Thoughts on “How to Find a Professional Dog Trainer”

Professional Dog Trainer Robin MacFarlane of That’s My Dog! in Dubuque, Iowa recently wrote an excellent blog post entitled, “How to Find a Professional Dog Trainer.”  She expanded on common suggestions that are found on the internet. It really is a great read and worth your time to read it in its entirety.

As a brief overview, she described how the guidelines are generally written:

  • With an agenda opposing training techniques and/or equipment than those used by the author or supported by an organization.
  • With a group class curriculum in mind and not private training  (in-home dog training or  board and train programs).
  • Discouraging people from attending a class “if dogs are wearing prong collars, choke collars or electronic collars.”  She asks “why, other than it for being a marketing agenda.”

When I started training dogs, prong collars were the main training tool I used.  It’s a great strength equalizer especially for mismatched pairs (large powerful dogs owned by small frame people).  And, prong collars, although they look barbaric, can be humanely used with no injury to the dog.  Later, my training tools switched to primarily clickers and easy walk harnesses as it was a perceived friendlier way to train.  They are great training tools but they also have their limitations with strong dogs who have a tendency to chase animals, lunge at people etc.  Additionally, many people simply don’t want to carry a clicker around when they could get almost the same result by saying a quick “good” or “yes” to mark desired behavior.

There was a time when I did not allow choke or prong collars in my classes.  This was primarily because of the dogma of the “positive training” culture I was enmeshed with.  But with time, I began to realize that this was an agenda being pushed by some people and organizations that did not serve the best interests of all dogs and their owners.  A more balanced approach to training is necessary, one which takes in all four quadrants of learning theory and not just one quadrant.

As my experience continued to evolve, I added remote training collars to my toolbox and became a remote training collar specialist.  This change came about as I searched for a more reliable humane way to get a dog’s compliance to commands among heavy distractions.  For more information about this transformation read, “How the Remote Training Collar Became an Important Tool in My Dog Training Toolbox.”

While  I still have my personal preferences for martingale collars, remote training collars and easy walk harnesses over choke and prong collars; I believe it is necessary to gauge what equipment is necessary based upon the individual dog and the abilities and preferences of the client.  This is why I do not ban a particular training tool just for the sake of banning it.  All training tools have their pluses and cons.  And, all training tools can be used humanely or abusively, dependent upon the owner utilizing the equipment.  As a professional dog trainer, it’s crucial that I serve my client best by recommending and training them on the equipment that will help them meet their training goals quickly and humanely and not pushing an agenda as some organizations would have their trainers do.

MacFarlane states and I agree with her, “The idea of making a decision based solely on the presence or absence of a tool is short-sighted. I have seen amazing trainers whose primary tool is a clicker and I have seen amazing trainers whose primary tool is a remote collar” and “A tool does not define a trainer nor their ability to help you with your dog.”  To suggest, as some so-called “purely positive trainers” (there is no such thing other than as a marketing gimmick) do, that a trainer who uses a remote training collar lacks skill in training dogs is very inaccurate and misleading.  What it does tell you is that this trainer has more tools in their toolbox than others who choose not to use these modern dog training tools.

Here are some of MacFarlane’s suggestions for finding a professional dog trainer:

  • Decide on your training goals and state them clearly with the trainer to decide if they can help you meet these goals.
  • In general terms, ask how the trainer will set out to accomplish the goals.
  • If you’re interested in private training, ask if the trainer has “before and after” video case summaries.
In summary, don’t be short-sighted on making your decision to work with a particular trainer because they use or don’t use certain training tools.  Instead, look to their experience and track record, ability to clearly teach dogs and people, and their level of professionalism. Read MacFarlane’s article, “How to Find a Professional Dog Trainer” in its entirety as this post is a quick overview and cannot do it the justice it deserves.  And, if you need hands on help, contact Professional Dog Trainer Michael Burkey at Michigan Dog Trainer.

About Michael Burkey

Michael Burkey is a professional dog trainer, behaviorist and owner of, a highly successful dog training company whose aim is to promote peaceful relationships between pets and families. Additionally, he is an expert trial witness, certified Canine Good Citizen (CGC) evaluator for the American Kennel Club (AKC), former Police K9 Handler, Search and Rescue (SAR) K9 Training Director and SAR K9 Handler, obedience and rally competitor and social worker. Dog training is a complex science and art requiring knowledge of behavioral science and learning. You can rely on Michael's experience, teaching methods, and integrity. He can be contacted at or 734-634-4152.
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1 Response to Thoughts on “How to Find a Professional Dog Trainer”

  1. I agree whole-heartedly … “A tool does not define a trainer nor their ability to help you with your dog.” What DOES define the trainer is the methods they apply while using those tools.

    Over the years I have used tools to aid in training with great results and no harm has ever come to the dogs. But then again, I’ve never misused the tools. The key is to know the tool and how to use it correctly.

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