Until my first job as a dog trainer, I had never even talked to a dog trainer, much less hired one. Most pet owners nowadays have plenty of access to dog training shows on TV or books to read about dog training, but often it is very challenging to figure out what to do with your own dog’s training. This is why professional dog trainers are here to help! But what is it actually like to hire a dog trainer? How do you know what to expect from private lessons or a dog training class?
By the beginning of your first lesson, your trainer should have you sign a contract. The contract should include, at minimum, how many lessons you are purchasing, the time length of each lesson, and how much the lessons cost; it should also include a cancellation policy just in case you have to cancel a lesson. Be sure to get a copy of the contract with the trainer’s signature too: the contract protects you just as much as it protects the trainer!
Trainers nearly always ask for the full payment upfront on the training package you are signing up for. This demonstrates to the trainer that you are committed to completing lessons successfully. It also guarantees the trainer will hold your timeslot open for the duration of your lessons. If it is cost-prohibitive to pay for all the lessons upfront, though, don’t be afraid to ask the trainer ahead of time about a partial payment plan; most trainers are willing to be flexible in order to help you and your dog succeed!
The a dog trainer's job is actually not to train dogs, but to teach people: often dogs will learn quickly with the trainer, but that doesn’t mean your dog will continue doing the behaviors for you after the trainer leaves. An effective dog trainer will be focused on making sure you will be successful at training your dog. To this end, your trainer should leave you with clear written homework. Your trainer should also be reachable between lessons, but communications may be limited to emails and texts outside of regular business hours. Your trainer should also make sure that your dog’s overall training goals are clearly laid out; often you will find this within the written class description on the trainer’s website, or the trainer will provide you with a written outline and clearly defined milestones. Dog trainers can never and should never guarantee performance of the dog; all dogs are different in their learning styles and speed and no one can accurately predict how quickly they will learn the skills you teach.
But remember, despite all the talk about contracts and professionalism, we cannot forget that dog training should be fun! You and your dog should both look forward to your next training lesson; for your dog, training should be the most engaging and exciting time of his week! You should be able to leave any training session having learned something new about your dog that will enhance your relationship.
What is the most fun you’ve had in training with your dog? Comment below to let us know how dog training lessons have helped you!
Elizabeth Morgan, trainer and owner of Alabama Dog Academy, and proud trainer of Harper, the Canine Advocate at the Limestone Child Advocacy Center.