Selecting a dog trainer

It is critical to make a clear distinction between a handler and a trainer.  Being a K9 handler no matter for how many years, does not necessarily prepare someone to be a dog trainer, able to diagnose and solve training problems.

An dog trainer should know, inside and out, learning theory as it applies to K9s, both operant and classical conditioning, understand how to reduce complex trained behaviors to essential components, and be familiar with canine behavior in general.

A dog trainer must be able to explain a particular training progression, and all the essential variables involved, and how to manipulate them during the progression of training.

A dog trainer should be able to make proper, reasoned, and skillful adjustments based on actual experience. Dog training is both a science and an art.


Dog Trainer Aliana Myburgh

Handlers think because they were able to train successfully with their dog, that they are an expert in something other than, just their dog.  A good trainer has a range of experience, perhaps training multiple dogs from start to finish, and having gone through a respected trainers course, where both the science of training is learned, as well as having the opportunity to practice on real dogs in training.  They should be trained as a trainer, and be able to adapt to training progressions.

Broad experience and a lack of ego is critical. The most insecure and unskilled trainers are the ones who are the most “dominant” and use appeals to their experience and authority to gain compliance from their groups rather than results. If they disagree with you they should be able to explain why they disagree.

If the dogs in the training group are poorly trained or unproductive, find another place to train. Do not let mere convenience screw up your dog.

Training should be designed to promote goals in training. Your trainer should be able to explain goals (in the short run and in the long run.)  Goals should be mostly focused on preparing you and your dog in a scenario based context for the real life situations you will likely encounter.

As each dog/handler team has different experiences, different strengths and different weaknesses – training exercises, drills, and scenarios should be designed to make adjustments for individual dogs in the training group. If you see every dog (rookie K9 to 5 years on the road) doing exactly the same training in every phase you are wasting your time with that training group. Good trainers make adjustments for skill level and handler skill. They design scenarios and drills to build on strengths, remediate weaknesses, and teach lessons.  If these adjustments aren’t being made, training is poorly designed as “one size fits all.”

For more productive training time, try joining a smaller group that will allow for more time to talk through training, individualize training, and to debrief performances to learn how to design the next training exercises and to build upon successes, or remediate any deficiencies exposed.  Smaller groups also allow for varying training environments, meeting up at different places to train etc.

Check whether the group has skilled and trained decoys, whether they insist on proper targeting training. (Just because a guy can put on a suit and take a bite does NOT make him a decoy. Good decoys have gone through extensive training and learned proper catching technique, driving technique and how to properly read a dog. )

Every dog doesn’t need to be trained with the same cookie cutter approach.  A good training director will be able to help you realize why these differences might exist.  All training should be a mixture of component training, full scenarios, drills, and fundamentals. Training should be well thought out, and challenging and inspire you to get better.

Just because someone has 20 years’ experience or spent time as a K9 handler, does not make him a good trainer. 20 years of bad training is still bad training. Experience and authority are not arguments for being right.

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by Jerry Bradshaw

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