What is a “qualified” trainer?

How can the normal dog owner choose the right trainer? What’s the difference between dog trainers? Who’s the best? There are three “types” of trainers you’ll come across:

  1. Modern, aversive-free trainers – use positive reinforcement and negative punishment
  2. Balanced trainers – use all four of the operant conditioning quadrants
  3. Correction/Dominance based trainers – use positive punishment and negative reinforcement
The fact is that anyone can become a dog trainer – anyone. There are no regulations on dog trainers. Some are a part of professional organizations, some go to seminars, some read books, some watch TV, some have “owned dogs their entire life”, etc. It is hard to find a trainer that one would consider “qualified” because what does that really mean anyways? Some trainers have been training for over 20 years and still use old, out dated methods; then there are those that went to a modern dog training school but have little experience – and everything in between. On top of that, all the education in the world does not mean you are good at dog training.
Then there are companies who sugar coat their true methods. They call an electrical shock a “stim” or “tap” or they call a tug on the leash a “cue”. You can call it whatever you want but a shock is a shock and a jerk is still a jerk. There are some that say they don’t use punishment, but then you see dogs in shock collars and prong collars on their websites. This makes it all the more difficult for the average dog owner to discriminate between types.
How are we to expect the normal dog owner to be able to tell the difference between all these kinds of trainers? It’s hard enough to determine qualifications between trainers let alone expect a dog owner to know the differences. Each trainer has a different education, difference experiences, and different methods.
All I can recommend is that you look at the Pet Professionals Guild – a force-free organization of pet professionals. This will help you with choosing the right method, but there are no “guarantees” with the knowledge or experience of the trainer listed. Do the best research you can before you hire your next dog trainer.