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How to find a reputable trainer - what to look for and avoid

Most of us who have owned companion animals have trained them basic skills, such as sit or give paw. Some owners have even been successful in training their pet to do more complicated, uncommon tricks, such as grabbing an item from out of the fridge. 

Although many pet owners seek trainers for basic obedience training, a lot of pet owners seek guidance from trainers to help with problematic behaviours. For instance, if their pet shows an unwanted behaviour, such as dog-directed aggression, excessive vocalizing, or resource guarding, owners often require an appropriate professional to introduce management strategies and techniques to help them reduce the presence of these behaviours.

Choosing the right trainer is one of the most important and hardest decisions a pet owner can make. If you have come to the decision to look for a trainer, see below for a few basic facts about the training industry as well as what you should look for and avoid in a trainer.

Training is unregulated. Despite the large number of training organizations, schools and associations that exist, absolutely anyone can call themselves a trainer. As a result, trainers can practice outdated training methods, e.g., pack leadership and positive punishment, that can be detrimental and even dangerous to your pet.

Main question to ask: 


Gold Standard:


What is a positive, force-free trainer?

They will avoid the use of pain, fear, and punishment. People may think that these trainers are not successful in achieving results, due to their lack of ‘discipline’; however, force-free trainers achieve results by using time-outs, ignoring negative behavior, and/or removing something the animal wants, while avoiding the negative consequences that may arise from improper training methods. These methods are used to guide your pet into making the right choices rather than punishing incorrect choices.

Victoria Stilwell’s Four Pillars of Positive Training:

  1. Use of positive reinforcement [adding something the animal wants in order to increase the likelihood that the behaviour will occur again]

  2. Avoid the use of positive punishment techniques (intimidation, physical punishment)

  3. Understand the misconceptions of dominance theory

  4. Learn about the animal's experience from their point of view

Also see IAABC's position statement on Dominance Theory.

Qualities of a good trainer (not in order of importance):

1. Use positive-reinforcement training 

A lot more skill is needed to use positive training techniques to correct unwanted behaviours, such as aggression – these trainers are therefore truly skilled, and are set apart from those that incorporate both positive and punishment techniques into their practice.

2. Great interpersonal skills

They must be able to communicate effectively to pet owners and open to listening to owner's questions and concerns. If the owner does not feel comfortable speaking to the trainer, it can hinder the success of the process.

3. Full behaviour history of the animal is requested

Gathering this information is essential for the trainer to understand the root of their behaviour.

4. References

Just like anyone you hire, references are evaluated. When hiring a trainer, it is imperative you receive contact information from previous clients – in fact they should encourage you to contact these people, as good trainers want to display the effectiveness of their techniques.

5. Interact with everyone living with the animal

Trainer must communicate with everyone in the household or have a way to establish that everyone is interacting similarly with the pet, e.g., same body language and words used. In order to ensure long-term success, consistency across family members is key. 

6. Inclusion of the owner

The trainer should talk the owner through each session, communicating what they are doing and how it is working. Remember, owners are being trained as well during these sessions, and the goal is for you to not need them anymore.

7. They will not make any promises or guarantees 

A trainer should not make guarantees or promise specific results. Often a behavioural problem cannot be completely eradicated, depending on the severity of the issue, and this should be addressed at the beginning, thereby establishing expectations accordingly. They should, however, be willing to ensure satisfaction of their services. 

8. Qualifications

DACVB, CAAB, IAABC, CCBC – these are some acronyms that can appear after the professional’s name.

They can be a member of an organization and/or take part in continuing education to keep updated on current knowledge.

9. Vaccinations A trainer should require up to date vaccinations for any animal they are evaluating or that are coming into their facility, and they should discourage owners from bringing ill animals to a training class. 

10. Willing to collaborate with a veterinarian 

Unless the trainer is a veterinarian, they do not have the medical background to make recommendations on medications. Therefore, a good trainer should feel comfortable working alongside a veterinarian and should be open to seeking assistance from other behaviour or veterinary professionals. 

What to avoid:

  1. Use of the term “pack leader”

  2. Use of the term “dominance”

  3. Use of punishment tools: shock, prong or choke collars, or electric fences, spray with water bottle, etc.

  4. Use of punishment techniques: alpha rolls, kicking, poking, leash jerks, or any other physical punishment

  5. A trainer without references

  6. A trainer that does not ask about your pet's history


Victoria Stilwell. Positively.

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