Trainers and Training

February 27, 2009

By Dianna Young

Let me tell you about one of my favorite dogs. Her name is Lady, and she’s a Labrador Retriever that belongs to one of our boarding clients. Lady is a wonderful dog. She has spent a lot of time in our kennel, and we have come to know her very well and to love her.

Over a period of several years, Lady’s family spent thousands of dollars with a dog trainer in the Seattle area on her obedience training. The training went well. Her obedience is phenomenal. Getting the desired response from Lady is like pushing a button.

That’s why we were puzzled when Lady’s “mom” told us that she hadn’t been satisfied lately with Lady’s performance. She added that the Seattle-area trainer said Lady needed even more training.

I said, “Eileen, Lady doesn’t need the training. Her obedience is flawless.”

So her mom and dad brought her here, and we spent an hour and a half teaching them to work with Lady. The woman had been torturing herself to memorize magic words from Lady’s training that she thought would elicit the proper response from the dog, and she was frustrated that she hadn’t been getting the results she and her husband had paid over $10,000 to obtain. But it turns out the elusive words had no magic properties at all.

In 90 minutes, we showed them how to go through all of Lady’s obedience repertoire without one verbal command. We used the leash, their physical energy and their psychological energy.

They went home and practiced for three days, and then the woman called me back in tears.

She said, “You showed me in an hour and a half how to do what we spent $10,000 on over the last five years.”

I told her, “The training’s been done. Lady is like a push-button machine. We just had to show you how to operate it. What the other trainer failed to do was teach you and your husband how to use this fancy new tool that you had invested in.”

What happened to our friends, unfortunately, is not uncommon. That’s why it is important when you pick a trainer to select one who is willing to work with you and your dog together. Having your dog well-trained won’t do you much good if you don’t have the skills necessary to tap into that training.

In the case of Lady’s family, they had been lucky. The trainer actually had done a good job with the dog. His or her only failure was in not training the mom and dad to an appropriate level also. However, not everyone who advertises himself as a trainer is as well-equipped as the Seattle-area person to produce the results that he promises. How can you be sure the one you are about to select is a good one?

Here are a few tips.

One of the most reliable methods of finding a good trainer is to ask for references and testimonials, then check them out. There’s no better predictor of success in the future than success in the past.

But, because you want a trainer who has an accurate understanding of canine behavior, pay particular attention to the kinds of training his satisfied clients have received. A lot of people can use a piece of cheese to train a dog to sit, but that doesn’t mean that the dog really is well-trained or that the trainer really understands canine behavior.

A lot of trainers say they specialize in correcting behavioral problems by producing behavioral modifications. For example, some say they treat dogs that are dog-aggressive or people-aggressive or that are socially inept. But if a trainer doesn’t understand what drives a dog to behave the way it does, his training is not likely to be effective. If you want any chance of modifying a dog’s behavior, regardless of what that problem behavior is, you have to have a clear understanding of why the behavior is there in the first place.

And if a training facility limits the behaviors it is willing to work with, or limits the types of dogs it is willing to work with, you are perfectly justified in wondering whether its trainers possess a real understanding of canine behavior.

Dianna Young is a certified, professional dog trainer and canine behaviorist from Camano Island, where she operates Camano Island Kennels Dog Boarding and Training Facility. She can be reached at (360) 387-DOGS or at Her web site address is Or visit us at facebook.

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