This is not going to be a popular post for a lot of "dog trainers" out there but I am very picky who I choose to instruct me and my dogs and you should be too.
Ask questions from the very beginning.
Most dog parentss, particularly new parents, will usually entrust their pets dog training to a local club; on a night or time that best suits them and at a price that best suits them. Absolutely nothing wrong with choosing a club on these requirements BUT do these specifications mean you will be paying for the best training that your dog and family deserve? If I told you that anyone in the UK can set themselves up as a "dog trainer" or "behaviourist" and not even like dogs, then what would you say and does that now make you ask further questions? With the dog training industry being "unregulated" in this manner it becomes your responsibility to choose the the type of training and methods your dog or puppy will be exposed to.
What does a qualified dog trainer look like?
I am a Kennel Club Accredited Dog Training Instructor in Companion Dog (at Advanced level); Heelwork to Music (at Advanced level) and; Competition Obedience. This involved years of hard work and assessments proving that I am more than capable of teaching people to train their dogs using not only kind, positive methods but effective training to boot. I must keep my learning "up-to-date" and I am bound by a strict code of ethics and answerable to the Kennel Club should I step out of line, and quite rightly so. I did not have to put myself through all of this, because I had already proven myself as an instructor (I prefer teacher) with my teaching through my classes, abroad and on tv, but I felt that members of the public seeking my help with their canine family members deserve a certain guarantee that I actually do know something about dogs. However, in all of my years teaching very few dog parents have asked about my qualifications and experience; nor to what level I have trained my own dogs or even if I have a dog! This seems to be all "assumed" by the dog parent seeking help. I am, however, usually asked how long it will take to train their dog, how much it will cost them and where the classes are but rarely anything about me as a their teacher. Here is a link to the Kennel Clubs code of practice so you know the type of ethics you should be looking for: https://www.thekennelclub.org.uk/about-the-kennel-club/the-kennel-club-codes/the-kennel-club-accredited-instructors-code-of-practice/
In my view not establishing the qualifications of your intended teacher/s could lead to false economy; meaning it may cost you more money in the long run to enrol with another teacher; not to mention having to retrain a confused dog. I see this often when I am contacted by dog parents of puppies from 10 months onwards desperately seeking help to teach their dogs loose lead walking; recalls and manners around other dogs and people which should have all been covered in their puppy classes. Do you see what I mean?
Where do I start looking for training?
Your vet might have a list of local training instructors and/or classes. There might be posters displayed on the notice board of your local village hall. The Kennel club has a list of Accredited Instructors on their website www.thekennelclub.org.uk
So how should you be choosing the right dog training for you, your family and your dog/puppy?
First of all decide if you want to employ the services of a private teacher or to attend a group class. There are advantages and disadvantages to both:
Some private teachers (instructors) can be expensive but not always. The advantages are that you will have one-to-one, individual attention and your learning should be quicker than enrolling onto a 6 week group class. The teacher should be able to taylor your lessons to your individual needs and the methods used will be consistent. They should also hold the qualities as listed below for group teachers.
Group classes are cheaper to attend but you need to establish the class structure and consistency in methods. Are you attending a club where the teacher takes all of the classes and thereby is able to give clear, consistent progressive learning at all levels or are there a series of classes you and your dog can progress into but are taken by different instructors who use different methods of learning from each other and who may cause confusion for both you and your dog? No two dog training clubs or teachers/instructors are equal so you must choose wisely and think long term.
Visit a class before you part with your money!
As I said at the beginning of this blog post, I am VERY picky who I choose to teach myself and my dogs, not because I am a diva who thinks she knows it all - I don't, infact I LOVE learning new sports and training methods with my dogs, but my dogs learning should be a partnership between me and my teacher, to bring the best out of my dogs whilst protecting their confidence and enjoying their classes as much as I do. So I very much recommend that you visit a class prior to parting with your money. Now this may be easier said than done. I was shocked to find that some clubs charge prospective clients a fee to inspect their classes! WHAT???? When I questioned why they would do this I was advised that they do not give their training away for free. I am sorry but this is outragous! Walk away from that club now.
When visiting a club you should ask yourself several questions such as is the teacher keeping everyone moving and learning, or is there a lot of talking and the dogs are getting bored and starting to "entertain themselves"; did the teacher say he/she uses nothing but "positive" training but is actually telling the class to make the dog "do as it is told" or encourages you to shake rattle cans or aim water pistols at your dog to stop an unwanted behaviour? Does the teacher encourage the class to ask questions and does she give good clear instructions herself? Do the class attendees look like they are having fun and enjoying themselves, are they engaged? The class should give an overall appearance of being well organised and under control. Does the class leave you feeling you can't wait to start? If you are happy with what you have seen then enrol as soon as you can.
Can't I just enrol on an online training course?
Yes you can and there are some good ones out there; I myself hold memberships with various online courses but again I was very particular who I gave my money to and the courses have great support. But you need to be motivated. I have found lots of dog parents start with real motivation and dedication but without support that can soon wain and the course goes unfinished. If you are going to choose this route again check the qualifications and experience of your teacher and link up with another dog parent on the same online course so you can become accountability-buddies.
I have enroled in a course but it's not right for me or my dog, what shall I do?
Leave! Put it down to experience and learn by it but don't be a dog school drop-out. Find another teacher and continue with your training. The right dog club and teacher is out there, it just might take time to find him/her.
Good luck and wishing you lots of fun and quality time with your dog/s -x-