Finding a skilled and experienced trainer can be a little tricky. This is a big topic, which we will go further in depth in future blogs, but here are some good things to look out for in the meantime.
Certifications are a tricky topic. Just because a trainer has a certification does not mean they are a skilled trainer. There is no official governing body within dog training. Certification programs can be created by anyone, and every certification has different requirements. If you're looking at a trainer with certifications, do some research to know what is involved to get that certification (time it takes, spectrum of topics covered, training methods that are learned, practical application/hands on experience that is required, etc). A lot of these certification programs require very little hands on application, so they may be knowledgeable in theory but they may not have the ability to effectively apply that to the real world.
Another thing to look at is if that particular trainer does dog sports or other activities with their personal dog(s). You shouldn't just look at if they do dog sports in general, but how they do those sports. Do they compete in 1 or 2 sports but have gone to a high level? If so, they most likely have a very specialized knowledge base. Or do they participate in a variety of dog sports? If they do that, their breadth of knowledge is greater. They are also able to take concepts from one sport and apply it to another. Which helps with training in general because dogs are individuals and require and individual approach to training. For non-dog sport activities, do their dogs have advanced obedience skills such as reliable off leash training? Do they take their dog into public settings and it is relaxed at the brewery or can they go into a dog friendly store and it listens to cues/commands? If they demo with their dog in class or at events, is it focused and demonstrates the skills or do they have to be on leash because they are distracted or pulling to try and say hi to other people/dogs? We have worked with many other trainers from various training facilities. Some trainers clearly have a lot of skills on their dogs, and other trainers clearly don't have much control of their dog. If a trainer can't get basic or advanced skills on their own dogs, I am going to question if they can do so effectively with client dogs as well.
Everyone always asks about experience. While experience is good, you can't necessarily just go off of how many years they have been training. Make sure to take a look at what kind of training they have done. Programs like Day Training or Board and Trains may get fairly reliable behaviors in a short time frame, but often times they lack the owner-education component. But the trainer gets a ton of hands on experience. A trainer that has all their experience in Private lessons and Group classes sees the most dogs, but does not get a whole lot of hands on experience. They can be very good at explaining theory, but they don't necessarily have the hands-on practice of applying that theory.
You should also look for proof in the pudding- make sure to read over reviews and dive into their social media. You should be able to see the final picture of the dogs they are training. If you only see dogs doing the basics, ask yourself if the trainer is capable of training passed the basics. Also, look at the demeanor of the dogs, are they doing commands promptly and enthusiastically the first time asked or do they seem stressed, unsure, etc.
What methodologies the trainer uses is also important to research. While this particular topic is huge (we will do a separate post that goes more in-depth), here are some things to keep in mind. The most important thing is to know if they appear to have a thorough understanding of all 4 training quadrants. You should be cautious if a trainer refuses to use quadrants or is overly opinionated on one quadrant over the others. Skilled and experienced trainers understand that all dogs aren't the same and all 4 quadrants have their benefits and downfalls. A skilled trainer is able to assess the dog and modify those quadrants to best fit what that individual dog needs and how to best use them for that dog. I would caution working with trainers that use fear mongering language such as "Fear Free/Pain Free" those trainers tend to be ignorant and do not have a good understanding of the 4 quadrants. I would caution working with trainers who guarantee results on a specific timeline as these trainers often will use as much force as necessary to get the result. Finally, I would also caution a trainer who doesn't use rewards (such as food, toys, access to things the dog wants, etc.) especially at the beginning or learning phase of training.
At the end of the day you need to find a trainer that you vibe with, you respect their opinions, and you are making progress. Dog training can be a slow process, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't be seeing at least incremental improvements. If you have kept the lines of communication open with your trainer and you have made them aware of the things you are still struggling with, but aren't seeing any progress with their suggestions, don't be afraid to find a new trainer!