Updated January 3, 2021
When you are looking for the best trainer or behavior counselor for your situation, ask yourself:
• What are my specific concerns, needs, desires for my animal?
• Are these basic training issues, or behavioral concerns?
• What type of training is the best fit — private training, a class, a board-and-train facility? Board-and-train programs generally focus on teaching the dog, not educating the human or improving the bond between human and animal. This type of program is best suited for animals requiring focused training for a specific task such as a search dog or a service dog. Always consider where the behavior occurs. If your dog only reacts to strangers in your home, a group class is not a good choice.
• How involved do my family members need/want to be?
• What am I willing to pay for the right person? Money is always a concern, but should not be the primarily factor in finding help with your pet. The right fit for your and your pet are the most important. Be realistic with your expectations. Qualified and experienced professionals are not going to offer the lowest price; but will offer high value for your money.
• How much time and effort can I reasonably devote to working with my pet?
• Do I have any special needs such as language barriers, physical or travel limitations?
• Is specialized training required? If so, does the trainer/counselor need to specifically certified or accepted by a governing body or association? Court-ordered evaluations and training must be done by a professional already accepted/approved by the applicable court jurisdiction. Some therapy dog groups require the animal to be trained or tested by an approved trainer.
• Where should I look to find someone? Professional referrals (from your vet) are considered the best. Other alternatives include personal referrals from others with similar issues and listings on professional association website. Be sure to investigate the requirements for membership in that organization. Read the association's philosophy and ethical codes.
Here are the questions to ask prospective trainers/behavior counselors:
• Why did you get into training, and why do you do this work? The answer should place you and your animal on the top of the list.
• What experience do you have with my animal/breed?
• What experience do you have with my particular issues, desires?
• What formal training do you have?
• What related background, training and experience do you have? For example, Marie Seelmeyer was a certified veterinary technician and is trained in complementary/supportive care, which is utilized in behavior modification.
• What professional associations do you belong to?
• What styles of training or types of tools do you use? Do not limit yourself or your search to one style of training. Most tools have a legitimate purpose and proper use. Each situation, and each animal is different. You should find someone open to considering appropriate options and able to customize a behavior plan specifically to your animal and situation.
• What type of contract do you require? Avoid trainers that require a set number of sessions (group classes would be a exception to this rule), or have a standard plan before they meet you and your dog. Each situation is different and needs to treated as unique.
• What do you charge? How do you charge" Per session, class, per dog, per hour of time?
• What types of payment do you accept? Be leery of anyone who only accepts cash. They suggests that they do not have a bank account and are not a legitimate business. With mobile credit-card processing systems readily available, most should accept credit cards.
• You can ask for references, but most people are going to provide only positive references. On-line reviews can be more accurate. Read all reviews, especially "bad" ones, remembering that the reasons given in a "bad" review sometimes reflect the unrealistic expectations of the reviewer. Always investigate the business with the Better Business Bureau. Even if the business is not a member of the BBB, it will have a letter rating and listing of complaints and how those complaints were handled.
Caution: Be cautious of "Free First Consultations." These sessions are usually a strong sales pitch and do not offer you much useful information. In order to provide free consultations, the cost of actually training sessions will usually be higher than normal.