One of the most important steps, if you are going to train your dog with a dog trainer, is choosing the right trainer for you. The same dog trainer won’t be right for everyone. If you are going to do a group class ask to watch a session without your dog and ask questions of the trainer after the session is over.
Unless you have a dog who has a behavior problem, I recommend starting with a group class. If your dog has a behavior problem, I would start with private training to fix that issue, then move on to a group class. Group classes can give your dog time to socialize (especially important for puppies) as well as train. It also makes the first steps at teaching your dog to work well around distractions.
Here are some questions you can ask your potential dog trainer:
- How many years of experience do you have? (Some will prefer newer trainers who most likely have learned the latest techniques. Some will prefer the experience that only comes with years of practice. You might want to look for someone in the middle.)
- What kind of training did you receive to become a trainer?
- Are you a member of any professional organizations*? (I don’t consider a no to this answer a dis-qualifier, but it does reflect a trainers dedication to their profession)
- Do you have any professional certifications*? (If your dog trainer doesn’t have any professional certifications, ask how they learned to train dogs and make sure you are comfortable with their answer, for instance, I was certified as a trainer through an intensive course with a major retail chain. After that, I read, and still read every positive reinforcement book I can get my hands on and several on severe dog behavioral problems.)
- What is your favorite thing about being a dog trainer?
- Can you help me solve my dog’s (enter behavioral problem here)?
- What techniques do you use? (I recommend clicker training, lure and reward, or positive reinforcement)
- Can you help me train my dog to the point they will respond to commands despite distractions and without a leash? (If they say no, or falter, move on.)
- How much time should I expect to put into practice with my dog every day? (If they say none, or less than half an hour, I’d move on. Dog trainers train the pet parent as much as they train the dog.)
Hiring a dog trainer, whether for group or individual training, is an important decision. If they are qualified, can explain things well, and can work with you as well as your dog you can have a highly successful relationship. If you are missing even one of these, you will find your experience to be much less successful.