How to get the most out of your dog training investment!

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How to make the most of your
Private Dog Training Lessons

You made the decision! You are going to invest in a professional dog trainer, and you are excited to get started! Get the most out of your dog trainer!

There are many reasons folks seek out a dog trainer. Perhaps they got a new puppy and want to start out on the right paw! OR perhaps they rescued a dog and have some questions. OR perhaps they simply want to learn about training.

Do your homework, and ask questions as you shop for the right training company. Some questions to ask:

  1. What will happen to my dog if she gets it right?
    1. Do you like the answer here? Will the dog be rewarded effectively?
  2. What will happen to my dog if she gets it wrong?
    1. Do you like the answer here? Will the dog endure a hurtful or scary correction?
  3. Are there less invasive alternatives to what you propose?
  4. What method of training do you use?
    1. There should be no stumbling over this question.
    2. Watch for slick terms like “balanced” or “training collar”.
    3. The prospective trainer should be able to intelligently and honestly describe the training methods used, without giving you specific training advice.
  5. Do you teach clicker? If I don’t want to use a clicker is there an alternative?
  6. What is your educational background in the area of dog training (and behavior if applicable)?
  7. What is some recent continuing education that you have attended?
  8. Do you belong to any professional associations, if so which ones, and if not, why not?
  9. What are your credentials and do you have any certifications?
    1. There are no industry standards, or regulations in the dog training profession, unfortunately. No different than an accountant should have a CPA and a doctor should be an MD and a veterinarian should be a DVM, your dog trainer should have passed at least the CPDT-KA or ACDBC. If they haven’t passed either, ask why and be sure you like the answer.
    2. ACDBC: Associate Certified Dog Behavior Consultant is a certification from the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants.

      CPDT-KA: Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers is an independent organization which establishes and maintains humane standards of competence for animal training and behavior professionals through criteria based on experience, standardized testing, skills and continuing education.

  10. What is your area of expertise, and why are you the expert?
    1. No trainer is an expert at everything. There are many facets to dog training, just like there are medical specialties. You don’t want a competition agility instructor to work with your aggressive dog, unless it’s an area of expertise, no more than you’d want a behavior consultant whos expertise is in fear and aggression to work with you toward competition obedience. Trainers can absolutely have dual expertise, but make sure you like the answers you get.
  11. What is some of your favorite equipment you use?
    1. Some good answers here are: Harness, and the prospective trainer should know the difference between many of them. Clicker. Treats. Toys.
  12. What kind of follow-up do you provide?
  13. Can you provide a list of vets or others we can contact for references?
    1. Note: Don’t be surprised if the prospective trainer does not want to give out client information, good trainers keep their client’s information confidential, but should be able to give vets who refer that trainer.
  14. Can I observe a group class?
    1. While you won’t be able to observe private lessons, or specialty classes, the prospective trainer should have an option for you to see the work performed and how that training work is performed.
  15. What sort of services do you provide for pet owners? Do you provide specialized services? (i.e. therapy dog training, competitive dog sports training, service dog training)


APDT has has some great resources on helping choose the right trainer for you.

APDT is the Association for Professional Dog Trainers.

The Pet Professional Guild is an organization dedicated to positive reinforcement training.

So you’ve done your homework, selected a trainer and want to get the most out of your investment.

Take notes!

While the trainer should provide handouts for some of the activities that are taught, whether they are provided to you online or by hard copy, handouts are not the same as taking notes. You will go through quite a bit of information during each session and you won’t remember everything.

Do your homework!

When you and your trainer get together for the next lesson, you and your dog should be able to demonstrate progress. A good trainer doesn’t judge, and a good client does their homework. Everyone has a busy schedule, but if you make every interaction with your dog a productive interaction, you can accomplish homework without adding to your daily responsibilities. Ask your trainer how you can incorporate training into your normal routine!

If you don’t do your homework, your trainer will re-review and work on the same exercises as the prior week. Training should progress incrementally and steps should not be skipped. This means that you will work on lesson #1, twice, thus wasting a lesson and thus not getting the most out of your dog training investment.

Maybe you thought, during the lesson, that you could fit your homework into your usual routine and are finding that you just can’t. Call your dog trainer and discuss the challenges you are facing. Your trainer can revise your homework tasks to keep you on track and to better fit your schedule.

Clients who don’t do their homework and don’t apply what they learn are clients who end up thinking “gee, I spent $500 and my dog is not trained”.

Ask Questions!  

If you didn’t think of any questions during the lesson, email your trainer and ask them as you think of them.

Don’t Cancel Lessons!

Cancelling lessons, especially at the last minute, will likely result in loss of that lesson. Lessons that are cancelled result in an unplanned open spot on the trainer’s calendar that cannot be filled by another client. When you reserve a spot on the trainer’s calendar, that trainer does not double book that spot. You paid for the spot on the calendar so be sure that you use it!

Cancelling lessons causes delay in progressing forward with training exercises and thus slows down overall training progress.

Plan your training time with your trainer!

Private lessons are GREAT for families with busy schedules, work with your trainer to make sure that lessons are scheduled when you can give your complete attention to the lesson.

What is your usual routine? When it comes to training day, what changes should be made? Do you have young children? Are they part of the training plan? If not, who will be watching them? If so, are they ready to begin when the trainer arrives?

Cell phone? Turn it off.

Television? Turn it off.

Don’t expect guests, unless guests were planned as part of the training.

What time is your training lesson and what time do you get home? Allow ample time to get in, potty your dog, etc. If you are pulling in from your work day right behind your trainer’s vehicle that is already in your driveway, time is wasted while you get into your home, let dogs out, overcome doggie excitement that you are home, etc.

What time is your training lesson and what time do you get up? If your lesson is at 9:00 am, getting up at 8:55, or 9:05 while your trainer is ringing your doorbell impedes everyone’s ability to make the most out of that training lesson.  

Are you working outside? Do you have sneakers on or will you have to change your shoes?

Remember that you didn’t pay for 60 minutes of training, you paid for the hour of 9:00 am to 10:00 am or 6:00 pm to 7:00 pm. Or if your trainer is 15 minutes late 6:15 to 7:15. Training time doesn’t start when you are ready, it starts when the trainer arrives.

If you are outing your dog, answering the phone, managing children, getting dressed, all of those things cut into the hour, and lessen the amount of time that you and your trainer have to work together.

Have Training Equipment Ready!

Treats, Harness, Assigned Leash, Waist Belt, Treat Pouch, Tug Toy, etc. Any equipment that was assigned for the lesson, have it ready. You don’t want to spend your training time going through cabinets hoping you have treats, chopping up meat, locating the leash, etc.

Have FUN!

Your lesson should be fun! Whether you are training a puppy, or basic obedience to an adolescent or an adult dog, or fearful or aggressive dog work, or even performance sports, your training lesson should be full of FUN! You have your dog for fun and entertainment! Training lessons should be FUN! Laugh, have a good time, be silly, participate! At the same time pay attention, take notes and ask questions! If you aren’t enjoying your training lesson, absolutely let your trainer know! But be kind! Trainers have feelings too! Many changes can be made to insure that you and your dog are having a great time during training.

How to get the most out of your
Group Dog Training Class

So you did your homework and found the perfect group class! Make the most of it! Group classes are cost effective and a GREAT way to work in a distracting environment!

Make the MOST out of your group class!

Pay Attention!

If you are socializing with your family and friends, looking around the room at the other dogs, etc. you may be missing a LOT of information.


Don’t do the exercise one time. If you are working on, say, “hand targeting”, don’t stop after one repetition. Dogs learn from repetition, and so do people.   Your trainer will be looking around the room to assist, observe, and coach. If you do the exercise one time, your trainer may not have seen it, your dog probably didn’t learn it and you won’t remember how to do it at home.

Ask questions! A group class should be interactive! Your trainer shouldn’t just stand and lecture, you should have ample opportunity to work your dog, AND your trainer should ask YOU questions!

Ask questions at the end of class. When your trainer ends class after 40 minutes and says “ok, any questions?” Ask them then! Don’t wait for everyone to leave, then ask the trainer your question off to the side, your trainer may not have time to answer as there may be another class entering as your class is leaving.

Do your Homework!

Unlike private lessons, your trainer will not be able to repeat the prior lesson for you.

Be on time!

Late arrival is disruptive to the entire group class, and sets you back as well. Group training classes usually start with some form of relaxation so that the dogs and humans are relaxed and can learn. Being late causes you to miss that very important time.

You spent time, money and you’ll spend effort on dog training, make the most of it by participating, asking questions, having a sense of humor and by being a reliable client.