A few weeks ago I saw a great poster circulating on Facebook. It asked ‘What are you Paying For’? and the gist of it was, when you pay for the services of a dog trainer, do you know what you are paying for? When you get a new dog or puppy, attending a training course can really help you to get started on the right foot with your pup, not allowing bad habits to creep in that are harder to correct later and ensuring that you raise a happy, well adjusted dog. You may be comparing courses based on how close they are to you, what dates, days and times they run on and how long for. Cost of the classes may also be a consideration.
When people think about what the fee they pay for a dog or puppy training course covers, they often think of the immediate costs, the trainer’s time spent taking the classes and maybe the venue hire. Of course the costs also need to take into account the day to day running of a business (website, advertising, fuel for travel) but that’s it right? Actually there’s quite a lot more to it than that…
When you research a trainer you may see that they may have letters after their name or professional memberships. This generally adds a little weight to the trainer’s credentials, but have you ever looked into what they are, what they mean and what it cost the trainer to get them? Here are a few dog training organisations in the UK and what you need to do and pay to join:
- IMDT (Institute of Modern Dog Trainers) – membership is granted to successful applicants after an assessment comprising; two mock 121 training consultations (a rescue and a puppy); conducting a 20 minute training class and; an oral Q&A. There are two levels of membership, student and full, and this is decided based on your score on the assessment – both levels are able to use the letters iMDT after their name. The IMDT offer an array of theory and practical courses for you to become a dog trainer and to prepare you for the assessment. Membership may be revoked if a member breaches the Code of Ethics and membership expires after 2 years, at which point the trainer must repeat the assessment to maintain their membership status. Membership Cost: £276 assessment, £84 membership fee for 2 years.
- BIPDT (British Institute of Professional Dog Trainers) – membership is granted upon passing the 7 day Instructor course – which is reputably one of the most intense courses around. Successful attendees can simply pass or ‘graduate with honours’ at one of 4 different ‘grades of excellence’ (from Assistant Instructor, through to Advance) in 4 different disciplines, Agility, Obedience, Working Trials or Field Trials. There are 4 different levels of membership dependent on which difficulty level you pass at. No retakes are necessary for the BIPDT, but members may wish to progress their membership level by repeating the course at an increased level of difficulty. Course Cost: Not published, but not cheap, it is a 7 day residential course & assessment.
- APDT UK (Association of Pet Dog Trainers UK) - membership is granted to successful applicants via an assessment, which comprises a written aspect (multiple essay questions on dog training theory, methods and tools), an observed 1 hour training class and an oral Q&A. No retakes are necessary, but membership will be revoked if a member breaches the code of conduct. The APDT offer a training course at 2 different levels for applicants wishing to train as a dog trainer, but membership is not included in this, students will also need to book onto the assessment separately. Membership Assessment Cost: £120, £65 membership fee payable each year.
- ADTB (Academy of Dog Training and Behaviour) – membership is granted after successful completion of 6 online courses and members can call themselves ‘ADTB Online Graduates’. Members can also apply for a practical assessment to become an ADTB Approved Instructor. Approved Instructors can lose their affiliation with the ADTB if they breach the principals, this rule does not apply to ‘Graduates’ however, you can be a graduate as long as you pay the membership fee. Cost to become a ‘Graduate’: £195, £35 membership fee payable each year.
- GODT (Guild of Dog Trainers) – membership is granted after consideration of a completed application form containing reference details from 2 other ‘canine practitioners’. There are 3 main levels of membership, which are granted depending on your level of experience, education and on the receipt of the references. Membership is renewed annually will not be renewed if you breach the rules of the GODT. Controversially the GODT do not reject punitive training methods and tools (including e collars) and actually promote their usage, claiming this is 'balanced' training. Membership Fee: £35-75 dependent on membership level.
- KCAI (Kennel Club Accredited Instructor) – membership is granted after receipt of an application form and members then begin to compile a portfolio to demonstrate (via self-assessment) underpinning knowledge and experience levels, members with less than 3 years’ experience are Student Members, members with over 3 years’ experience are Members . Once a Member has 5 years practical experience as a dog training instructor and has a completed portfolio demonstrating a certain level of knowledge, they can apply for an assessment to become an Accredited Instructor. Cost: £78 to join, £54 to renew each year, £120 to be assessed to become an Accredited Instructor.
As you can see there is a wide range of dog training organisations out there with a wide array of ways to gain membership, some more thorough and stringent than others – with a variety of costs associated with the membership. Always check out the credentials a trainer has listed against their name. This is just the tip of the iceberg however, any trainer who has passed the membership assessments associated with some of these organisations will have attended many training courses and seminars to continue their professional development and bought and spent time reading and watching many training books and DVDs. This is not cheap for the trainer to do, but it means that their clients should be receiving up to date, scientifically sound training information and being taught positive, logical methods from a trainer who has been independently assessed and who has agreed to follow strict codes of conduct/ethics. Who would you rather spend your money on? Someone who has spent the time and money on improving their knowledge and demonstrating that they are an adept trainer, or someone who doesn’t bother?
It may surprise you to realise though that there is no regulation around dog trainers – anyone can set up as a dog trainer. So if you feel that you need the services of a dog trainer what should you look for? This isn’t an exclusive list, but here are some pointers:
- Experience – although this shouldn’t be the only aspect you consider - someone could’ve been a bad trainer for many years!
- Professional membership of a reputable training organisation. Preferably look for one that demonstrates that the trainer has been assessed in a practical way – it is one thing to understand the theory, it is quite another to be able to execute it under pressure in a class! Be aware of anyone saying that their experience trumps membership to these organisations – most professional trainers are only too pleased to undergo the assessments needed for membership and make the renewal payments because it demonstrates that they are adept trainers. Also research the ethics of the organisation they belong to – chose a trainer who is a member of an organisation utilising positive techniques.
- Be careful before you assume that someone displaying letters after their name indicates that they are a qualified dog trainer. Occasionally this may be a completely unrelated degree or qualification. Always investigate letters further, particularly if it is not clear what they are for – anyone with relevant credentials is usually only too pleased to tell the world about them!
- Look for positive only trainers – trainers who utilise positive reinforcement methods in their training. Anyone calling themselves ‘balanced’ usually uses a fair degree of punishment in their training approach, claiming that positive only cannot work with the dogs that they do - this is simply not true.
- Check whether they’ve been on any relevant courses recently. Many trainers list the courses that they’ve attended on their website to demonstrate their commitment to keeping up their own professional development. This is a sign of a good trainer, one who is continuing to learn.
- Insurance – check that the trainer has the necessary insurance required for the training they do.
If you are going to be spending your hard earned cash on the services of a dog trainer, you owe it to yourself (and your dog!) to do your research when selecting a trainer. Be a savvy shopper! A good trainer will set you and your dog up with skills that will last a life time, which will soon make the price of that course or the 121 consultation pale into insignificance. Look into the credentials of the trainer, talk to them about the training they offer, ask to see a class before you sign up. Find out what you are really paying for!
Corrine is a member of the APDT (MAPDT 01181), a student member of the IMDT and a member of the Pet Professional Guild too. She has attended a wide range of courses that she has listed on her website.