Checklist for dog owners:
1. Ensure kind, effective training methods that put the welfare of the individual dogs first. The focus should be on rewarding good behaviour but also consider how trainers deal with unwanted behaviour. These might include asking for an alternative behaviour or firm but humane restraint. Physical punishment, including jerking on a choke chain, ear-pinching, scruffing, ‘pinning’, or any kind of hitting are not acceptable.
2. Ask about qualifications, experience and membership of any organisations. Some organisations require practical assessment of their skills and signing up to a code of conduct (e.g. the UK APDT). Others, such as TCBTS and APBC have rigorous qualification and experience requirements for their members to practice behavioural work. The Animal Behaviour and Training Council list Registered Practitioners on their Animal Training Instructor practitioner list that meet the required standard.
There are many different organisations with differing entry requirements and codes of practice. Check the qualifications and organisation memberships do indicate a certain level of skill or knowledge; some letters put after names may just indicate paid membership to an organisation or a ‘qualification’ that is awarded internally by an organisation with no actual independent value. ASK what the letters stand for!
3. Good communication skills both with owners and pets. Are trainers able to read dog body language and intervene appropriately when necessary? Are they sensitive to the needs of their human clients?
4. Observe how the trainer handles shy, timid dogs and also noisy, boisterous dogs. Both types may need more space to work in, or barriers to prevent them disturbing, or being disturbed by, neighbouring dogs. Some dogs may be a bit anxious on the first night so see how trainers settle them in.
5. Generally 4-6 dogs per class is recommended, though experienced instructors or the presence of an assistant can enable larger class sizes. can handle more. Classes with ‘special needs’ dogs that might be disruptive need to be smaller or have an extra assistant.
6. Find out the broad syllabus of the course. If you are after a good companion dog course that teaches life skills or ‘manners’, make sure all the essentials are covered. Will you be provided with summary handouts? If you have particular problems are additional one-to-one lessons available?
7. What training tools does the trainer recommend, and are they able to adapt training methods and recommend tools appropriately for different dogs? While owners should avoid classes that uses citronella collars, water spray or rattle cans to ‘correct’ or ‘startle’ dogs in class, also observe how trainers encourage clients to use leads and collars, clickers and treats. Are leads kept nice and loose and not used to jerk or drag the dog? Are harnesses suggested where appropriate? Are treats being used to reward appropriate behaviour and not to bribe? Even good equipment can be misused!
8. Finally, check that the trainer is insured.
This is also a useful website to check: http://www.dogwelfarecampaign.org/find-a-trainer.php
It is important to point your clients in the direction of good trainers; this not only improves the quality of life of the animal and your human client, but makes your job easier in the clinic. Well-mannered dogs that remain calm and can co-operate with their examination saves time and decreases the stress of the experience for all concerned. Being easier to take to the vet, owners may be more likely to bring them in earlier if they have concerns over their health.
Owners who have taken their dog to training are generally more aware of the normal behaviour and communication of their pet; they are better at reading their pets and meeting their social and behavioural need, and better placed to spot behavioural changes that may be linked to medical issues.
A good trainer will also be able to reassure owners about normal development and behaviour, while referring training clients to their vet if they suspect a medical issue or nontraining related behavioural issue, which they may spot before their clients do.
Further advice from: “Good trainers: How to identify one and why this is important to your practice of veterinary medicine” (J. Vet. Beh. 2006 1, 47-52)