Especially if I'm hoping this trainer would help my hypothetical dog to resolve its issues?

Again, I'm not talking about making my dogs compete in any sports or performance. I'm just talking about making them better pets, or addressing problems in a pet home with no interest in competition of any sort.

What do y'all think? Should a pet-dog trainer have well behaved personal pets of their own? Is the "proof in the pudding"?

ETA: I think my "fantasy trainer" gets extra points if the "model dog" also happens to be a Chow or a hound!

Edited by author Sun Nov 25, '12 11:21pm PST


Woo-woo- whineybutt
Barked: Sun Nov 25, '12 11:40pm PST 
Hmm.. I think it depends on the dog..

Nare is *usually* really well behaved. And because of this, when he isn't, I tend to slack.
Like, 9/10 times he sits before we exit the isle (so we don't run into people).. On that 1/10th time I just let it slide, figure he has earned it.

I also tend to do a lot better with other peoples dogs than Nare.. Mostly because Nare is somewhat stubborn, or sometimes I don't take the right approach in training something.. Like learning to retrieve was REALLY hard for him because I was dumb and didn't try to find a method of teaching it that worked for us. I just stuck with the way our trainer told us to do it. Which worked for many other dogs-- just not us.. We started out having him retriever tug toys when he wasn't comfortable with it (now that i think of it), when we worked at home he was SOOOO much better getting smaller items (cat toys) and then we worked up to larger items.

With Nare, I take my time training him, we've been working on him walking backwards while in a play bow position for a month.. But I could've easily taught it in a week or two.

But, I dunno. I feel like I have 'pet dog training' down, and wouldn't need a trainer. I tend to like taking matters into my own hand though, so idk. I like google. laugh out loud
Tiller- (Skansen's- Ira in the M

I DO Exist...To- Drive You Batty
Barked: Mon Nov 26, '12 12:10am PST 
Yes and no. Although to preface, bias intended, I am not a big believer in "pet dog trainer." I am a believer in the competition trainer or working trainer, simply because those are measurable results. Outside the world of subjectivity. I am not talking about pet titles here. I am talking about upper end and judged events. When you have a High in Trial, perfect score, top placement at the nationals and so on, what you have is a precise and tough goal....goals you did not set, but that had to be aspired towards and attained....and to attain that goal you also had to outdo everyone else who was trying to do the same. THAT to me is success. I don't care a fig if you did it with one dog. If you can do it again and again? Ok then, now we are talking.

Someone like Balabanov. Let's discuss. He helped pilot the behavioral program at the San Fran ASPCA. In international bite sport competition (which includes OB, tracking and protection), he comes up with performances others cannot touch. He also turns out very credible working dogs, PPDs and such. Shelter behavioral, international Sch and working function? Ok, I'll bite, what's left? laugh out loud big laugh Cain today shared with me a PA trainer who was involved in a top ten placing Iditarod team as a teenager, has gone on to title a myriad of field dog champions, and in addition campaigns his two personal dogs, one an AB and one a GSD....very different breeds....at the national level in Sch. He's a new name to me, but I am inquiring and am VERY impressed with that resume.

I don't care what you do with your happy pet, and I will tell you why. Some people have SPARKLING instincts at picking the right dog, or are simply quite lucky. How do you know? How do you know if the three before that weren't screwy headed and this one they finally got right? You DON'T. How do you know they haven't traded off dogs that were harder for them? You DON'T. And how do you know if whatever challenges you are going through were once mirrored by their own dog? You DON'T. This vs a competition trainer, who if he outdoes others in the big leagues and has thrived in multiple venues....you can stop guessing. He knows how to train a dog. Not just A dog, but many dogs, in many different functions. No one is that lucky.

Now certainly, I could argue the other end. If I were to go to a "pet trainer"....which I am pretty sure you can guess by now I would NOT....but let's say I would, I would run like a bat out of hell if they could not control their own dog. Whereas if I liked the vibe with their dog, I am still not sure I'd be sold by that "resume." I'd be more concerned with what their clients thought of them.


Because I'm- Duncan, that's- why

Barked: Mon Nov 26, '12 12:24am PST 
But that's just the thing. Why should *I* as pet owner, who does not want to compete in anything, who only wants wonderful well behaved pets....why should I give a "fig" about these trainers' titles in national this or that competitions? Why should I care if they cannot PROVE to me that they can own a nice pet ....the kind of pet I would like to have? The kind of pet I would hire the hypothetical trainer to help me, personally, achieve?

Edited by author Mon Nov 26, '12 12:32am PST

Tiller- (Skansen's- Ira in the M

I DO Exist...To- Drive You Batty
Barked: Mon Nov 26, '12 12:59am PST 
Ah, because they can meet goals. That's what they have proven. What do you want from your pet? Do you want him to happily answer your commands? Behave in a public setting? Ok then, they certainly can do that. Not only can they do that, but they can do that succeeding over others, in a non subjective way, trying to do the same thing.

I mean, in the horse world, this would be unheard of. I train pet horses? I am laughing as I type that. "I like my horsies and they are really happy and I can help you, too!" That is unfathomable to me, and would be unfathomable to almost any horse person. You go to someone whose skill and aptitude is the difference between making their mortgage or not. Who go up against others and excel, with a judge's scorecard to say so.

If all you want is someone who has a happy pet, then why not find a someone at Petco who has that (you see this as they walk their dog around the store) and will do it for free? Why not go to that rather interesting elderly woman who has had her Pyrs and Samoyeds as therapy dogs....they obviously must be pretty cool, and she is certainly looking for ways to occupy her time, and say "hey, will you help me train my dog." And you wouldn't pay a cent.

That's why it is not a good criteria, IMO. As you are looking for something that many an average pet owner could offer, if their dog was happy, or whatever thing you were looking for. What are you PAYING for? Why not ask yourself that question. For if it is "their dog is happy," plenty of pet owners qualify. Whereas if you go to a competitive trainer, then you are paying for their expertise of turning out one good dog after another, as affirmed outside of some subjective venue. They have, certified, a skill superior to others gunning for the same thing. That's someone who knows their sh*t. To see a trainer with a happy and well behaved dog....maybe they do, or maybe they are well matched to their dog. How do you know, and how is that superior to what the happy dog at Petco's owner could offer? Just because their dog is happy doesn't represent the depth of their skill.

That they are well matched to their pet is the only thing you know. Beyond that....anything is guesswork. Would they be well matched to YOURS? How do you know? You don't. That's why the competitive thing has value, particularly when you get into a Balabanov or the Iditarod-field trial-Schutzhund-conformation trainer. You aren't talking about one happy and perhaps well matched pet. You are talking about people who deliver in multiple venues with very differing dogs.

Now conversely, judging how a pet trainers CLIENTS feel....then that is something to pay for. Because you know people go there, have a good time, and have success. That's a far more important bar to judge. Because that is what you are paying for....to have a good time and have success. And granted, some pet trainers are very good at helping to ensure such an experience. So that's your bang for your buck, and something the therapy dog woman could not offer you in any sort of palpable way. You don't know if she'd be any good teaching you, whether or not her dogs act nice. Whereas a beloved area pet trainer, then this you know. So this you pay for and sense some value in what you are laying down the bucks for.

If you want to go throwing money at someone as a reward for having a happy dog, then ok laugh out loud Because that's what you'd be doing. They don't have YOUR dog, and the fact that THEIR dog is happy is, at least potentially, pretty irrelevant. Whereas, if they have a proven track record to deal with any venue better than anyone else, or if they have a proven track record of clients who find success and enjoyment training with them....ok, then that is what you are paying for.

Edited by author Mon Nov 26, '12 1:17am PST

Dr. Watson

Not a wiener- dawg!
Barked: Mon Nov 26, '12 5:45am PST 
"Some people have SPARKLING instincts at picking the right dog, or are simply quite lucky. How do you know?"

Oh good lord, do I know that. I live with a dog and owner just like that. The dog has a perfect off leash heel and LLW, naturally, can be used to rehab reactive dogs, just a perfect gentleman.

I can see both sides of this discussion. It does bother me that there are very few criteria by which to choose a "pet dog" trainer. I mean, other than certs and such. One can look at the person's educational background, I suppose. OTOH, there's a lot to be said for that experienced person with "the touch."

Barked: Mon Nov 26, '12 6:06am PST 
Don't judge the trainer's dogs. Judge by their client's dogs.

There are a few reasons. First, trainers tend to end up with broken dogs. Dogs that belonged to a client or a friend of a client who gave up, and for whatever reason they just couldn't let this one go. They loved the dog, they knew they could work with him and keep him safe when no one else could, and they agreed to take him. These are dogs who need a lifetime of management because they are not fixable. There's something too dark in their past to get around, or they were born with something not quite connected right in their brain. I can't say "all," but the vast majority of trainers I know have at least one of these dogs - myself included.

Secondly, as the old saying goes, "The cobbler's children have no shoes." Training pet dogs for a living is insanely time-consuming. Returning home to exercise AND educate our own dogs often doesn't fit the schedule. Plus, depending on your dogs, if they've been with you all day they are now equally exhausted... I used to have to schedule time to work with my personal dogs, then make sure I gave them enough rest prior to that time that they wouldn't burn out as soon as we started. The upshot is that I developed quite a few tricks to sneak in education when you're super busy, which has been helpful to quite a few other busy dog owners.

Performance training is a specialized thing, and it stands to reason that if someone is going to go that specialized route they should actively participate in it. Educating pets for everyday life is a generalized, as-needed thing. Some clients with completely out of control dogs only want to address recalls, or only leashwalking, countersurfing and appropriate greetings be damned. In some of my manners classes, I would skip entire lessons because the people in the class weren't going to use the information I usually taught. There's so much out there to teach, I'd rather give them something they will use.

Everyone has different needs for their dogs. Ember doesn't have poor leashwalking skills because I can't teach her, but because I haven't taught her. I've never needed to. She does well enough to get by when I do need it, the rest of the time she's off leash, socializing, competing or training to compete. That's what I need from her, so that's where my focus is. No, I don't teach flyball, but the fact that I have one of 28 Huskies in the nation that CAN compete at all says something to me, even if she doesn't have a spot-on heel.

So I'd look at the clients. If they're happy and got what they wanted from a trainer, that works for me.

That being said, if the trainer's dog is bouncing off the walls, tackling people and dogs at random and trying to eat everything in sight while the trainer stands idly by... That's not cool at all. Or if they have their "broken" dog in a situation where he's over threshold and acting up... They should know better. There's no excuse for that.

Edited by author Mon Nov 26, '12 6:21am PST


Spooky Mulder
Barked: Mon Nov 26, '12 6:13am PST 
I personally wouldn't spend money on a trainer who has produced nothing more than "happy pets", even if I wasn't looking for anything more than basic obedience myself.

Tiller is right, there are plenty of people who just have a knack with dogs, and who have lovely wonderfully behaved pets.. doesn't mean they know doodle about training others or could replicate their results with someone else's dog.

I want to see big-picture results. If you have multiple OTCH and MACH-level dogs, then I'm going to assume you know a little something about training, even if I could care less about an OB or agility title. Keep in mind, the titles aren't the point, its the level of training they demand... so why NOT go with the person with actual, measurable results backing their name?

ETA- would like to mention also, that it doesn't have to be TITLES specifically that set the standard. For instance, there may be no titles associated with an actual working herding dog, but still has results that can be referenced by looking at how their flocks are tended, and so on.

Edited by author Mon Nov 26, '12 6:17am PST


Barked: Mon Nov 26, '12 6:42am PST 
Agreed about it being the work you can show behind the title, not the title itself - Resources are also an issue here. Ember would be titled by now IF her team hadn't been cut due to space restrictions two tournaments ago, and IF I hadn't missed this past tournament for money/medical reasons... Same with agility - She can do it, I just don't have the time/money to title her. Vance was even better at it on a technical level, but was in too poor health to actually compete. There are so many variables...

If you are going to judge by titles, the title should apply to what you're looking for in your pet dog. Someone can MACH dogs all day long and still not be well equipped to deal with potty training and greeting guests at the front door, although they should be quite good with off-leash work.

Barked: Mon Nov 26, '12 7:06am PST 
When I wanted to attend training classes all I was interested in was that the clients were happy with the results of the class and that the dogs were happy and comfortable in that environment.. The training classes I took Roxie to had "helpers" that used to be clients, whos dogs were used as demo dogs. It was nice to see them there as proof that the classes worked, if that makes sense.

If I was actually getting a trainer in to help me at home then I would still be interested in the results- did they help clients with similar problems to mine, and were the clients happy? Do they use methods I am happy and comfortable with, and treat each dog as an individual? That would be my priorities. Sure its nice to see that their own dogs are well behaved and hasppy.. But I can also understand a trainer having taken on a problem dog that is work in progress.

Actual titles on their dogs and having worked with dogs and achieved results in various venues would be nice to see, although perhaps not a requirement for me, depending on the situation.

A trainer with an overweight dog would put me off (unless health related- thyroid issue etc) because i'd feel like all they did was shovel treats down the dog laugh out loud and also, if they can't do something as simple as keep their own dogs at a healthy weight then I would not be impressed.
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