How to choose a dog trainer your family can trust

Want to be a dog trainer? Here’s how. Get some business cards printed, put “Dog Trainer” as your title, and presto. It sounds simple, doesn't it?

“But wait,” I hear you say. “That doesn’t sound right. You have zero experience, no credentials, and have never trained a dog in your life.”

Unfortunately, yes it is that simple. Dog training is an unregulated profession. Anyone can call themselves a dog trainer without an education or a license. Marc Bekoff, professor emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, calls this dog training’s “Dirty Little Secret”.

Ask your dog trainer about their methods. Don't settle.

Why qualifications matter

I don’t know about you, but I like professionals to be just that. I wouldn’t hire an electrician who wasn’t certified. And I’d take a dentist straight out of school over the guy who learned dentistry at the “school of life.” Yikes!

But, somehow, we don’t demand qualified dog trainers. And we allow ill-trained individuals to advise families about the pointy-toothed wolf-descendant who lives in our home.

Luckily, a growing number of people think this situation is unacceptable.

This week I attended a The Pet Professional Guild conference. Members of this professional body are committed to using scientific training methods, based on positive reinforcement. We get results without scaring, harming or forcing dogs. To us, it’s important to invest time and money into becoming qualified trainers.

Smoke and mirrors

Another commitment Pet Professional Guild trainers make is transparency. Some trainers hide behind confusing language and cover up their approach, but we are upfront about what we will do to your dog.

A credible trainer will give you clear answers to any question you have. They should tell you:

  • What will happen to my dog when he does something right?
  • What will happen to him when he does something wrong?

As Jean Donaldson of the Academy for Dog Trainers explains. “Demand to know what specific methods will be employed in what specific situations. Don't settle for smoke and mirrors”. You can watch Jean's informative video on transparency here.


If you don’t get crystal clear answers or if something about the trainer just doesn't seem right, don’t hire them.

Don’t let claims on websites dazzle you either. A trainer might say they use humane methods, but that could be spin. Ask them about the consequences your dog will experience.

And don’t believe a trainer who tells you prong collars, shock collars, and leash-pops don’t hurt your dog. They only work IF they hurt. Watch out for the term “balanced” trainer too. Balanced training uses harsh, aversive methods of training, not just positive reinforcement.  It’s not as humane as it sounds

Don’t settle

Hiring a dog trainer is a big decision. Don’t be afraid to be picky and shop around. As Bekoff says, “Choose a dog trainer as carefully as you would a surgeon.

If you want to find out about the methods we use at SubThreshold, book a free consultation. We won't dodge any of your questions.