Trainer and Malinois

What distinguishes one dog trainer from the other? There are no laws that mandate dog trainers to be certified or go through any specific training. The same goes for police service dogs. There is no state law in Michigan that requires a police dog to pass any test to work the street. When families come through our doors with their pets, they just want to know if we can fix their problem. They don’t ask if we are certified or where we learned our trade. Many times the families we work with already have some idea of our dog training background because someone they know referred them to us or have looked over our web page. So, if you are a dog owner that needs help training your dog how do you go about hiring a dog trainer and not get screwed?

There is a program Julie and I like to watch called “Holmes Makes It Right”. The show is on HGTV and is about homeowners who hire a contractor that do poor work. Mike Holmes comes to the rescue and makes it right. He shows the substandard work and code violations done by the previous contractor then repairs the house so it looks beautiful and is livable.

I see the same issues with dog training businesses. Dog owners hire a dog trainer expecting their dog to be trained so that unwanted behaviors to go away. Often times, the result is they are out $2,000-$3000 and their dog still isn’t trained. I usually hear, “he’s a little better but he still is not listening and jumping on people.” How can you avoid this? My advice is do your homework.

Ask your veterinarian for a referral. Veterinarians are a good source because they see a lot of dogs. They take note when a very well behaved dog comes into their clinic and they will ask “who trained your dog?” We currently have 8-10 veterinarians who refer people to our dog training facility.

Read reviews. If you find a dog trainer you think is a good match for you, Google their dog training business name and reviews. Any dog trainer that has been at this long enough should have reviews for you to read. If there are no reviews move on and keep looking. Be careful of testimonials on their web page. We have testimonials on our web page; however, they are taken directly from letters, emails and reviews from our Facebook Business Page. I would look for reviews either on Google or Facebook.

Meet them first. If you think you have found a trainer you want to work with schedule an appointment and bring your dog to meet them. Make sure to pay close attention to how the trainer interacts with you and your dog. If the trainer rubs you the wrong way and is condescending, don’t hesitate to go elsewhere. A dog trainer should be someone you like. If you don’t like them your dog isn’t going to like them. Dogs pick up on our emotions, so don’t make your dog train with someone you are not comfortable with.

What makes a good dog trainer? I would like to say it is years of experience working with a lot of dogs, the ability to read dog behavior, and the ability to get results. I can tell you to make sure they can explain to you about the science of learning and classical conditioning. Are they all positive, balanced or compulsive? The point is all of this does matter but a really good dog trainer is an artist. I don’t think about reward ratio schedules, positive or negative reinforcement, and punishment when I am training a dog. I have been training dogs long enough to be able to read what the dog is telling me and then know what to do to motivate the dog and teach it the multiple behaviors that the owner expects their dog to know.

So good dog trainers are artists – how do you find an artist? Ask the dog trainer to demo his personal dog or a dog in training. If that dog doesn’t look happy and impressive with the control and obedience, keep looking. Dogs trained in compulsion will not look happy. We want to see tails wagging. Now if you have a nervous dog that you need trained, don’t expect miracles. If your dog is nervous at home he/she is going to be nervous everywhere else. Dog trainers are not miracle workers but we are artists.

There are a lot of tricks to the trade in dog training. I have developed a methodology over my 20 years of working with dogs that works wonderfully. We can train a dog in two weeks. When we are finished the dog is happy and the owner is happy. Control is the key to happiness. We fix behavior issues and teach dogs to ignore distractions. Most dogs can sit, come, and do pet tricks in your home. Once outdoors, the dog doesn’t listen and is acting like a fool or totaling ignoring you.

My advice for people looking for a dog trainer is ask the vet.   If you see a well-behaved dog, ask the owner how they did it? If you want a place to look on the web for a dog trainer, check out

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