Trainer, Heal Thyself

Michael Baugh, CPDT-KA, CDBC

The truth is trainers make the worst clients when it comes to training our own dogs.  We’re great with other people’s dogs.  Our own dogs, however, often leave a lot to be desired.  There, now the dirty little secret is out.  Here’s the other secret.  I have some problems with my dogs.

Okay, they aren’t bad problems, and I won’t bore you with the details.  Still, I decided I needed to pull in some help from other trainers to get my head on straight.  It got me to thinking, how do you choose a good trainer?

You can find information online about choosing a good trainer, but here’s how a trainer chooses a trainer.

  • First, I wanted someone with experience.  Education and book knowledge are essential, but years of success on the front lines are invaluable.  In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell found that 10 years of actual work in a particular profession is what it took to be an “expert.”  I buy that, so 10 years was my benchmark.
  • Second, I wanted a trainer who knew his or her behavior science.  Training fads come and go, but sound, proven behavior science endures the test of time.  My trainer had to be fluent in the science of Learning Theory.
  • Third, my trainer had to have a track record among his or her peers.  I specifically gravitated towards two independent certifications, Certified Professional Dog Trainer and Certified Dog Behavior Consultant.  Certifications from dog training schools tend to promote the school from whence they came.  They don’t carry the weight of an independent third party certification.
  • Finally, don’t frighten or hurt my dog.  Those things have no place in training.  Do wrong by my dog and you’re fired.  Period.

I hate to be the bad guy here, but there aren’t many people who meet all those qualifications.  Plus, there’s a lot at stake here.  I got a “professional courtesy,” but trainers can be expensive.  More importantly, we’re putting the well-being of our beloved dogs in their hands.  It’s important to do the extra work and find the right person to help you with your dog.

Who did I choose?  I really should make you wait until next month’s issue, but I won’t.  I called my good friends at DogSmart here in Katy.  My colleague, Peta Clarke, in Australia also lent her expertise.    Now you may want to know, how are my dogs doing?  They’ll be just fine, so long as I’m a good client and practice what I preach.

( originally published in Texas Cats & Dogs Magazine )