Questions for Your Dog Trainer

Questions for your trainer

By: Melissa Kolmar, CPDT-KA, SBA

There is another case in the news of dogs suffering at the hands of a dog trainer (this time in California). As I’ve talked about before, the dog training industry is unlicensed and unregulated. This can be a very dangerous thing for dogs if someone is using aversive tools and deprivation to “train” a dog.

I wanted to share some questions you should ask a person before hiring them to work with your dog, as well as my answers to each question.

  • What kind of equipment will you be using on my dog?
    • Any aversive tools (choke chain, prong collar, e-collar, etc.) can have far-reaching negative effects. Many dogs will be more scared or reactive with the use of these tools.


  • What will happen when my dog does something well?
    • In positive reinforcement, we reward when dogs do behaviors we would like to see more of.


  • What will happen if my dog doesn’t do something well?
    • If the dog does not do the behavior I expect or want, it is time to take a look at the training set up. Did we raise the criteria too much? Is our reinforcer valuable enough? Is the environment too stressful or distracting? I will adjust to help the dog succeed.


  • How will you know when my dog is stressed?
    • I study dog body language and look for the slightest signs of discomfort and stress. I am able to provide a list if the client does not recognize the signs themselves.


  • How will you handle my dog’s stress?
    • I will change the environment to reduce stress. That means getting distance from the stressor (person, dog, etc.) and lowering our criteria for the moment.


  • Can I be present during the entire class?
    • At New Dawn, we train your to train your dog! You are asked to be an active participant.


  • What education does your dog trainer have?
    • I studied the science of dog behavior and Applied Behavior Analysis. Then I took a national standardized test through CCPDT (Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers) and passed to become CPDT-KA (Certified Professional Dog Trainer-Knowledge Assessed).


  • Where did they learn to become a dog trainer?
    • I trained with Ann Waterbury, former owner of New Dawn, as well as doing independent study. I also studied with behaviorists through the ASPCA.


  • What additional training does your dog trainer have?
    • I am also a Shelter Behavior Affiliate (SBA). I do continuing education conferences, seminars and webinars every year. I am also Pet First Aid/CPR certified.


  • What exactly will they be doing when training your dog?
    • I will be teaching them what we want instead of punishing what we don’t want. We will use positive reinforcement (adding a pleasant consequence to increase the likelihood of behavior).


  • Does your dog trainer have any dog training certifications?
    • CPDT-KA (Certified Professional Dog Trainer-Knowledge Assessed)
    • SBA (Shelter Behavior Affiliate)