Choosing a dog owner’s *other* best friend: A dog trainer

Choosing a dog owner's *other* best friend: A dog trainer

Anyone who has ever had a cute, cuddly little puppy knows that it eventually turns into a bigger, sometimes smellier, version of itself known as a dog. I’ve had the Heinz 57 (aka a Mutt), and purebred dogs as well, and I’ll tell you this: All dogs are basically the same when it comes to training.

Now, different breeds have different ways of learning, of course. Some are more stubborn, some are hyper, some you would mistake for a rug, but there is one key factor in your four-legged best friend not driving you bonkers:

Ensuring that your dog is properly trained

This can include housebreaking, commands, and simple, polite behavior; we all have the friend or family member with an unruly dog that we kind of dread dealing with: It jumps on you when you come in the door, it begs at the table, and it is stepping on people sitting on the couch, or, if small enough, jumping into laps uninvited. Of course, some of this is fairly cute when they are a puppy, but it’s completely different if that puppy ends up as an eighty pound lab that thinks it is a lap dog.

I asked two friends that have done a lot of volunteering in dog shelters and have even helped manage a few about what to look for in a dog trainer and I also went digging on the internet also. Training is important, the ASPCA says in this article that 47% of dogs that were re-homed (given to a friend/family member or surrendered to a shelter) were due to  pet problems; aggressive behaviors, housebreaking, biting, etc.

The following are the things to look for and to keep in mind when you are exploring all the possibly dog trainers to employ:

Unregulated Industry

The first thing to realize is that dog training is completely unregulated. There is no governing body that makes sure that someone that says they are a dog trainer should be training dogs. There are no laws or licenses that someone has to disclose to you to “prove” they should be working with your dog. This is very much a “buyer beware” industry, so you’ll have to do your homework to ensure the safety of your dog and that you both have an enjoyable time working with the trainer.

Dog Training Technique

The Humane Society of the United States (article here), ASPCA (article here), the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (article here), and this article on all say the same thing: choose a humane (reward-based) trainer. The days of alpha rolls (flipping a dog on its back), swatting of noses, yelling at a dog, leash tugging, grabbing the “scruff” of the neck, and rolled-up newspapers are over. This is your four-legged best friend, do you really want your buddy to flinch every time you go to pet them?


It is recommended that you participate in the dog training. The worst thing would be for you to spend money and send your dog to training to have your dog only respond to the trainer and not you or anyone else in your household.

Group classes with other owners and other dogs are a great opportunity for socializing. This format allows your dog to meet and be handled by other people, and learn to respond to commands with other distractions going on around them. It is also great for you as the owner, as you can observe your dog interacting with others and benefit from the other owners going through the same thing as you.


There are certifications that dog trainers can get that show a certain level of education credibility. The article mentioned above from has one such example that mentions the Academy of Dog Trainers. Anyone that has a certification from The Academy of Dog Trainers will have gone through a two-year process testing skill development in animal learning and dog behavior, and science-based positive reinforcement training techniques. Another organization that puts people through rigorous testing, and is known as the leader in developing these tests, is The Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. Do your homework on someone’s certifications so that you know they were trained and are not just saying so.


  • Go and observe a class after speaking to the trainer.  If they say no, move on: They should have nothing to hide.
  • Speak to the trainer or email them and find out how they reinforce behavior. Also ask how they handle an unresponsive dog (following the command). (The proper answer would be that they are going to teach an alternate behavior, or that they would remove what the dog likes, basically a doggie time out.)
  • Avoid trainers that employ choke chains, shock callers, prong callers, or tugging on the leash.
  • If at anytime you feel that your dog is not being treated humanely, remove yourself and your dog from the situation.
  • Any dog can be trained (for example, I was able to house break a 6 year old Lab with no prior guidance.)

Trainer Recommendations

Read this next: Good Dog: A Guide to Dog Park Etiquette