Red Flags when Hiring a Dog Trainer

With the dog training world being unregulated, labels for various types of training have gotten out of control. You can pretty much call yourself anything and define yourself however you please to sell yourself to clients. Marketing methods like this, put future dog training clients at a huge disadvantage. Dog trainers can confuse you before you even set foot in a training class. You might think you are getting one thing, but you are getting another.

The most common offense is “balanced” trainers claiming to be positive trainers. Sometimes this is because they are new to the field of dog training and don’t know how to label themselves. Other times, it is to purposely hide the “ugly side” of their training that is harder to sell, which could include physical corrections or training tools known to have unwanted side effects.

Why is this a problem for the consumer? If an outside organization doesn’t certify your trainer, you have barely any course of action if your trainer doesn’t train with the methods they promised you. If you are leaving your dog at a board and train facility, you might not have any idea what your dog has endured while there. Often clients find they have no course of action besides the trainer themselves, who owns the business. There are no simply laws to protect the clients or their pets.

To help people on their journey to find the right dog trainer for them and their dog, I have included a list of red flags in this post. These are things that you should consider when looking for a dog trainer and if you notice a red flag, ask the trainer about it. Do not be afraid to quiz a trainer over the phone and make sure you and your dog will be in good hands.

On to the red flags:

1. The dog trainer has no credentials awarded to them by an organization not affiliated with their company.

It is important to find a dog trainer with credentials first and foremost. Most organizations have a code of ethics and if your trainer isn’t following those standards, you have a course of action other than complaining to the trainer directly.

Beware of trainers who say credentials aren’t relevant because the tests are easy to pass or that they stopped paying for the credentials at some point. You can generally verify if they ever had these credentials by emailing the organization and I often ask myself, “If the test is so easy, why haven’t they taken it?

Also watch out for trainers who claim to have these credentials, but actually do not. A common trick is to put letters behind your name to look professional, but guess what? They either made them up, or that organization doesn’t even certify them. Always check the website of the organization and verify that their name is indeed, listed. If you are unsure, email the group they are claiming to be affiliated with and ask.

Credentials given to them by their own business shouldn’t count as education. Years of experience do not replace your knowledge being tested by an outside, impartial party.

2. That leads me to my next red flag, a trainer focusing on their years in business rather than their education.

Anyone can open up a dog training business and start training dogs – incorrectly or correctly. It is important to ask yourself where this person learned to train dogs; If the answer is, “I have been doing this for years,” or “I have owned dogs all my life,” find a new trainer. These statements are a major red flag because anyone can own a dog and anyone can claim to know how to train a dog. You can do something incorrectly for years with the belief you are training correctly. If the trainer never lets another trainer or organization examine their methods, they will never know.

Even if you see videos of before and after products, you need to ask yourself how they arrived there, was the treatment towards the animal humane, and did their training have unintended side effects. When we start focusing on result-based ethics, instead of the consequences of our actions, we can create an even bigger mess for the dog owner to clean up later.

3. A person who once held another position in the animal industry doesn’t always make a good trainer.

I love seeing vet techs, groomers, and pet sitters who cross over to add training to their services. However, this is often fueled by some clients asking them for these services and them saying, “What the heck? I have been around animals my whole life. I can certainly train a dog!” This idea is absolutely incorrect. Most of our job as dog trainers is working with the owners, not the dogs.

It isn’t as easy as adding this service to your website and praying for the best. Some of the best trainers in the country have spent thousands on their education to be dog trainers. They have spent countless hours reading the latest research or driving to training workshops to learn more. If you are adding a service just because a handful of clients asked you to, you need to consider if you have the extra time and money to adequately provide that service before adding it to your website.

As a consumer, keep in mind that vet techs, groomers, and pet sitters, do fundamentally different jobs than us dog trainers. While they have some valuable skills that can help them succeed as dog trainers, they aren’t dog trainers until they learn to train dogs and their owners.

4. A trainer calling himself or herself a balanced trainer to justify the usage of physical corrections.

The largest red flags for me when looking for a trainer for clients who might be moving out of state is seeing the word “balanced” on a trainer’s website. In the dog training industry, this means to us that these trainers are willing to use any method because they believe all dogs are different and therefore, they do not wish to limit themselves to a single method.

However, this means to me; they aren’t skilled enough in a single method to get results and therefore, will introduce a mash-up of various methods to get results when their chosen method fails them.

Why is this a problem? The trainer is blaming the dog for their inability to succeed in training it, and it is rarely, if ever, the dog’s fault. A trainer using various training methods often relies on result-based ethics and will often do whatever possible to get results, even if it means using a method with known side effects worse than the behavior they are trying to fix. The common excuse is, “This is better than putting the dog to sleep or rehoming it.” Many consumers like to hear that the trainer will do anything to make their dog into what they want, however, this comes at a high cost that is often not disclosed and could result in psychological or physical damage to your dog.

5. A trainer without insurance.

My final red flag is when a dog trainer isn’t carrying insurance. When I call trainers for clients, this is the question most trainers trip up on. They either quickly change the subject, lie, or have no idea what I am referring to. This is a good sign that they aren’t as professional as they claim to be.

While we all hope to never file a claim on our insurance, especially for the injury of the client’s dog, it is responsible to be insured as a backup plan. You never know what can happen when working with animals and insurance is an absolute must for a dog trainer – especially a board and train service that is taking your dog for weeks at a time.

If you ask about insurance, don’t settle for just a, “Yes, I do have insurance” to find out later it was a lie. Ask about what company and call to verify that the trainer has insurance before you pay for services or drop your dog off.

Remember that you can never ask too many questions before purchasing a service. If a trainer is upset by your questions or cannot answer them, then look for one who can. You are your dog’s first line of defense from uneducated trainers.