Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Why You Need a Trainer (Even If You Can't Afford One)

I love the internet for the quick access it gives me to a wide variety of topics, including all things dog. Many training questions are easily answered online, which is great because plenty of people live in areas where they can’t find a trainer they like, or because they can’t afford one. Unfortunately, if your dog has a behavior problem, you need to find the time or money to hire a professional.

You can try to go it alone, of course, and you’ll probably make some progress. But I believe that you’ll get far better results if you hire a professional to help you. I know that might sound odd- after all, I write a blog with lots of “how tos” about reactivity- but my intention has always been that this information would supplement services from a professional trainer, not replace them. Here’s why:

Working with professionals gave me this: a dog who can relax .
1. You need a trainer for her knowledge.
The fact of the matter is, if you knew how to handle your dog’s behavior problem, you would have already fixed it. You need someone who understands the complexity of behavior. A good professional will understand things like psychology, ethology, pharmacology, and epidemiology, and how that applies specifically to your dog.

2. You need a trainer for her experience.
Being book smart is great, but if you can’t implement what you’ve learned, it won’t do you much good. You need someone who has worked with other dogs like yours, and who knows what worked (and what didn’t).

3. You need a trainer for her skills.
Good training requires some very specific skills, such as observation, timing, and ability to adjust criteria. These are things that are crucial to a dog’s success, and while you can (and will!) learn them, you need someone who can help you until you do.

4. You need a trainer for her fresh perspective.
Even if you are well-educated, experienced, and have developed excellent skills, you will still probably benefit from consulting with a professional. Sometimes all you need to break through a particular problem is a new way of looking at things. While you might be able to do this online, it’s much easier to do when you have a second set of eyes on your dog.

5. You need a trainer for her consistency.
Despite what television might lead you to believe, there are rarely quick fixes when it comes to behavior problems. In addition, there are so many competing ideas on the internet that do-it-yourselfers often jump from technique to technique and never give any one of them a chance to work. A trainer will encourage you to stick with a plan long enough for you to see results.

6. You need a trainer for her ability to adjust the plan.
At the same time, sometimes the particular approach you’ve chosen just isn’t a good fit for you or your dog. Stubbornly sticking with a poor training plan is just as bad as being inconsistent, so you need someone who is skilled enough to decide when you need to change the plan of attack… and what to change it to.

7. You need a trainer for her ability to set up effective sessions.
Anyone doing behavior modification knows how hard it can be to set up a good training session. Preventing a reactive dog from going over threshold can be difficult at the best of times; from loose dogs to sudden environmental changes to people who just can’t follow instructions, the real world is rarely ideal. Worse, it can set your training back. A professional trainer can help you manage all these variables so you can focus on your dog.

8. You need a trainer for her feedback.
Most people are incredibly unaware of what they’re doing with their bodies. A skilled trainer will not only notice what you’re doing, but how it’s affecting your dog. Having an external observer who can tell you about both your dog’s behavior and your own will allow you to be far more efficient with your training.

9. You need a trainer for her objectivity.
Whether you’re an eternal optimist or a terrible pessimist, you have an emotional attachment to your dog. I have been guilty of believing my dog is doing better than she is simply because I wanted so desperately for her to improve. I know others who feel so hopeless that they can’t see how much better their dog is doing. A good professional can help you see your dog as he is right now, not colored by your own dreams, expectations, or history.

10. You need a trainer for her encouragement.
This is possibly the most important reason of all. Having a dog with a behavior problem is hard. It can be frustrating and disappointing when things don’t go the way you hope. Having someone to cheer you on when it goes well and to commiserate with when it doesn’t provides you with the support system you need to keep working with your dog.

What do you think? How has working with a professional helped you with your dog? Share your comments below!


Jen said...

What a great list!

While I would love to work with a professional with Elka, it hasn't happened yet. Time, money, proximity...they're all factors. It's one reason social networking and blogging are so great; I can get those other perspectives, if slightly removed. It's not a replacement, I know, but we get by!

Susanna said...

Working with a professional trainer has definitely helped me with my guy, an Alaskan malamute who's now almost 4. Between his reactivity and his high prey drive, which kicked in around the time he turned 1, I knew I was in over my head. Training turned out to be fascinating as well as beneficial, and we're still at it. My Travvy is now ARCH Masasyu's Fellow Traveller RL2, RL1X, RA, CGC, and I'm proud of both of us. :-)

However, we were lucky. Real lucky. The only trainer in my area was really good and uses reinforcement methods. I know a couple of people with similar dogs who weren't so lucky, who engaged trainers who didn't understand reactivity and used correction-based methods, and the results were disastrous.

Now I know what to look for in a trainer. Three years ago I didn't have a clue. I was just lucky. So, yes, a good trainer can provide all those things on your list -- but if only not-so-good trainers are available, you might be better off working solo and learning as much as you can from books, videos, and online discussion.

Valerie said...

I would love to work with a professional trainer...if they were one who's methods I agreed with. We don't live in a great hotbed for trainers willing to forgo the physical corrections (heck, you're lucky if you can talk the ones around here into using treats at all). I have horror stories abound from the trainers around here.

Toby went and saw one and while there were times I could see how beneficial having a trainer *could* be, it was also clear that it wouldn't be that trainer--or any of the ones in our area. Especially after the lady refused to speak or work with us any more because I refused to put him on a prong (and we weren't even acting out in class, but doing as I'd asked to do when signed up for the class- and hanging back and just working on teaching him to relax in the presence of other dogs. Of which, he was doing well with prior to our conversation that day.)

So while I see the benefits...and would love to someday work with a good one... lol I don't tend to recommend them to people, because I can't in good conscious even take my own dogs through the ones around here.

Anonymous said...

The really tough part is finding a good trainer, I think. Shanoa started out in regular classes with a local trainer (mostly lure/reward training, some correction). When it became apparent that she was very anxious and reactive, we got very lucky that someone recommended CU techniques, and even more lucky that I somehow stumbled on Robin's CU class. It's hard for the average pet owner, or even the very educated pet owner, to find and evaluate trainers, especially as there aren't state or national licensing standards. Anyone can "hang their shingle" as a trainer and there is no oversight.


Susanna said...

APDT (www.apdt.com), the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, is a good place to start, IMO. Professional members have to be credentialed by one of several reputable organizations. There's a really good page on their site, "How to Choose a Dog Trainer."

That said, there are many, many areas where no APDT members are to be found, so this isn't going to help everybody.

jen@inubakablog said...

Fantastic list - this is exactly the outcome we had with our trainer for Kiba. We're so glad we found one instead of taking it all on ourselves!

Crystal Thompson said...

Yes, finding a GOOD trainer can be hard, even when you can afford one. I have worked with a number of trainers, and finding someone who is qualified, uses methods you like, AND that you like (I really think you need to genuinely like your trainer) is hard.

The APDT list is a great place to start, but even there, I would use caution. Occasionally, there are people listed who use aversive methods, which is a deal-breaker for me. Other trainers are excellent with obedience, but not skilled with behavior mod- different things, to be sure.