Anyone can call themselves a dog trainer or behaviorist. There is no national school or certification. As a result its important to be able to tell the difference between a professional dog trainer and one who just says s/he is a professional trainer. Things to look for:
Ask where the person got their education, who they mentored with, and the last time they were at a conference. Be weary of certifications. Even though there are some wonderful organizations that test and certify trainers, many on-line schools will also certify a trainer after they have complete a simple on-line course.
How many hours of hands on dog training experience does the person have? This is important. It is easy to read a few books and say you are a dog trainer, but without extensive hands on experience, you don’t know if the person is really able to appropriately assess and modify dog behavior.
Ask to speak to former clients. Ask these clients if they enjoyed the class and if their dog showed improvement. These testimonials are often the best indicator of a trainer’s ability. Also, ask your veterinarian or other trainers in the area what they think of the trainer and her/his ability.
Size of class
Ask the trainer how many dogs they allow in a class at one time. If its over six, be concerned. Higher numbers in a class show that the trainer is more interested in making money then helping you or your dog improve. Some trainers also offer private classes that can allow you to receive customized training for your individual situation and needs.
Find out what they believe and why. A balanced trainer will be educated on different philosophies and methodologies even if s/he doesn’t use them. Look for someone who takes a well rounded approach to dog training.
Does the trainer promise to make every dog an obedience or agility champion? Not all dogs and owners are capable of this level of training so if the trainer promises you the world they may just be trying to sell you on their class or service.
Make sure that the trainer is easy to understand. Ask her/him about their teaching method. You want someone that not only trains the dog, but also stops to explain to you what they are doing, why, and how you can apply it to your specific situation.
Unless you are training for an advanced obedience title, be aware of using trainers that charge a large flat fee for an unlimited amount of classes or consultations. If done right, training should be completed in 4-10 weeks and the learning should be permanent.