With the invention and wide-spread use of the Internet, it’s become easier than ever before to get information on dog training. There are web boards dedicated to various styles of training as well as specific dog breeds. Many professional trainers have their own blogs where they share some of their methods. Websites galore host various training tips and tidbits. Even without the Internet, there are a plethora of books available at local retailers and libraries. With all this information available at our fingertips, why would we consider taking our dogs to a dog trainer?
There are many reasons why a dog trainer is your best option. If you’re dealing with fear, aggression, reactivity, or other serious behavior issue; a qualified dog trainer is your best friend! First off, they can see your dog’s behavior and, based on other background information you may have given, determine what the exact issue is and the best way to handle it. Even writing out a detailed description of your dog’s actions and/or filming them behaving ‘badly’ isn’t the same as having someone actually see what your dog is doing in person. After all, a dog who barks and lunges at a passing dog out of fear can look a lot like a dog who is barking and lunging at another dog out of frustration.
Secondly, a dog trainer has a lot of experience working with dogs (and possibly a degree to back it up). In fact, depending on who you’ve hired, they may even have tons of experience working with your dog’s specific issue. You’re paying for their expertise and the experience they’ve gained working with dogs that had similar problems. This is invaluable. A qualified trainer will also be able to point out some of the mistakes you’re making; catching them before they become bad habits for both you and your dog. If no one’s there critiquing your skills, it’s hard to know what you might be doing wrong!
Finally, if you’re dealing with a serious behavioral problem, the trainer (and classmates) are a great support group. They have gone through or are going through exactly what you are currently experiencing with your dog. It’s so helpful to hang around with other people who have been there. Others who can share the pain and frustration as well as the joys when you succeed.
That being said, there are certainly times when one finds themself unable to hire a trainer. Sometimes funds are tight or there just isn’t anyone qualified in your area. When that happens, all you may have available are books, the Internet, and maybe some dog-savvy friends.
While someone can certainly rehabilitate a dog on their own using information found online and in books, it’s a hard row to hoe. I know. I took that road. I was fortunate enough to have the support of a great clicker trainer when I brought Risa home and started her in classes. However, the classes were geared more towards general obedience and house manners. Not rehabilitating a fearful and dog reactive dog. Risa and I were still always welcome in classes and our trainer was very supportive of our efforts and the hard work I was putting into Risa. I think I would have had more success early on had we been able to get into a reactive dog-specific class. Even without having a local group of people who understood the trials of rehabilitating a reactive dog, I did find a group of individuals online who were going through the same thing I was and they became my support group.
So how does one go about finding a qualified dog trainer? After all, there is no governing body regulating dog trainers. Anyone can say they’re a dog trainer whether they have any experience or not. For information on dog trainers in your area, I would always recommend starting with The Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT). Once you’ve located a trainer, how do you know they’re a good one? There are several lists on various sites out there that discuss the finer points of selecting a good trainer. APDT has one here. The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior has a great .pdf outlining what to look for here.
Even though there is a lot of great information floating around the Internet, there is also a lot of bad out there. It’s hard to sift through it all and recognize what will work for you and your dog. Your best bet is always to find a qualified dog trainer to help you along. Advice on the Internet may be free but remember, you get what you pay for. 😉