Avoid these red flags and find the best dog trainer for your dog
Are you looking for a trainer for your hunting dog? If so, you probably realize how confusing a task this can be. If you are like me, your dog is very important to you. In fact, he/she is probably like a child to you. The decision to send your dog away for training is already a stressful topic, so it is extremely important that you pick the right trainer. To do this, you need to know what you should be looking for, what questions you should ask and how to evaluate a hunting dog trainer. In this post you will learn how to choose a professional dog trainer for your hunting or competition dog.
Throughout this post I will highlight what I call “red flags”. These are items that strike me as concerns, items that would cause me to question or at least dig deeper before choosing a certain dog trainer.
What should I look for in a professional retriever trainer?
When selecting a trainer for your retriever, I highly recommend that you take time to visit the kennel and meet the trainer in person. Even better, if you can, visit during a training session and watch the trainer at work. It can be very enlightening to see the professional trainer at work.
If a trainer you are considering does not allow you to come visit and tour the kennel or allow you to watch a training session this would be a red flag for me. Professional trainers should be open to having clients and potential clients visit and watch training.
Choosing a hunting dog trainer
While you are visiting a trainer and their kennel, there are many different things to evaluate. Be sure observe all the aspects of the kennel and the trainer and don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Evaluating the kennel building and property
Is the property and kennel in good repair?
Some people may argue that if the trainer has a reputation for being a great trainer, it doesn’t really matter what the kennel or property look like. I would disagree. While the reputation of the trainer is important, it is also important that your dog is well cared for during the training. The kennel is an important part of your dog’s experience. A clean kennel shows that your dog is valued and respected. Property that is in good repair means the trainer is serious about what he does and wants to provide the best environment for your dog.
Are the kennels clean, safe, and protected?
When dogs are placed in a kennel environment with many dogs in a small area, there is always the risk of disease and infection. That is why it is important to make sure that the kennel area is cleaned and sanitized daily.
In addition, you want the runs to be in good repair with quality steel, a bed or barrel house, a water supply, and a roof over the top. The roof is especially important if you have a female dog that is not spayed. Some dogs can climb chain link and will do so to get to a female in heat.
Is the kennel heated? Fan cooled? Air conditioned?
The requirements and needs for this will vary depending on where you are in the world. Here in the Midwest, heat is important if your dog is in training in the winter, spring or fall months. We choose to fan cool our kennel since air conditioning can be a shock for a dog that is out in the heat training all day. Just make sure that the temperature control is appropriate for where you live.
Where is your dog housed?
Not all dog trainers have a kennel building. Some keep dogs in crates. Some keep them outside. You need to get details on where your dog is housed, and how much time they spend in that housing.
If the trainer has chain link or steel runs, how big are the runs? Large runs are usually not necessary if the dogs are being trained regularly, but you do want your dog to be able to stand and move around.
Is there a doghouse or cot in the run area for the dog? We prefer barrel housing here at Otter Tail Kennels, because it gives dogs the ability to get away from other dogs if they want to. But cots are also very popular and work well.
How are dogs aired (let outside to go potty)?
This seems like a minor thing, but we have heard way too many stories about dogs getting pregnant while in a trainer’s control. This should not be an issue if the trainer takes measures to air boys with boys and girls only with girls.
Does the trainer live on site with the dogs?
The natural assumed answer is yes, of course. But there are dog trainers that do not own a kennel or property to train from. And some own a property and a kennel, but live somewhere else, miles away from the kennel. For the safety of your dog, be sure that the trainer lives on-site with the dogs.
If the trainer does not live on-site where the dogs are housed, proceed with caution. You want your dog to be safe and protected while at training. While it’s true that hunting and competition dog training involve risk, and you should be prepared for possible injuries during training, there are things that can be prevented. Having your dog unattended for long periods of time is something that can be prevented.
How are the dogs transported?
For hunting and competition dog training, dogs often spend time in dog trucks and trailers. This equipment is also used to transport the dogs to the various training grounds. Make sure that the equipment being used looks safe and functional.
Evaluating the training
How long are the training programs?
Each trainer will have their own programs. And how long the programs are is only one element. But I would caution you to understand that dog training takes time. Trainers that promise they can train your dog into a hunting or competition dog in a few weeks should be looked at cautiously. For training to be effective and last, a hunting dog program needs to be a minimum of 10 weeks and often much longer.
Be cautious of trainers that promise you a fully trained dog in just a few short weeks. Training takes time to be effective. Remember the adage, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t.”
What does your dog’s day look like?
I find it is helpful to understand what my dog’s day will look like while they are with the trainer. This may include what time does the training start each morning? What do the training sessions look like? At what time are the dogs returned to the kennel at night? Where does my dog spend their time during the day when not working?
How frequently are the dogs worked?
This is an important question. It is easy to assume that your dog will be trained daily or several times a day, but if you do not ask this question, you cannot be sure. You want your dog to be trained a minimum of one time per day, but preferably twice a day. A morning and an afternoon session would be normal.
How long are the sessions?
This can be a hard question for a trainer to answer. For us, here at Otter Tail Kennels, sessions can last from 15 minutes to an hour. We keep our dog numbers really low so that we have the luxury of working through concepts no matter how long that takes. But trainers with large dog numbers do not have that luxury.
How many dogs are being trained at one time?
Large kennels will often train 30 or more dogs at a time. I have seen some with up to 70 dogs in training at one time! Although that may be fine, they obviously need additional trainers helping them. Either that or they are spending very little time with each dog each day.
Who will be training my dog?
With large kennels it is often fact that your dog will not be trained by the main trainer or owner of the kennel. While this is not necessarily a problem, you should try to meet with the trainer that will be training YOUR dog. Visiting with the owner will not give you very much insight if he/she is not the one who will be training your dog. You want to get a feel for the exact person that will have hands on your dog.
What is being used for retrieves – bumpers, Dokkens, birds?
Be sure to ask the trainer what is used for teaching your dog to mark and retrieve. If only bumpers or Dokkens are used, be cautious. It is difficult to train a dog to hunt without using real live birds.
Are there live birds on site?
If you are looking for hunting training, it is vital that you know if the trainer uses live birds in training. And if they do, they should have the birds on site so that you can confirm that live birds are used and shot over your dog.
How many live birds are shot over my dog?
Don’t be afraid to get into the specifics. Ask the trainer how many birds are generally shot over a dog in the program you are considering. While this number is likely to vary, the trainer should be able to give you an average.
Evaluating the dogs already in training
Can you watch training?
Professional dog trainers are used to clients and potential clients coming to watch training sessions. If the trainer is reluctant to let you watch, consider that a huge red flag.
Will the trainer demo dogs in active training in one of their programs?
When you visit the kennel, it is always good to ask the trainer to demo some dogs. While it is easy to demo personal dogs, the trainer’s own dogs, it is also helpful to get a demo of a dog that is currently in training. Seeing a dog work that is still in the process of learning and adjusting can be very eye-opening and helpful.
If you notice that the dogs in training cower or back away when the trainer comes near them, this could be a red flag. Some dogs are just fearful dogs, but if you notice this on more than one occasion, it may be something to note.
How do the dogs look that are there for training?
If there are dogs in the kennel at the time you visit, how do those dogs look? Do they look healthy, happy, energetic? You want the dogs in training to be happy and have a good attitude. They should not be cowering or acting fearful. Or acting aggressively.
Evaluating the dog trainer
Evaluating the dog trainer is by far the most important evaluation of them all.
How does your dog react to the trainer?
And how do the other dogs in training react to the trainer. This can be very telling. While your dog may be hesitant since the person is new to them, they should not show fear and they should warm up to the trainer over time.
The other dogs that are in training should be happy and have a good attitude. They should not cower or back away from the trainer when he approaches.
How responsive is the trainer to your calls or emails?
Chances are, if you have looking at trainers for some time, you already know the answer to this question. How long did it take to get a call back? How many times did you need to email to get a response? While dog trainers are generally very busy individuals, you want a trainer that treats you like a valued client.
Does he/she train full time?
Many dog trainers start their training business while holding down a full-time job. While there is nothing wrong with this, it is something you should know because it will affect the amount of time they are able to devote to your dog and his/her training. Just make sure you are aware of the status of your dog’s trainer and how much time he/she has to devote to your dog.
Can you meet the person actually training your dog?
Since we already discussed that larger kennels will often have assistants helping with the training, it would be important for you to meet with the actual person that will be training your dog. If this is not possible, I would be concerned.
Does the trainer have time to talk with you and discuss your needs?
Again, I know that dog trainers are very busy, after all, I am one. But a good, professional dog trainer should be able to make time to talk with you about your dog, what your goals are, what concerns or questions you have and how he/she can help.
If a trainer gets offended by your questions or seems impatient with you, that would be a red flag that should not be ignored.
Will the trainer give you updates on your dog’s progress? If so, how often?
Not all trainers offer this, but I think most owners appreciate getting regular updates on their dog’s progress.
What is the level of ongoing support?
Once your dog is done training and ready to go home, will the trainer work with you to teach you how to maintain your dog’s training? Will they encourage you to call or email with questions after your dog comes home? How long will they offer this support?
Does the trainer offer group training? Private lessons, annual tune ups?
This is not important for everyone, but if your plans are to continue with training once your dog has completed a program, group training, private lessons and annual tune-ups can be very valuable.
Is the trainer willing to help you with things like problem solving, puppy acquisition or trained dog acquisition?
Professional dog trainers are professional problem solvers. If you have some concerns with your dog, your professional should be able and willing to help. If you are looking to buy a new puppy, most professional dog trainers are happy to help and give advice on the litters you are looking at. Or, if you need to purchase a trained dog, they will provide any leads they are able.
Reviews and references
In today’s world, few people request references. It is much easier to go to Google or Facebook and read reviews. But regardless of how you go about it, it is important to check out a trainer’s reviews and see what actual clients have to say about their experience having their dog trained by the trainer.
Evaluating the trainer as competitor
This topic will not be of interest to everyone, but if you are looking for a professional dog trainer to get your dog into hunt test competition, then there are few other questions you may want to ask.
Does the trainer compete in the tests you are interested in?
If you are interested in hunt tests, you should find a trainer that competes in hunt tests. If you want to get into the field trial game, seek out a trainer that competes in field trials. These two areas rarely overlap, determine your focus and seek out a trainer that can help you achieve your competition goals.
How often does the trainer compete?
If you want to get your dog titled, then it can be very important how often the trainer competes. If the trainer only competes in a couple tests each year, that can get you started but it may take some time to title your dog. For more information regarding competing in hunt tests, check out this post.
What is the trainer’s success rate in competition?
While this may not always be an accurate representation, especially if a trainer is new to competing or takes in a smaller dog number, but ask how many dogs the trainer has competed and what percentage of them passed the test, how many titled, etc. Most competitive dog trainers will be able to give you these stats.
Can they help you learn to compete your dog?
If you want to be involved in the competition, you will need to learn how to handle and compete your dog. Look for a trainer that is willing to work with you on a regular basis to help you learn about the hunt test or field trial game and how to compete your dog.
Final thoughts on how to choose a professional hunting dog trainer
It can be scary and confusing choosing a professional dog trainer for your hunting or competition dog, but it can also be very rewarding. If you find someone that you feel confident has your dog’s best interests in mind, you may find that long after your dog’s training is done, you have not only a trainer but also a friend.
Remember, if you really want your retriever to grow and progress this year but doing the training yourself sounds overwhelming or maybe your schedule is just too busy to get it done, I am here to help! You can email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or just give me a call. I would be happy to discuss your goals for your retriever and tell you about the programs I offer.
Until next time, happy retrieving.