How to get the most from your dog trainer

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I have always wanted my company motto to be “call me before you need me,” but few people understand what it really means. Most of the time, when someone has decided it’s time to call a professional trainer, it’s because something scary has happened. It can range from simple leash pulling issues to more serious issues like injuries to other dogs or people. Chances are if the trainer had been consulted earlier, the incident could have been avoided altogether. Besides “call me before you need me”, here are a few tips on getting the most from your training sessions.

Be honest about your dog. If your dog has bitten you or someone else, be sure your trainer knows this. There is a lot of thought and planning that go into a training session, and if the trainer does not have all of the facts, he or she cannot formulate an accurate plan.

Be prepared to answer a lot of questions. Most trainers will want to know age, breed (or mix of breeds), if dog is spayed or neutered for every dog in the household – even the ones without issues. They will want to know the household stats–number of adults, number of children and their ages. They will want to know the normal routine of the household – active family, lots of company coming and going, how often the dog gets walked or exercised, and how the dog handles the activity.  Again, this helps the trainer plan for the session.
Be prepared to have homework. Your trainer may give you some exercises or suggestions to try for a week or two until the next session.  If your dog’s issue is not paying attention and your trainer asks you to practice “watch me” exercises, you should make the time to do it.
There must to be a commitment from the entire household. If your trainer requests that all members show up for training, schedule a time when everyone can be there.  Consistency is the key to training and if everyone is not on the same page, it can be detrimental to the training. If your dog is pulling while walking and half of the household continues to allow pulling, and the other half is trying to work on the training plan, the dog will be confused and never understand that pulling isn’t OK.
Keep an open mind. Don’t be a “yes, but” client. For example, if your trainer makes the suggestion for you to leave a radio on while you are gone to help combat separation anxiety, think about it as a viable option before saying that you’ve tried it with another dog and it didn’t work. Every dog is different, and every situation is different.
Understand that communication is a two-way street.  You should have a list of questions for your trainer – training style (reward based or not), education, references, rates, plan structure (session by session vs. 4 or 6 week plans, and how follow up is handled – phone, email, etc.). Like any projects, the prep work is the most important and must be done correctly to ensure a good final product.  Dog training is no different.  Use these tips to get the most out of your sessions for you and your dog.
What other suggestions do you have for working with a trainer? Let me know in the comments!
Terry Meeks is a dog trainer, APDT Member an CGC Evaluator in Pinellas County, Florida.  Find Four on the Floor Dog Training at and on Facebook.

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