Posted by on June 21, 2018

by Kathrine Christ of Hands Full Dog Training

What is a dog trainer?

It’s not a trick question! There are a lot of different kinds of dog trainers, and you need to find the one that fits your needs.  Here are some examples of different specialities, and what these trainers do.

Pet Dog Trainer: Some trainers are knowledgeable in handling basic obedience skills like sit, down, stay, and leash manners, and may teach group classes or some basic private training lessons. They may have a certification such as a CPDT-KA (Certified Professional Dog Trainer-Knowledge Assessed) or have attended a training school like CATCH Academy. However, if they do not have advanced education in behavior problems, asking them to resolve your dog’s separation anxiety may be beyond their professional limits. Your pet dog trainer should be able to provide you with a trustworthy referral.

Behavior Consultant: A trainer working as a behavior consultant specializes in problem behaviors like aggression, anxiety, fear, house soiling, reactivity, and other issues. They might have a certification like the CBCC (Certified Behavior Consultant Canine) or CDBC (Certified Dog Behavior Consultant), an advanced science or learning degree, or a certificate from a training school like the Academy for Dog Trainers or the Pat Miller Trainer Academy. And if you call them asking for your dog to learn how to sit, they might just refer you back to a pet dog trainer!

Sports & Competition: Trainers like Denise Fenzi, Hannah Brannigan, and Margaret Simek specialize in canine competitive events. Sport dog trainers are talented and knowledgeable – but if your problem is dog/dog aggression, this isn’t the right type of trainer for you! There are no certifications for competition-specific training, but many good sport trainers have attended courses like the Karen Pryor Academy, which offers classes in sports skills, or advanced animal learning courses like Bob Bailey’s “chicken camps”.

Service Dog Trainers: This niche is specific and important. Some trainers focus on assistance dogs who will help their owners who have disabilities. If you are hiring someone to train a service dog, please ensure they have special training in this area. Not all trainers, even good ones, are willing to take on service dog training due to the extensive time commitment and detailed training involved.

Why choose a professional dog trainer?

Not everyone wants or needs a professional! There are many good books and videos out there about dog training. However, there are some good reasons to choose a professional.

  • Updated methods based on current research; the techniques you used 20, 10, or even 5 years ago may no longer be an industry best practice
  • Training opportunities you can’t create in your home, such as puppy socialization playtimes
  • Faster results – a professional can work more quickly since they are very technically accurate in the mechanical skill of training
  • Extensive knowledge beyond what can be found in owner-oriented books, such as the ability to develop a fine-tuned plan to resolve aggression toward strangers

What should you look for when hiring a dog trainer?


Your trainer should also be friendly and empathetic, not judgmental of your struggles. Pick someone who you can get along with and who doesn’t make you feel like a failure. Observe their classes if possible and ensure the instruction is gentle to humans and dogs.


There is no one path to being a pro. A dog trainer will preferably have a systematic education from a training program that emphasizes positive reinforcement and does not include use of painful tools like prong or shock collars.  They may also have a formal education in applied behavior analysis, zoology, animal science, ethology, or psychology. Other dog trainers have mentored under other professionals and acquired their knowledge from extensive assisting, books, conferences, and workshops.

Don’t pick someone who has just “been doing this a long time”, has only trained their own dog, or who has a one size fits all mentality and does not seek to continually improve their technique based on industry best practices.


Most true professionals have affiliations with other organizations and don’t operate as a ‘lone wolf’. A good trainer will want to stay in the loop on advances in the industry. Look for certifications that show your trainer’s knowledge has been reviewed by a certifying body and approved, such as the CPDT-KA or CDBC. These certifications also require continuing education.


Look for someone who advertises “positive”, “force-free”, “humane”, and “science based” methods. Avoid anyone who uses the words “balanced”, “dominance”, or “alpha”, or who specifically states they don’t use food in training. It is an industry best practice to use food in training dogs, as recommended by every veterinary behaviorist in the country. If your trainer ever recommends hitting, kicking, pinching, shocking, or choking your dog in order to change its behavior, please walk away regardless of sunk costs.


Make sure the trainer you choose fits your needs. If your dog is aggressive, don’t choose a trainer who only teaches group classes; your dog will probably spend the whole time upset, and won’t learn much. If you are short on time, you can select a trainer who will train your dog to do things like walk on a leash for you instead of one who insists that you attend every lesson. If you do so, please be very sure that they are committed to humane methods.

If your dog has serious issues, sending them away or having someone else train them may not be the best plan. You will need to learn how to read, handle, and train your dog yourself so you can help them in their everyday life. Be prepared to spend training sessions actively working with your dog in private lessons. If your issue only happens at home, you may want to pick a trainer who can come to your home instead of having to take your dog to a facility.

In summary…

there are lots of different kinds of dog trainers, with many specialities, skill levels, personalities, and service options. You know your situation and dog best, so pick a humane, professional trainer who has the service options that meet your needs!

Posted in: Pet Service Guides