Updated: Mar 2
Whether you have a house pet or the next performance champion, training your dog is an essential part of their life. I know many people take pride in training their dog themselves and that’s fantastic! But there’s also no shame in asking for help or getting some outside perspective. In order to train your dog, you need to be a trainer, too. So it can be really beneficial to have a professional trainer help you become the best trainer you can be for your dog.
Where to Start
When you start to look for a trainer, it’s important to recognize if a “lesson” program or a “board and train” program would work best for you. For most lesson programs, it’s best to go regularly (every week or every other week) to get the foundation work done, then lessons can be spread out (maybe bi-weekly, monthly or every few months at that point). Realize that lesson programs will take significant more work for you up front and that they could take longer overall. After all, the trainer is teaching you how to be a trainer which takes time. I think there is a lot of value in training your dog this way; the more involved you can be in their training, the more likely you will be to maintain it.
Board and train programs vary in length, anywhere from a week or two to a few months, depending on the type of program. These dogs get a lot of work up front, but all of them will require continued training when they come home. These programs are ideal if you lack the time or resources (having access to birds is a huge benefit of sending your dog to a professional) to train your dog efficiently. All dogs will require training time when they come home, but sending them to a professional can “jump start” your training to make them more manageable, sooner.
There are certainly benefits to both routes, but the work the owner does when the dog gets home is really going to be what matters. Your dog might be perfect at the trainers, but if you aren’t willing to put in the work when it gets home, all of that will fade away. A dog is a huge commitment, so be prepared to spend time daily working with your dog.
What’s your goal?
If you want to learn how to paint on canvas, you wouldn’t sign up for piano lessons. Maybe that’s a little extreme, but it is so important to find a trainer that matches your goals. Even though many trainers are well-versed, most trainers have a specialty. That specialty might be that they have many championship titles in your sport, or that they have access to birds you want to hunt, or that they are known for working well with a specific type of dog, and so on. You’ll set yourself up for more success if your trainer is proven in what matters to you.
If you goal is to train purely positive, to have a companion gun dog that’s just as good in the house as in the field, or even to just have a dog that you can take for walks, there’s a trainer for you. Make sure that trainer not only speaks about what you’re looking for, but can also show it. There are certainly people out there who like to use “buzz words” for training, but their actual work is completely different than what they speak. The proof is in the pudding!
That’s a Match
I have traveled far and wide looking for the right trainers to work with, for both my horses and my dogs. One of the most important lessons I have learned is that it is imperative to find a trainer that you enjoy working with and vise versa. You’ll be spending a lot of time together, so it’s important that you respect them, admire their work, feel comfortable talking to them, and most importantly, you trust them with your dog.
Blitz is not an easy dog because she is a lot of dog. Finding someone who appreciated that, who was willing to work with her without trying to make her something else and who saw all of the good in her was quite literally life changing. I have been working with Grayson at Lost Highway Kennels for a year now and the transformation Blitz has made is astonishing. Putting in all the blood, sweat, tears and time I did to find the right trainer was more than worth it, I can’t express that enough.
The Price Point
This is obviously an essential question to many people: how much does it cost? Of course this is important to consider, but be aware of why each program is priced the way it is. The more individualize time your dog gets, the more the program is going to cost. I think there’s more to it than “you get what you pay for,” but I do think it’s important to recognize that it is definitely worth saving up for the right trainer versus just choosing the most affordable one.
There are so, so many great trainers out there, it’s worth it to find the one that’s going to be the best fit for you. Just because a trainer doesn’t check all of your boxes certainly doesn’t mean they aren’t a great trainer, but it’s invaluable to find the one that will.