10 QUESTIONS TO ASK BEFORE HIRING A DOG TRAINER
1. What dog training equipment do you use when
training a dog or do you recommend I use?
A force-free professional trainer will recommend using
equipment that has been designed with a dog's safety in mind.
While collars are great for holding ID tags, they can do damage
to a dog's neck and throat if the dog is walking with pressure
on the leash (i.e. pulling). We recommend using a properly
fitted front- or back-clipping harness to lessen the chances of
damage to the dog's neck and to keep him comfortable as he
learns to walk on a leash nicely without pulling. We also
suggest a 6'-8' flat leash rather than a retractable leash. These
give the handler much more control and help avoid injury. If a
dog is prone to slipping out of a harness then we suggest
double-clipping the leash to a martingale collar as well as to the
harness. This is an additional security measure.
A force-free training professional will never recommend the use of
equipment that is designed to cause pain or discomfort or restrict a
dog’s breathing. This includes pinch/prong collars, choke/check
chains, spray collars and electric/shock collars. These collars are
unsafe for the dog wearing them. Both the collars and the pain they
elicit may become associated with people and places in the dogs
environment, a pairing that can cause a potentially dangerous
2. What happens in your training program when the
dog responds in the way you want him to?
Fabulous things happen to the dog when he gets it right. Fun,
toys, food… Whatever the dog wants suddenly appears. A
force-free trainer will say the dog gets “positively reinforced”
when he does the right thing. This means the dog “gets paid”
and receives something he deems of high value. Positive
reinforcement should be delivered by and paired with a happy,
stress-free trainer or pet owner.
3. What happens in your training program when the
dog responds in the way you do not want him to?
We believe that "bad" behavior should be ignored or
redirected. If we teach our dog alternative behaviors then we
can ask him to perform one of those instead of what we
perceive to be inappropriate behavior. This helps the dog learn
what to do and makes us feel better about our dogs. For
example, when our dog jumps up on us we can either get
angry with him or we can ask him to sit (which we will have
previously taught him) and then reward him with our attention
or a treat. It will not take long for the dog to realize that it is
better to sit than to jump. This puts the onus back on us to
teach our dogs the things we DO want them to do so that we
can feel good about the dog and his behavior, rather than just
get angry because he is not doing the right thing.
4. How will you punish the dog or advise me to
punish the dog if he gets something wrong or
exhibits a behavior I do not like?
Very simply, we ensure we are teaching the dog ageappropriate
skills and always make sure we are not expecting
too much too soon. We constantly ensure we are motivating
the dog correctly. If the dog has been trained and the skill is
appropriate for his age but he still gets it wrong, we will break the behavior down into smaller pieces to help the dog understand better what we are asking it to do. We do not punish the dog, we ignore the behavior that we do not like and this tells the dog to try again.
5. How do you ensure that my dog is not
inadvertently being punished?
In a force-free training environment it would be reflected in
the dog’s demeanor and performance if he were being
inadvertently punished. A professional force-free trainer is
well-versed in canine communication and will immediately be
aware of any signs that a dog is uncomfortable. A professional
trainer will regroup and reassess what they are doing to create
the most empowering learning environment.
“If you think it’s expensive
to hire a professional to do
the job, wait until you hire
an amateur” Red Adair
6. How do you know that the type of reinforcement
you have selected to train my dog is appropriate?
A force-free professional trainer will help you determine what
is the most suitable reinforcement for your dog based on
what he likes, what best motivates him and how the
reinforcement can best be delivered within a training
Your professional force-free trainer will educate you on the
different types of reinforcement and when to use them.
7. How will you know or how will I know if my dog is
stressed during the training?
A professional force-free dog trainer will do everything he/she
can to ensure your dog is not stressed during training
sessions. Professional trainers are educated and experienced
in interpreting canine communication. Dogs who are whining,
growling, snarling or snapping are obviously stressed but
there are also more subtle signs of stress that we also need to
be on the lookout for. To do this, we watch for signs via the
dog’s body language.
Some of these signs of stress may be:
1. Whale eye – the whites of the eyes look like crescent
2. Eyes – wide open and round rather than soft and almond
shaped. Pupils may be dilated.
3. Furrowed brow.
4. Mouth is closed and the corners of the mouth
(commissures) are either pulled forward into an offensive
pucker or pulled back and down.
5. Panting when the temperature does not warrant it.
Additionally, sweaty paw prints may be seen.
6. Ears set flat back against the head or very far forward.
7. Legs are stiff, possibly rolling forward up on toes.
8. Tail may be held high or low (possibly tucked). The wag is
short and stiff and does not involve the entire rear end.
9. Neck may be extended to raise the head up high (ostrich
10. Head turns away from trainer or training object.
11. Body shaking.
12. Paw lifts.
13. Lip licking or tongue flicks.
14. Sniffing the ground randomly (not on a scent trail).
15. Running away and refusing to come when called.
8. Which professional dog training associations are you
a member of?
Your professional force-free dog trainer should maintain
memberships only with select organizations that advocate
humane, ethical training methods that are minimally aversive
to animals. They should not or will not participate in any
organization that promotes or endorses methods or training
styles that use punishment, force, fear or intimidation.
9. Will you guarantee your training results?
A professional force-free dog trainer will not guarantee their
training results. There are too many variables involved and a
professional dog trainer cannot control these. Instead, your
professional dog trainer will work in tandem with you to
effect the most appropriate behavior change in line with your
goals. The results will be dependent on many things, including
your level of commitment and compliance to the
10. How do you think a dog’s behavior should be
addressed if the dog is growling or snapping at
people or other dogs?
An experienced force-free dog trainer will assess whether
your dog is just overly aroused or has a genuine fear or
aggression issue as the two can look similar. If your dog is
anxious or fearful, exhibiting avoidance or acting out in an
aggressive manner, then a program of desensitization and
counter-conditioning (respondent learning) can be used. This
type of program aims to change the dog’s emotional response
to stimuli that previously upset him, thus reducing the
probability of him feeling the need to resort to those
behaviors in the future.
Using positive reinforcement (also known as operant
learning), your dog will also be taught behaviors he can have
recourse to in place of the unwanted behaviors. Depending on
your dog's individual circumstances, your trainer may ask you
to take certain safety measures or consult with a veterinarian
to rule out or address any relevant medical issues.
The Pet Professional Guild has given permission for active Guild Members to use this educational piece in their businesses