What's in a Name?: How to Know the Kind of Dog Trainer You Are Speaking With

Updated: Sep 12

Dog training is rife with buzz words; "purely positive","aversive","dominance","clicker trainer","behavior modification", what the heck does it all mean?? I hope to give you a BASIC understanding through this post of they types of trainers and styles you will meet in your search for help with your dog as well as things to look out for.


I will start with the styles of training. Behavior modification, in my opinion as I have seen it used in this industry, is for more advanced issues related to dogs. Aggression, severe anxiety, OCD etc would fall under the category of needing true behavior modification. Obedience training is basically family dog training. You just got a puppy or a rescue and you want them to sit, lay down, not jump on guests, not bark; you need a basic obedience trainer. Be very cautious about what your pet truly needs. If your dog is having major issues you owe it to you both to do your homework on what kinds of cases a trainer has dealt with (successfully mind you) and their plan for helping you. Clicker based trainers *generally* fall into the basic obedience category, chat with them to see if they have experience with an advanced level issue you may be having. If you don't know, ask. Sometimes people use words that make us think one thing but they mean another. I personally am more of an obedience trainer with light behavior modification. I am the first to admit that aggression cases and severe anxiety are not my cup of tea. If your dog is just starting to show signs I can help nip these in the bud, but once it has progressed past that point I will refer out to other local trainers.


So now you have a sense for the type of training your dog needs, so what kind of trainer do you want to find? On one end of the spectrum you have the purely positive or +R crowd. They will never do anything that they deem "stressful" to your dog. There are a lot of misconceptions in this group I will not go into here, suffice to say you still should do your homework. This is a very narrow type of training, in the sense that they prefer to only use one of the four quadrants of dog training. The four quadrants are positive reinforcement, negative punishment, positive punishment, and negative punishment. +R trainers claim to only train with positive reinforcement. On the other end are your dominance based trainers (think Cesar Millan). They generally use only the two quadrants of punishment. Again, a narrow approach that may or may not work for your dog. Then there is us, in the middle, the balanced trainers using all four quadrants in a way that gets results without simply begging the dog to maybe do what we ask with treats or cause them major physical or emotional harm. This is how I train. Does that mean I don't use treats to lure a puppy into a sit? Certainly not! But does this mean I also don't give a firm but fair correction to a dog to guide them to the wanted behavior? You bet I do. When deciding which of the three categories your prospective trainer falls into, ask! After that find out how long they typically take with dogs similar to yours to solve your issue. Ask for client references or a consultation with your dog, you'll know within the first 20 minutes or so if your dog will respond to their training style or not.


Your dog is an individual, and you AND your dog need to mesh with a trainer for you to get anything out of their time with you. Be wary of trainers who promise quick fixes, no matter what ideology they follow. Just like raising a child is not a short process, neither is raising your dog. You should also be wary of trainers who do a lot of talking but not much showing. It's great to have theoretical knowledge to share, but they should be able to demonstrate with your dog anything they are saying you should do. They should be available for your questions even outside scheduled training, and they should be able to listen to your ideas and give you alternatives if you get stuck. Do not waste your time with trainers who simply say "stay the course" over and over. If somethings not working they should be able to give you other ideas on how to fix it. There is no formal schooling for dog trainers. There are courses we can take, seminars to go to, education we can choose to invest in. But unfortunately right now the reality is anyone can watch some YouTube videos then get a business license and call themselves a trainer. Ask what, if any, organizations they belong to (I am a member of the International Association for Canine Professionals as well as the National Association for Canine Scent Work). They should be able to tell you not only which ones but why they chose that organization. Interview them! Please! Take your decision as an investment in your future! As always, good luck and reach out if we can help you!


For the Dogs,

Christina, DTFC



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