Finding a Trainer

I’ve been talking a lot recently with a few friends about selecting trainers for different sports. It’s been interesting to me. I don’t tend to get starry-eyed over people. Respect, yes. Rarely do i use words like ‘guru’. I also tend to stay away from those who carry on about themselves. It makes me… uncomfortable. I’ve always felt that the proof is in the pudding. If you have to constantly mention it over and over then I’ll try to forget on purpose.

Occasionally, we tend to think that if someone presents themselves as a trainer then they must be great and worth working with. What we don’t always catch on to is that not all trainers are created equally. There are no governing bodies for dog sport trainers (not true for behaviorist, but that’s another day). There are sites and groups that have trainer referral lists. At the end of the day though, it’s important to do your homework and be realistic about learning styles and abilities of both you and your dog.

Being aware of your own learning styles is a personal thing. Important points to remember for your own learning style are dynamic issues. Do you learn best in a group or in one on one sessions? Do you prefer a serious atmosphere when you are learning or do you crack jokes to ease tension? Are you learning to compete, or learning to learn? Are you a conceptual learner or do you want someone to just direct you how to complete each task?

You dogs personal style and issues can also create a new set of interesting things to consider. How does your dog react in a group of dogs? Is he or she spastic and uncontrollable or easy going and attentive? Does you dog have basic skills (sit, down, come/here, stay) and are consistent about paying attention to you? Obviously this would not apply to puppies or dogs who have not completed basic obedience. However there are classes especially geared toward dogs at that age and skill level. The next item to consider is what kind of training your dog flourishes under. Reward based training is generally preferred for the majority of dogsports. Occasionally, it is necessary to correct your dog. How do you correct your dog at home? How does your dog react? If your dog is flopping over and showing it’s belly every time you correct your dog… you might be coming on a little stronger than necessary.

A good trainer will identify how your personal style meshes with their teaching style. Then they will be able to adjust their style to your dogs learning requirements. If, for some reason your style doesn’t work with your instructors style or personality they should be able to suggest other facilities or instructors that might fit you better. This is not a put down to you or the trainer, but a sign of two mature people who understands their own limitations.

Generally, I try to suggest the following things to consider when considering a new sport and trainer:

  • Does this sport fit your dog? Are you going to be ‘ok’ if your dog doesn’t excel?
  • Have you gone to see the particular trainer teach the class or similar class to the one you’re interested in?
    • If so, how did you feel about what you saw? Did the participants appear to be engaged? Were the dogs enjoying themselves?
    • If not, why? If it’s too far for you to go and watch one class you’re not signed up for, then it might be too far away to commit to long term.
  • Does the trainer compete (or has in the recent past) in the sport that they are teaching? If not, then why?
  • Do you have time to practice at home?

I hope this is helpful! Happy training!

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