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The ability to read a dog is important, because many times dogs do certain things, due to how they perceive their surroundings. If the trainer is not aware of, for instance, the fact that dogs see things LONG and TALL, then he wouldn't understand why a dog who is afraid of stairs, balks and acts "stubborn". Instead of working WITH the fearful dog, alleviating the fear with positive reinforcement and praise, he might instead force or punish the dog into walking that narrow staircase, instead, reinforcing the fear.

Dog health comes into play all the time when dealing with training, especially, for instance when a family has a "housebreaking" problem. Did you know that at LEAST 1/2 of housebreaking issues involve dogs which have bladder an kidney infections? Most dog owners do not know this, and punish the dog, when in fact the dog needs medical help! If a trainer doesn't have at least minimal medical and health knowledge, he can cause more harm than good.

Breed characteristics knowledge is essential when dealing with, for instance, runaways, diggers and barkers, because many of those issues relate directly to the breed of dog. Beagles are "stubborn", according to many owners. The trait is called "tenacious" by lovers of the means they stick to whatever it is they go after, or do. This IS a good trait, but the dog needs to be handled in certain ways in order to make this trait useful in the family environment. A trainer who is aware of breed traits, has the ability to take these things and create positives from them! Finally, body language knowledge, can save a person from being bitten, prevent a dog from becoming dog-aggressive, or allow an owner to view a dogs activities from a new perspective. A dog who slinks around s-l-o-w-l-y with the body and ears held low is not a coward or scared, he may very well be trying to calm or relax a yelling owner. This is a common reaction of dogs to excited people, in order to get them to soften their voice or calm them, and is commonly used in other canid groups like wolves and coyotes.

As you can see, knowing about such things is really a must for a well rounded instructor. Here are a few guidelines to consider when choosing a trainer:

1. OBSERVE the trainer in other training classes, and interview other present and past clients. If the trainer won't allow this, look elsewhere for a trainer.

2. Ask several trainers about their backgrounds and what it is they like to do in regards to training. If a teacher has only experience in Schutzhund and Protection Training Dogs, he probably would not be the first choice as a pet dog trainer. This doesn't mean he isn't qualified to teach pet dogs, he may be great, but you should still pay attention to this. I would first look at a trainer who perhaps likes to work with Families, Obedience Competition Training, Therapy Dogs, or maybe works with Puppy Kindergartens primarily.

3. When observing classes, watch how the trainer interacts with his students and their dogs. Is she/he rough? Is the instructor greeted excitedly by the students and dogs, or is there and air of "reserve"? I like to see happy dogs and owners!

4. If a trainer PROMISES you that a specific behavior will be FIXED, don't be too trusting. While many of us can help you modify behavior pretty successfully, there are no absolutes when it comes to training dogs. Instead, look for someone who says they will do their best, and extracts a promise from YOU, to do the required follow-up training at home.

5. Look at the equipment in general use on the dogs being trained in the classes you watch. Are most of the dogs in Flat or buckle collars, Haltis and Gentle leaders, or are the majority in chokes and pinch collars? The chokes and pinches when used on average pets in a beginner class, bespeak an instructor who may not always choose positive reinforcement as a first option of training. The exception is a trainer who is specifically working with difficult dogs. This is not to say that you might not see one or two dogs in regular training classes wearing these type collars, they are very useful in certain instances. But, they should be used sparingly, when needed, not as a general everyday piece of equipment. Flat collars, buckle collars and halter-type collars are a good, gentle first choice.

6. Price is NOT everything. For instance, I charge $50 an hour for private classes, and $40 an hour for group. But, after 5 or 6 weeks, my pet dog students don't really NEED to come to weekly classes any longer. They have the skills they need to handle every day training and problems. They only consult me on a monthly basis, or as needed. In my eyes that makes me a successful teacher, I've created an independent, confident dog owner and a happy the the skills they need in order to carry on their lives without me. I have had students say, "I can get "blank name" school to give me 6 weeks of lessons for $80, why should I pay you all that money." My answer is this, "You get what you pay for, and what the INSTRUCTOR is worth." Many people ARE lucky enough to stumble into a Pet Store or local school offering discounted rates for training, and end up with a pretty well trained dog. That is only because the instructor working there is a rare gem, and has excellent skills and qualifications. Many folks end up with their pockets $80 poorer than 6 weeks earlier, and a dog who is still out of control. So don't let money be your ONLY deciding factor, do your homework too, please. BTW, If you plan to compete in dog sports, then the price is well worth it if you end up with winning scores and dogs.

7. Finally, Listen to your gut reaction to this trainer! If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck and waddles like a duck, its probably a DUCK! IF you don't feel "right" about an instructor or school, move on!




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