Black and white dog Afra from in a field at LIONSROCK

How to Find The Right Dog Trainer 

Not every dog trainer is right for you and your best friend


The basis for every dog training should be building a good and close relationship between human and dog, based on mutual respect and trust1. Thus, FOUR PAWS clearly recommends a non-violent, reward- and choice-based training method. Training methods that use punishment to induce pain and fear in the animal are not only prohibited but can also jeopardize the dog's trust in humans and towards their handler2–7. This should be a large consideration when you are looking for someone to support you in dog training.

How do I recognize a good dog school and when is individual training the right choice for me?

Dog training schools often offer courses about specific dog sports, such as man trailing, agility, or lunging. Basic courses for puppies and young dogs, which address the specific needs of their current life stage can also be useful. Make sure the group sizes are small and that the dog school values the harmonious composition of the four-legged course members, and not just throw everyone in together wildly. It is important that puppies in particular gain only positive learning experiences right from the start, and do not experience sensory overload or become overwhelmed. Patient interaction is also essential with young dogs from around five months of age who get into their puberty phase – here, the exciting environment of the dog school can often be too stressful for them.

If you want to work on certain behavioral patterns, such as leash aggression or fear of certain stimuli (e.g. children, cars, or loud noises), then you should consult a competent dog trainer. In the worst case, such behavioral problems can actually be intensified when you and your dog are overwhelmed by attending a dog school and the distractions there!

In an individual training session, the dog trainer has the opportunity to fully focus on the human-dog team. Most trainers also offer home visits.

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Pay Attention to the Following Points

When looking for a good dog trainer and dog school

  • FOUR PAWS recommends dog trainers qualified in accordance with animal welfare.
  • The training should not use negative reinforcement or punitive methods – neither physically (yelling at, pressing down, nudging), nor with aids (e.g. collars or leashes that choke/constrict, training discs or electric collars). The dog should not be frightened or experience pain in any training situation.
  • The work is non-violent and uses positive reinforcement of the correct behavior (treats, games, praise, etc.).
  • The dog trainer should treat both the dog and the owner in a friendly, courteous, and appreciative manner.
  • Good trainers focus on the importance of investigating the cause of a problem and not just 'fighting' the symptoms that are shown. For example, leash aggression should never be worked on by jerking, pulling, or pushing the dog. In order to achieve a sustainable learning process, the cause of this aggression should first be found out and which specific stimuli triggers it. Only if you know this and understand the dog's motivation behind it should you work on appropriate solutions, such as training alternative behaviors (e.g. 'what should the dog do instead?').
  • It is advised to use a suitable harness, or for dogs that have already learned to walk on a loose lead using a wide, soft collar is possible.
  • The trainer should inquire about the dog's state of health, ideally before training starts.
  • The dog trainer should explain how further training should be structured in small, understandable steps and offers intensive support, especially in the beginning, if needed. Their knowledge must be up to date.
  • Sufficient breaks should be taken between the exercises, the dogs' stress symptoms are taken into account and, if necessary, the training is stopped if the dog does not feel well or is overwhelmed by the situation.

Dogs thrive when they can learn in a positive way, in an environment that is as stress- and distraction-free as possible and without coercion. Good dog trainers and dog schools attach great importance to this. Reward-based training, which uses practices such as praise, treats and play to reinforce desired behavior, supports a strong and trusting human-animal bond8,9.

In contrast, aversion methods endanger the mental and physical health of dogs. The consequences range from increased stress and stress-related behaviors to learning and performance disorders and negative emotional reactions such as anxiety, depressive states, and aggression10–12.

It is important to remember that training is not only about training the animal, it is also about training the owner, especially how to communicate with their dog when the trainer is gone – that is the key for a harmonious relationship between owner and animal!

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1. Payne et al. 2015_Current perspectives on attachment and bonding in the dog–human dyad. [accessed 2023 Dec 11].
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10. Guilherme Fernandes J, Olsson IAS, Vieira de Castro AC. Do aversive-based training methods actually compromise dog welfare?: A literature review. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 2017;196. doi:10/gchx4d
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12. Hiby EF, Rooney NJ, Bradshaw JWS. Dog training methods: their use, effectivenes and interaction with behaviour and welfare. Animal Welfare. 2004;13(1997):63–69.

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