How to Choose a Dog Trainer

How to Choose a Dog Trainer

Comet and Pix
Comet and Pix

Choosing a dog trainer? It’s harder than you think.

Dog training is an unregulated industry, meaning that anyone can call themselves a behaviorist, trainer, or behavior consultant, print business cards or buy a website, and start marketing their services. So, how do you find the right one?

  • Go with your gut. This is the most important factor. A depressing number of people have described their sessions with previous trainers to me, saying they cried, felt sick to their stomachs, and/or had to leave the room because of the way the trainer treated their dog.

Pixel, a puppy I trained at Coventry, gives me a gentle nudge.

  • Your trainer should not blame you for your dog’s behavior. If you are inadvertently reinforcing certain behaviors you want to change, we should be able to point that out to you and help you change your behavior – not shame you for your mistakes.
  • They should be transparent about their methods. Ask them what sort of tools they use; do they recommend the same equipment for all dogs they train? (That’s a red flag!) What do they do to reward the dog, and what happens if the dog misbehaves?
boarding stay

A group of boarding dogs showing off their “wait” cue, trained using treats

  • Certifications are a bonus (but not the end-all, be-all). Ask them what sort of continuing education courses or seminars they’ve attended recently. Google the certifications they have for more clarity. If they’re trainers for a specific sport, like agility or flyball, ask whether they have titles on their dogs, how often they compete, etc. This article explains the different types of certifications and labels.
  • Ask about their experience. A quick google search of local trainers shows that over half of them list their experience as “owning dogs my whole life.” To borrow my favorite analogy from mentor and friend, Tanzi: “I’ve had hair my whole life. That doesn’t mean you should let me cut or style yours.”
    • Ideally, someone will happily tell you about how many years they’ve been in business, describe a mentorship program with either a local trainer or training academy, and possibly had experience working or volunteering at a shelter.
    • This is not to say that novice trainers aren’t talented – they are! But they’re still learning, and may not know their limitations yet. I would use extreme caution hiring someone for aggression work, though, if they’ve only had a few years of experience.
CLA puppy class

Laurie teaching Puppy Kindergarten in 2014 for Canine Lifestyle Academy

  • Avoid anyone who hurts or scares your dog intentionally. A few examples include kneeing your dog in the chest when they jump, pinching their ears til they drop something, scruffing or pinning them, throwing cans of pennies at them, smacking them, cinching their collar so their airway is cut off, or poking them in the neck with a “tsst” sound.
    • This is not only unnecessary, it’s abuse. Dogs (just like humans) cannot learn while their body is in fight or flight mode, so they likely aren’t retaining anything other than “this person is extremely terrifying.” While they may appear “trained” because they’re no longer jumping, barking, or pulling on leash, more than likely they’re actually shut down.

Pudge and Ranger, two dogs I trained at Coventry.


  • They shouldn’t set your dog up to fail purely so they can punish them.
  • They should know their own limitations. I don’t work with severe human aggression, or any aggression directed towards children. I refer to trusted colleagues who do have experience in these areas.
  • They should be licensed and insured.
  • Talk to your vet clinic. They likely have a list of trainers for you to reach out to who are experienced, licensed, and insured, who many of their patients happily use.

You should spend as much energy on finding a trainer for your dog as you would on finding childcare for your children.

Do you need someone to help you with your dog, but you’re outside of our service area? Here is a comprehensive list of trainers in the DMV who train the way we do.