If you just adopted a puppy or dog, it’s a great idea to take him to a training class. But how do you find a good dog trainer? Hint: There is so much more to it than picking the trainer that is closest to your home.

As a new dog owner, you may not realize there are several different techniques in dog training. And every dog trainer will have their own preferences on what they feel is the “right” way to train a dog.

The key is to find a trainer that you and your dog are comfortable with, a trainer that you can relate to and that has the same ethical standards as you.

Ask yourself, “what do I want from a training class”? Are you looking to learn basic obedience such as sit and come? Or does your dog have bad behaviors that need to be fixed, such as leash reactivity? 

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Dog trainers usually fall under one of these 3 categories:

1. Reward-based or positive reinforcement dog trainer

A reward-based dog trainer uses food as the only method of training and does not believe in correcting bad behavior. Food and/or toys are the only tools used in this positive reinforcement method.

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This is a great way to start basic obedience with your puppy. You can find classes in your local area, or even online. Spirit Dog Training offers positive and effective online dog training and are one of the leaders in modern, positive, science-based and effective training. Check out their wide selection of online dog training classes here.

2. Balanced dog trainer

A balanced dog trainer uses a variety of techniques, including positive reinforcement and corrections. Treats and toys can be used as part of the training, but are never the only tool. The use of a prong collar or e-collar is often part of the training tools used. These tools, if used correctly do NOT harm your dog. The harm comes from when people do not understand how to use them correctly. I wrote about The Prong Collar, the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

3. Behaviorist dog trainer

A behaviorist dog trainer can help train you and your dog when he has “issues” such as aggression, resource guarding, reactivity, biting, etc.

Both reward-based and balanced trainers can claim to be a behaviorist. But, I personally have not seen a reward-based trainer able to help an owner “fix” their dog as quickly as a balanced trainer can. When your dog has a serious issue like aggression, you don’t have a year to waste training him with treats. You need immediate help, and that is what a balanced trainer can offer.

This obviously is only my opinion, but I don’t think treats can fix an aggressive, reactive dog. If you are having trouble with your dog being leash reactive, biting, etc. you need to find a balanced/behaviorist dog trainer.

Find a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists near you with the CAAB Directory.

Types of dog training classes:

  • Group classes: when you attend a class with other dogs and owners.
  • Board and train: when the trainer takes your dog into their home or facility for a period of time, usually 2-6 weeks, and trains your dog for you. After those few weeks, the trainer should train you on what the dog has learned.
  • Private lessons: at your home or trainers facility: one-on-one training with you, your dog and the trainer.

My dog training story

Since starting this blog, I’ve done a lot of research and soul-searching on the dog training subject.

My first time attending a dog training class was with our dog Symba in 1996. I didn’t know there were so many options in dog training at the time. We simply signed up for a class that we found at a local college.

The trainer used the Koehler Training Method, which uses a choke chain, 6’ leash, 24’ long leash and bean bags. Our dog Symba “graduated” at the top of his class. Of course, this was before we had kids, so we had the time to practice the recommended 30 minutes every night. We used this same trainer for our next two dogs, Nala and Abby.

This method now is considered abusive in the positive dog training world. But our dogs were never fearful of us, or “damaged” as the reward-based dog trainer would have you believe. Our dogs were happy, came when called and obeyed our commands. My husband and I LOVE our dogs, and would never hurt them in any way.

In 2010, we adopted our dog JJ. We were lucky since he already had basic training; we never needed to attend a class with him.

Then when we adopted our dog Ginger, I searched for a new dog trainer. Since we moved to a new state I didn’t have any recommendations to go by, other than from Google.

What I found was disappointing. I could only find positive reinforcement dog trainers in our area. There was only one other option, and that was a board and train that uses e-collar.

I wanted to train my own dog and was used to the Koehler method we learned way back when. Since this method was no longer an available option I wasn’t sure where to turn. So I decided to give the positive reinforcement training class a try. I was very disappointed, to say the least. We fed a bag full of treats to our dog at each 30-minute class, and all we learned is the basic sit and down command.

Anyway, that’s my story. To be honest, I’m still not sure what training method is best, right or wrong… I guess I’d like to think a combination of both works best.

Choosing the right training method for YOU

You need to decide what you want to get out of your dog training class, what you are comfortable with, and how much time are you willing to commit to training your dog. Get recommendations and referrals. Use Google and check out their online reviews, talk to friends, family, neighbors. Remember, everyone will have their own philosophy and opinions, so in the end, you need to make your own informed decision.

Are you looking to get basic obedience, such as learning how to teach your dog to sit, down, come, heel and stay?

Or do you need some behavioral help? Is your dog leash reactive, or maybe your dog is resource aggressive. Your local PetSmart or pure-positive dog trainer is not going to be able to help you here.

For more serious behavior issues in your dog, you need a balanced dog trainer. A dog trainer that is willing to do whatever it takes to help your dog.

I will warn you, there is a strong dividing line between the reward-based dog trainer and the balanced dog trainer. Reward-based trainers are dead set against any correction methods and are not afraid to bad-talk the balanced trainer.

I never realized how heated this topic can get until I started following a few of the well-known balanced dog trainers on Facebook.

So keep in mind training tools are tools and you shouldn’t discount them until you understand the true meaning of the training tool. I get that people are scared of the prong collar or the e-collar, but if used correctly, they can be very powerful and useful tools.

Following are several resources for searching for a local dog trainer. Remember, just because a dog trainer is certified, doesn’t make them a great trainer. Always do your own research.

Which dog training method is right for you and your dog? Have you tried a balanced dog trainer? Or do you insist on the reward-based training program? I would love to hear your opinions either way… comment below and help our Rescue Dogs 101 community make an informative decision about choosing the right dog trainer. 

Please keep it polite, no bashing or your comment will be deleted.

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About the Author

Debi McKee is a mom of three kids, three dogs and the creator of Rescue Dogs 101... where she guides you in your journey of adopting and raising a rescue dog every step of the way. She also volunteers for a local dog rescue and Humane Society.

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  1. I appreciate the message you are trying to send with this post, unfortunately the points are not reflective of the standards of the professional dog training industry. While there are numerous “methods” in dog training, there is a guiding science that underlies the learning process of any animal. The industry of dog training is unregulated, so anyone can market themselves as a trainer despite formal education and evaluation on the core competencies.

    1. Reward based trainers do not simply use treats, they are thoroughly educated in learning theory and can eliminate problems via extinction (removal of motivation for behavior) or response substitution rather than suppression (make behavior unpleasant). Among hundreds of other non-confrontational techniques that have been proven in peer-reviewed studies to eliminate problem behaviors more efficiently and effectively than with punishment based methodology without risking animal welfare. There are numerous studies to demonstrate that balanced or punishment based methods do in fact harm welfare causing long term physical and psychological damage. Not only when used incorrectly, even in the hands of long-time trainers who are in fact skilled in their application of punishment strategies. A large portion of my business involves repairing damage caused by these techniques.

    2. I am a certified dog behavior consultant, I can fix reactivity and complex aggression or other complex behavioral cases in less or equal time to any balanced trainer without using any force, pain or fear based equipment or methodology and have successfully done so for years. Not merely because I’m morally against it, but because it simply isn’t necessary.

    3. The term behaviorist is protected, and misused in this post. It refers to those with a degree in applied animal behavior or a veterinarian with a specialty in behavior. You are referencing a behavior consultant and should encourage readers to seek out an accredited professional who’s knowledge, skill and application has been thoroughly evaluated. Accredited behavior consultants, behaviorists and reward-based trainers all utilize methods based in positive reinforcement and actively seek to avoid damaging practices. They are one in the same.

    4. To be accredited as a behavior consultant the review is rigorous involving an examination on the science of learning, ethology, ethics of practice, and more. In addition, candidates must demonstrate their skill with detailed case studies to a successful resolution on topics such as human directed aggression. If punishment is utilized in these case studies, governing organizations assume that you are not well-versed enough in the science and will not certify the applicant. Educated, knowledgable, and accredited trainers and behavior consultants know how to modify any behavior efficiently and effectively using methods and tools that do not risk the dogs physical and mental well-being.

    I’m available for additional questions, or to elaborate further on exactly how to solve behavioral conditions (of any kind) effectively using the science and force, pain and fear free methodology.

    Sara Richter, CDBC
    http://www.evolveanimalbehavior.com

  2. We just rescued a sweet 2 year old Tree Walker coonhound. She definitely needs training. We’re doing our research.
    My question is how long should I wait before starting a training program? We literally have had her 6 hours. She’s sweet but has some bad habits that need to be corrected soon

  3. I like the tip that you gave to choose a trainer who has a method that will work for you. My wife and I have been talking about finding a trainer for our puppy. If we find one, I will be sure to look for one who has a method that will work for us.

  4. My husband and I just got our first dog, and while she is adorable, she is also an uncontrollable menace. We need some help trainer her, and your article had some great tips for choosing someone like this. You mention to get recommendations and referrals from friends, family, neighbors, and we can check out these referrals through online reviews. Thanks; we’ll keep this in mind when when choosing the best dog trainer for our little pup.

  5. I have been looking for a trainer for what seems to be a really long time and keep coming up with nothing. I don’t think Petsmart will be able to help us with what we need and positive reinforcement doesn’t seem very attainable for us at least because my pup won’t take treats when she is in new environments or from people she doesn’t know. I live in such a rural area that it doesn’t seem like there are many dog trainers. But now I have some types of trainers to look into so maybe that will help!

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