Recently I decided to add a new goal for my Clever Dogs Charlie and Boo – to compete in Heelwork to Music and Freestyle. I know that I have not done anything like this before with them, as I have been too busy getting their basic training to the point where I can live with them. I also always focus on confidence and trust before anything – especially before putting them in a competitive environment. My plan is to train them in the necessary basics and look at starting to compete at the lowest level at the end of the year.
Which brings me to a problem. Where can I get the help and guidance that I will need? Who do I trust with them? As I researched and thought about it, I realised that this might be helpful to other people choosing a trainer. It might even help my potential clients decide if I am for them!
I learn from all kinds of people, including people that train in a way I never would. However, watching a seminar, or video, is different from taking my dog to them and have them directly influencing how I train. In those circumstances, I ask myself these questions:
- What are my goals?
Where are we heading in our training journey? Write down where you want your training skills to be in three months, a year, and long term. (notice these are about me not about the dog!). I have a fairly detailed plan. Now, plans change – timescales definitely do – but you need a direction to go in!
- Have the prospective teacher taken dogs to that level?
If I wanted a trainer to help me with my pet dogs, I want to see that their pet dogs are trained to at least that level. If I want to do a sport, I want to know that they know how to climb the levels – no point going to someone who is barely ahead of you!
- What are their methods and ethics?
I will only work with ethical trainers. What that means for me will be different for you. I am comfortable with some body pressure, for example, but I will not use punishment based methods. I also want to know that they are comfortable working with my dogs breed (if all you have trained is spaniels, Boo the staffy cross collie is going to be baffling!), and also with dogs that are nervous. While I am happy to advocate for my dogs in classes, and I will not do things that I think will send them backwards from all the behavioural work I have done with them!
- Do I know someone who has trained with them? What about testimonials and reviews?
If I know someone who has trained with them I will ask about their experiences. As with everything, I will take it with a pinch of salt, as good trainers can be right for one person but not another, but it is a useful baseline.
- Can I watch them train other people or their own dogs first?
I won’t put my dogs in a class until I have seen that person train and hopefully watched a similar class. I want to know – are the dogs being trained learning? Are the handlers learning? Do I understand what the trainer wants the class to do? Do I like their ‘style?’
- What is their relationship with their own dogs like?
This can be hard to judge, but in an ideal world I will be able to watch the trainer interact with their own dogs, either face to face, on video, a demo, or competition. For me I want too see trust from the dog, the mainly dog enjoying the work that it is being asked to do, and I want them to relate to each other in a similar way to how I relate to my dogs. I have seen very well regarded trainers that I won’t train with because I think their dogs look unhappy or stressed. Will I name them? Of course not! Ethics are for people as well as dogs!
- Are they better than me and a video recorder?
Finally, I want to know that I will get more from the class that just videoing myself train my dog and then reviewing and correcting myself. After all that’s much cheaper!