A recent reader’s comment saying that anyone can be a dog trainer is absolutely correct.  There are no governing bodies to control it. I visited my local pet store and saw business cards for almost a dozen trainers hanging on the bulletin board. It’s become a very popular profession. But are they good trainers? I’ve heard people say that they want to be a trainer because they were able to teach their dog how to sit. Is that enough? What are the attributes of a good dog trainer?

I started my career working with animals as a pet massage therapist and I am glad that I did because through that training and experience, I learned how to read dogs’ body language and communications signals. This was important for two reasons: I needed to see where the dog was experiencing pain so that I could focus on that area but not hurt the dog, and I had to avoid getting bitten. Because I did a lot of my practicing on shelter dogs, I had no idea if they had behavior issues or not. It was a quick and invaluable lesson on reading dogs. Every dog trainer needs to learn how to read dogs. That’s probably one of the biggest criteria for making a really good trainer.  It’s not something you can learn in a classroom or by reading a book.

The next attribute of a good trainer is obviously being able to work effectively with the dogs using humane and scientifically sound techniques. This too cannot be learned in a classroom.  Every dog is unique, and getting to know the various breeds and their characteristics comes with practice and experience. For instance, teaching a Golden Retriever to “come” is quite different from teaching an Akita.  It also involves staying current on the latest research about behavior and learning theory.  Reading books, blogs of experts and attending seminars or conferences is advisable.

Most trainers teach classes and provide one-on-one consultations with clients. It is not enough to have excellent training skills with the dogs if the trainer cannot convey information to the clients; a really good trainer has great people skills as well. I’ve seen some really talented trainers who work wonders with dogs but they lack the personal communications skills to help the dogs’ owners learn how to work with the dogs once they get home. As we know, most dog behavior issues come as a result of things that owners do or don’t do.

And finally, probably the least important skill is writing ability although I do believe it’s still necessary. If trainers want to teach classes, they will need to prepare written handouts and a curriculum.  This information must be conveyed clearly and accurately to the clients. Also, many trainers who do private lessons or consultations will follow up with a written behavior plan. It will be useless if not written well.

So, yes, anyone can say they are a dog trainer but do they have what it takes to be a good one? Can you think of anything else that makes a dog trainer stand out from the “pack”?

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