At the time of this writing, dog training is an unregulated profession. Essentially, this means that all anyone would need to establish themselves professionally as a behavior professional is a business card. There are no legal restrictions on use of the terms trainer, behaviorist, whisperer, behavior consultant, or dog guru.
Any time you are hiring a person to perform a service for you, you have every right to put that person through a job interview of sorts. This means asking questions which will provide you with the information you need to make a well-informed informed investment. When interviewing a training professional, you are investing in the safety of your dog, your family, and your community…a pretty big responsibility.
Here is a list of potential questions you may want to ask a perspective trainer or behavior professional. Pet owners are encouraged to add their own questions to the list.
- How long have you been training dogs?
- What training tools do you use?
- Do you have any formal education in behavior? (vocational school, college/university level behavior education, apprenticeships, etc.)
- Can you provide me with veterinary references?
- Can you provide me with client references? (Specifically ask for references from clients who have seen the trainer for the same behavior issues or training services you are seeking assistant with.)
- Can you provide me with references from other trainers?
- Are you insured?
- Can I observe you training “in action” before investing in your services?
- I want to title my dog in a certain sport. Do you have any titles in this sport? Do your clients?
- Are you a member of any professional associations?
The answers to these questions can give owners valuable insight and the information needed to make a thoughtful buying decision.
Here are a few tips for pet owners when evaluating prospective behavior professionals:
- The trainer should never do anything to a dog that she would be arrested for doing to a human.
- If a professional will not let you be present to observe the training, look elsewhere. Trainers should have nothing to hide from their clients and clients deserve to be present for training sessions and aware of exactly what techniques the trainer is using.
- Trust your gut. You are your dog’s biggest fan, their greatest advocate, and their protector. Most dog owners know what their dog looks like happy, sad, or afraid. Listen to your dog. If you or the dog is uncomfortable with the training, leave immediately.
- Shop around. Interview a number of trainers. Follow up on those references!
- Remember that bad training is often worse than no training at all. An unskilled trainer can exacerbate existing behavior problems.
For more on selecting a good trainer, red flags to look for, tips from the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior on finding the right pet pro for your needs, and two stories of client dogs put at risk by “behavior professionals”, check out my blog Buyer Beware! On Abusers in Expert’s Clothing originally published for Dr. Ian Dunbar’s site Dog Star Daily.