Published: March 2018
Thinking about getting a dog?
Deciding whether to get a dog is a big decision and shouldn’t be taken lightly. Most breeds of dog live for 10 to 15 years, some even longer. If predictable changes in your life over that time period cannot accommodate a dog then you should not be considering owning a dog whose health and happiness is dependent on you. There is a lot of advice available on how to choose the best breed for you, choosing a rescue pet, the illegal trade in puppies (which is a big problem in the UK, see this information from the Scottish SPCA), responsible dog ownership and training etc.
It is recommended you research thoroughly to ensure you have space and time to look after and train a dog, and that you are able to afford to feed it and pay for its vaccinations and ongoing health care.
It’s far better to decide it’s not the right time for you to have a dog before you get one than to find that you’ve made the wrong decision. If more people researched properly, its likely far fewer dogs would end up on rescue and being put to sleep. Finally before you make the decision, ask yourself the question one more time: will my life be able to accommodate a dog for the next 10 to 15 years?
Understanding and training a dog
- Understanding dogs is the basis for all training. There are many books available, but this book comes highly recommended: “Bones would rain from the Sky” by Suzanne Clothier.
- Advice from the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors
- Search the Association of Pet Dog Trainers
- The Dog’s Trust – free training videos
- Animal Behaviour & Training Council
- For anyone really keen, get to know your dog better using this online course The Truth about cats and dogs – University of Edinburgh
Proactive and positive socialisation training helps your dog have positive emotional and physical responses to things that they meet. In an outdoor context, this would include training your dog to be disinterested in other people, children, other dogs, joggers, cyclists, horse riders, wildlife and farm animals that you are likely to meet. It’s a great skill for your dog to have.
If you are at all unsure about how to socialise your dog or how to improve their behaviour around other animals, please contact a reputable professional to help. Search the Association of Pet Dog Trainer
Tips on how to choose a good dog trainer
Here are some key questions to ask when looking into employing the services of a dog behaviour or training professional:
Do they have any qualifications in animal behaviour?
Some of the most knowledgeable trainers and behaviourists do not have degrees, but anyone that takes their profession seriously will have affiliated themselves to an organisation that is in line with their ethics or undertaken a range of training or seminars with reputable trainers/organisations. The Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors has a comprehensive list of accredited academic courses in the UK on their website and individuals with higher level qualifications may display letters after their name; PhD, MSc, PGDip, BSc
Do they have an accreditation or affiliation to a professional organisation?
There are a number of organisations that have set their own membership criteria and invite professionals to join for an annual fee. Being a member of these organisations allows trainers to be part of a network of like-minded trainers and behaviourists that adhere to particular codes of practice that do not advocate the use of aversive methods.
What does their website say?
A flashy website with some nice images can be an extremely effective marketing tool and portray a certain image about the professionalism of the company. However, it’s worth being cautious as a website may not be a true reflection of the training and techniques being offered.
What methods do they use?
Do they specifically state which methods they use and which methods they don't use? If not, ask them! The Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) has an extensive list of training equipment and techniques that all members must not use and this is a good guide of what to avoid from other professionals.
At the centre of APDT ethos is positive reinforcement techniques. Trainers that refer to 'pack leaders' or dominance will be adopting negatives training techniques which are not supported by APDT. A good question to ask any prospective trainer is ‘What are your views on ‘pack leadership’ and ‘negative reenforcement’ training techniques?”. An APDT accredited or aware trainer will debunk these techniques. A trainer who endorses them is not following current best practice and is probably best avoided. By reading the book by Suzanne Clothier as a starting point you will have a clear understanding why “pack leadership” or negative training techniques are not good for your dog, yourself and having a long term fulfilling relationship with your dog.
What are their classes like?
If you are thinking of enrolling in a training class, ask if you can go along to watch without your dog. Most trainers and behaviourists will be very keen that you're taking your dog's training so seriously and it is much easier to walk away from a situation you are unhappy with when you don't have your dog there too.
- Watch the dogs in class, do they look relaxed?
- If they are being vocal or look stressed, has the instructor noticed and have they taken steps to manage the situation?
- What methods are they using?
- Is the class well managed or chaotic? How many dogs are there per instructor?
Tips for choosing a professional dog walker or dog walking service
Here are some starter questions to think about:
- Does your dog have all the vaccinations he/she should have – ask your vet for advice
- If your dog walker walks more than one dog, do all their client’s dogs have up to date vaccinations and can they provide evidence of this?
- Does the dog walker have a canine first aid qualification?
- Do they carry a canine first aid kit?
- Where does your dog walker walk their client’s dogs? Will it be safe for your dog and fun?
- What number of dogs does your walker walk at any one time? Will your dog enjoy this? How does the walker manage a group of dogs?
- How do the dogs travel and how long are they likely to spend in the car/van?
- Will you allow your walker to let your dog off the lead?
- Will your dog have good recall for the walker?
- What happens in the event of extreme weather?
- If it’s wet, what facility/procedure is there to clean and dry your dog?
- Ask if your dog walker always picks up after the dogs they walk and how they dispose of the bagged waste.
- Do they have insurance? What would happen if your dog became injured, was in an accident or caused damage on a walk?
- Will the dog walker have access to your home? Are they trustworthy? How will you manage security?
- Ask for references from other clients and follow them up.
- Meet with the dog walker and see how your dog gets on with them
- What experience do they have?
- What happens if they are ill? What would their contingency plan be? More staff with similar qualifications and experience?
- What questions do they have for you?