How To Find A Good Dog Trainer That Really Knows How Dogs Learn

If you’re like most pet owners, your dog is part of the family. However, our expectations for how family members behave in public and at home don’t always jibe with reality. Unlike human family members, dogs don’t always respond to words or disapproving looks. 

They need training. 

It has been said that there are no bad dogs, just unrealistic expectations and wrong-headed approaches to teaching them appropriate behavior. The trick to raising a well-behaved fur baby is to find a trainer who understands how dogs learn and is able to communicate well with both pets and their humans.

The qualifications that any good dog trainer needs

There are certain traits that professional trainers need if the goal is to contribute to effective, long-term behavior management in pets. Unfortunately, you can’t always rely on the claims trainers make on their website or the fliers on your vet’s office bulletin board. 

This guide was designed to help you overcome common misconceptions and locate the best possible match between trainer, owner, and pet. If you want to know how to find a good dog trainer, look for the following traits. 

#1: Uses Science-Based Training Methods

Does the trainer use science-based training techniques? These are methods that were developed based on how an animal learns. Usually, there is documentation and clinical proof of their effectiveness. Ask what type of training is employed and the trainer’s philosophy toward animal behavior and learning.

Techniques differ depending on the purpose and complexity of the training. For example, trainers work differently with pets that are learning basic behavior in the home as opposed to training for service animals. Dogs with specific behavior problems require a different approach than a puppy who’s just learning to become civilized. Pets also incorporate new information differently at various stages of development and in different environments.

Why it’s important: Using techniques that are rooted in the science of animal psychology and an understanding of how dogs learn provides more comprehensive training that focuses on long-term effectiveness and animal well-being. 

#2: Demonstrates Good Teaching and Communication Skills

Is the trainer a good teacher and a good communicator to both you and your pet? It’s just as important that the dog understands what the trainer is trying to teach him or her as it is for you to understand how to carry on with the training once your dog returns home from class. 

Since pet owners often work with the trainer during sessions, it’s just as important that you and the trainer have a good rapport and open communication. You should feel comfortable asking questions, and they should be able to clarify any questions or concerns. 

You’ll usually be able to tell what type of communicator your trainer is by simply talking to them and actively listening to their responses. Take note of their demeanor and body language during conversations and training sessions.

Why it’s important: Clear communication prevents misunderstandings between you and your trainer. It also avoids confusion during training and provides a foundation for long-term success and mastery of good behavior after training ends. 

#3: Committed to Continued Education

Is the trainer committed to continuing education? Because animal training isn’t regulated, it’s important to find out where your dog trainer received their schooling and how often they take courses to expand their knowledge. 

For example, did they complete a course, take an apprenticeship, or receive a credential from a respected organization such as the Certification Council for Certified Dog Trainers? Do they have any degrees, such as in veterinary medicine or animal psychology? 

In addition to formal education, look for trainers who belong to related professional associations. Involvement in such organizations demonstrates a commitment to providing quality service. It also provides them with an extended professional network and helps keep them up to speed about changes in training methods or evolving best practices. 

If you want to know the extent of a trainers education, training, and associations, you could ask them outright, look for certificates or diplomas on the wall of their office, and search for the presence of related initials like VSA-CDT, VSPDT, PMCT, or CTC next to their name. You can also perform a search or contact various organizations to confirm their credentials. 

Why it’s important: Trainers should continue their education because new concepts, methods, and best practices are developed as we learn more about canine behavior. Dogs need continual reinforcement and training, too. Much like people, dogs change as they grow from puppies to adulthood. You wouldn’t expect a child to learn everything they need to know as they grow from toddler to teenager, and neither will your companion animal. 

#4: Makes Training a Team Effort

Does the trainer involve a veterinarian in the process? Animal well-being and positive behaviors are often related to their general health, age, and other factors. Involving veterinarians in the learning process provides feedback and allows trainers to know if there are underlying health or physical problems that contribute to any negative behavior. 

Many vets can recommend a trainer or vice-versa. You could also verify their attitude toward collaborative training during the initial interview. 

Why it’s important: Well-behaved, healthy pets require a collaborative approach that puts their physical and emotional well-being as a priority. Trained pets also behave better at the vet’s office, and there are fewer incidents of conflict with other animals, pet owners, veterinarians, and staff. 

#5: Covered by Liability Insurance

Does the trainer have insurance? In almost every state, businesses are required to carry liability insurance at minimum. This is very important in case of accident, injury, or damage of some sort. You can ask for proof of current insurance coverage as well as the type and extent of protection. 

Why it’s important: This demonstrates financial responsibility in the event of a covered incident and provides peace of mind for clients. You want to know that any professional you’re dealing with is credentialed and insured against liability. 

#6: Bans Potentially Harmful Training Equipment

Does the trainer ban choke collar, pinch collar, electronic/shock collar, or head collars of any kind? These implements and “training aids” are barbaric and potentially harmful to pets. Any trainer still using these is likely unqualified. 

You’ll find clues to their approach by the wording they use in advertisements and in their interactions with you. Look for terminology like “force-free” or “humane training”. However, you should also talk to other pet owners and look for such objects if the training takes place at their location as opposed to your home. 

Why it’s important: Such objects train dogs in a manner that’s fear-based rather than helping them learn by reinforcing positive behavior. Not only could this injure your pet, it will also hurt them psychologically. 

#7: Bans Physical Punishment and Reprimands

Does the trainer ban physical reprimands of any kind? Physical punishment, such as swatting, hitting, or yanking a dog around by a leash or collar are not only ineffective for training, they could cause physical or psychological damage. This will result in dogs that are fearful or become aggressive. 

If they don’t state it outright, you’ll be able to tell if a trainer uses such methods by their demeanor, how other pets react to them, and by talking to other clients. 

Why it’s important: Much like using harmful training equipment, the use of force or threats of force will have the opposite of the effect you’re looking for in a well-trained pet. Any gains that are obtained by these methods are likely to be short-lived. It’s better to find a trainer who uses positive reinforcement and teaching methods that are geared toward the dog’s personality, learning style, and specific areas of concern. 

#8: Avoids Confusing, Irrelevant, or Misleading Terminology

Anyone who has read about dogs or worked with them over the years is familiar with terms like “Alpha dog” or “dominance”. These terms are based on misleading science and studies rooted in false perceptions of how wolves behave in the wild versus how they act in captivity. 

However, dogs are not wolves. Their socialization and the reasons for their behavior are as different as any other distant relatives. For example, you might have a similar background and shared genealogy with cousins, but you are as different from them in many ways as you are from any other person. 

Recent studies and observation have discovered enough differences between how domestic canines and wild dogs or wolves learn and behave to counteract previous theories and behavioral studies that were used as a basis for dog training. In other words, dogs are as individual and flexible in their behavior and potential for change as people in many respects. 

Why it’s important: Training methods that are based on outdated and disproved theories lead to misunderstandings of animal behavior. This lack of understanding contributes to poor interaction between pets and their owners as well as between multiple pets in the home and could lead to neglect, abuse, or abandonment. Read the trainer’s website, brochure, or other marketing info and listen for these terms during conversations with yourself or other pet owners. 

Final Thoughts

For nearly as long as they’ve been domesticated, dogs have been viewed as man’s best friend. While that dynamic has not changed, the way we used to approach dog training was based upon false information and assumptions about canine behavior. 

The goal of our guide is to separate fact from myth and help pet owners like you find the best possible dog trainer. By using these guidelines as a basis for evaluation, you should be able to find a professional dog trainer who uses current best practices and takes a positive approach to working with people and their pets. 


Strickler, B. G. (2018). Helping Pet Owners Change Pet Behaviors: An Overview of the Science. The Veterinary clinics of North America. Small animal practice, 48(3), 419-431.

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