5 Tips For Hiring a Dog Trainer

5 Things to Watch Out for When Hiring a Dog Trainer

Whether you’re interested in basic obedience or dealing with a more challenging behavior, there are some things you should be on the lookout for when hiring a dog trainer. If you’ve been scouring the internet looking for reputable dog trainers in your area, I’m sure you realize not all dog trainers are created equal. And a word to the wise – not everything you see on TV is accurate or even appropriate when it comes to helping your dog overcome challenging behaviors.

With that in mind, I’ve come up with a list of words or phrases that, if used by a potential dog trainer, should send you running in the opposite direction. The top three go hand-in-hand:

  1. Dominance
  2. Alpha
  3. Pack leader


Used decades ago, “dominance theory” and “alpha” methods are based on early tests of captive wolf behavior and have long since been disproved by the very scientists who conducted them. Yet with the popularity of National Geographic’s Dog Whisperer, that outdated punishment-based training method has regained popularity. Before the Dog Whisperer punishment-based, aka compulsion training, was out the door and replaced with scientifically proven methods that are based on studies and endorsed by behaviorists and experts worldwide.

According to Positive Dog Trainer Victoria Stilwell, “The misunderstanding of what dominance is and how it works within the dog world is the single biggest challenge facing our collective ability to develop truly healthy, functional relationships with our dogs. Anyone who has heard a trainer refer to the need for them to be the ‘alpha,’ ‘top dog’, or ‘leader of the pack’ in order to maintain balance and appropriate chemistry between dog and owner has witnessed firsthand just how widespread this hugely misguided misconception has become in our modern culture.”

4. Choke or prong collar – No matter what the trainer tells you, these types of collars inflict pain on your dog when s/he exhibits unwanted behavior. They may seem to work, because the bad behavior stops – at least momentarily. But the question remains whether your dog will exhibit the correct behavior once the painful collar is removed.

5. E-Collar or Remote collar (aka shock collar) – A trainer that uses these collars is administering an electric shock every time your dog exhibits an unwanted behavior. Once again, this is using pain and fear to reinforce ending negative behavior. But neither shock collars nor prong collars teach your dog good behaviors; they only serve to stop the bad behaviors…and only when the dog is wearing the collar.

I advocate using only positive, humane training, which not only teaches your dog to stop unwanted behavior, but encourages the behavior you want him or her to exhibit. To find a positive dog trainer near you, look for those who are members of the Pet Professional Guild. They endorse only force-free pet professionals. Here’s a link to their directory – just put in your zip code.

Good luck and happy training!


Shari Strader is the owner of South Paw Pet Services in Norfolk, VA. She has a personal commitment to giving dogs a better life and specializes in positive, reward based dog training. Shari conducts individual in-home dog training, clicker training, and offers group obedience classes. She has worked for and volunteered with a number of animal rescue organizations nationally and in Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia including the SPCA and Best Friends Network. She has donated time assessing, training, and rehabilitating rescue dogs and has also worked in the political arena to lobby for humane legislation to protect animals.



  1. Great info for anyone who’s thinking of hiring a dog trainer!

  2. Thanks for the tips on finding a good dog trainer. I definitely agree that someone who uses a choke collar, or an electric one, isn’t a good idea. I want my dog to be trained, but I don’t want him to be fearful, so thanks for the advice!

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