The experts Wirecutter interviewed recommended hiring credentialed dog professionals, such as those registered with the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers, a program run by the Association of Professional Dog Trainers, or the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. The experts also praised the Karen Pryor Academy and Jean Donaldson’s Academy for Dog Trainers for their use of evidence-based approaches. (Both the C.C.P.D.T. and I.A.A.B.C. say pet owners should avoid programs that use punishment or pack-theory techniques because they’re not scientifically supported and are controversial in the training community.)
Certifications will help you parse through page after page of online listings — but you shouldn’t depend on the credentials alone. Experts also suggest calling references and researching a dog trainer’s training philosophy. And if that first training session leaves you unsure about the fit, it’s O.K. to say “no thanks.”
“Don’t be afraid to be picky,” Mx. Lowrey said. “If a trainer does or says something that makes you or your dog uncomfortable, leave and find someone new to work with.”
Get the right gear for practicing at home
Once you’ve consulted with a trainer, consider the gear you’ll need to reinforce good behavior at home. Obedience training often starts with mastering basic commands such as “sit,” “heel,” and “leave it” before advancing to long-distance recalls, impulse control, and flashy tricks in distracting environments.
A good collar ensures that identification tags will always remain accessible if you’re separated from your dog; it also acts as a connection point for a leash and serves as a training tool. Wirecutter recommends a flat-buckle collar, such as the Orvis Personalized Dog Collar, for most dogs. But if your dog has a slimmer head, as a whippet does, or a delicate trachea, as a Yorkshire terrier does, a limited-slip collar or harness is best. (In those cases, Wirecutter recommends the Kurgo Tru-Fit Smart Dog Walking Harness.) A 4- to 6-foot-long dog leash, such as a nylon Max and Neo leash, is ideal for beginner training situations. And a dog crate aids in housebreaking and prevents pups from destroying property indoors. (We like the MidWest Ultima Pro.)
Use a small, smelly (trainers emphasize that the smell is important) treat to reward a dog’s good behavior — think pea-sized servings of dog-friendly jerky, string cheese, or hot dogs. For dogs on a specialized diet, kibble works in a pinch. Extra praise or a tug on a favorite toy makes training fun for dogs who aren’t food motivated.
Don’t rush the process
A trainer won’t be with you 24/7, so you should also incorporate obedience training (basic cues like “sit” and “touch”) into your daily routine, such as practicing good leash manners for 10 minutes a day during your dog’s afternoon walk. The routine also bolsters good training habits, much like learning a properly seated dumbbell curl from a personal trainer. And just like when you’re exercising, in training you shouldn’t overexert yourself or your pet. “When you’re learning something new it can be exhausting. We don’t want to overwhelm our learners, which would be our pets in that case,” Ms. Askeland said.