Finding the Right Trainer
Anyone can claim to be a dog trainer since no special instruction or certification is required to set up business in this field. Some trainers, however, do have credentials — such as a diploma from a dog-training school or a degree from a university — in behavioral psychology or ethology (animal behavior). Whatever the educational background, the most important characteristics of a good dog trainer are excellent communication skills and a thorough understanding of learning theory, training techniques, breed characteristics, general dog behavior and physiology, and human nature. After all, the trainer's job isn't to teach your dog: it's to teach you how to teach your dog. Here is a checklist for finding a good trainer for your Lab:
Contact professional dog-training organizations for member referrals.
Ask if your local Labrador Retriever Club offers training classes.
Attend a class before signing up to evaluate the training style.
Inter view the trainer about his or her experience and education.
Protect your Lab from harsh training methods.
Where to Look
Start your search for a trainer with one of the professional dog-training organizations, such as the American Pet Dog Trainers, International Association of Canine Professionals, and National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors. (See Appendix A for contact information.) Membership in this type of organization indicates a trainer's interest in continuing education, staying informed about advances in behavioral knowledge, and learning from others in the field.
Evaluating the Trainer
When you've found several trainers in your area, make an appointment to visit their classes as an observer. You'll want to make sure you're comfortable with the trainer's teaching style. Look for the following signs of an experienced trainer:
Explains and demonstrates each behavior clearly before teaching it
Explains and demonstrates how to teach the behavior, providing written instruction if pertinent
Allows time during class to practice the behavior
Spends time individually with students to work on problem areas
Treats people and dogs courteously
As well as learning, dogs and people should be having fun in the class. Unless you enjoy being yelled at, avoid trainers with a drill sergeant mentality. Training techniques have evolved over the years, and it's no longer considered constructive to jerk dogs with choke chains, or yell at them when they don't perform correctly.
If you believe a trainer is mistreating your dog, don't be afraid to put a stop to it. Hitting, hanging, kicking, or shocking are all unacceptable. No training method should ever be harmful to the dog.
Ask participants whether they're satisfied with the progress they've made with their dogs. Are their training needs and goals being met? A six-week class should give you basic skills to work competently with your dog at home. Interview the trainer about his or her experience. Here are some questions to ask:
How long have you been training dogs?
How did you acquire your knowledge of dog training?
What's your experience with Labrador Retrievers?
What training techniques do you find work best with Labs?
Do you belong to any professional organizations?
What will my Lab and I learn in this class?
Whether you are successful in training your Lab depends on several factors. Your trainer's ability plays a role, of course, but so do your dog's temperament and your level of commitment and experience. You will only get out of training as much time and effort as you put into it.