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Updated: 3 days ago

Algorithms, search engines, crawlers and bots amirite? If you go to Google and start typing “dog tra--“ you’ll often see auto-complete recommend something like this:

Screenshot of google autosearch results for dog trainer
Google autocomplete for "dog trainer"

Fair enough. Maybe more folks in Lincoln Park search for dog training? Where does that leave us in Hyde Park or Bronzeville or South Shore? If you mouse down and select “dog training near me,” your first results will rarely be dog trainers near you. They will be advertisements from trainers and facilities that don’t even service your area. Worse, they may be trainers who employ unethical methods and use punishment to train dogs. This is probably not what you set out to find when you began your search. You’ll probably even see a few self-proclaimed “best dog trainer in Chicago.”


So how do you find modern, ethical, certified, professional “dog training near me”? What should you look for after you land on a website?


Before becoming a professional dog trainer, I worked for over two decades as a reference librarian. My google skills are exceptional. I don’t expect you or the casual dog guardian to have the right vocabulary or phrases and punctuation and Boolean operators to get you to the best site. You’re going to have to do some digging and take out the trash first.


Decide what your goals are first. What do you want to achieve? You can ask: "How do I get my dog to stop pulling?" or "How to train my puppy." Most importantly, ask if your dog will enjoy the specific training method the trainer uses. Look for positive reinforcement trainers and classes that use positive reinforcement methods. Avoid so-called “balanced” who insist they’ve been training dogs for their whole life and can fix yours. Look closely at policies listed on their sites. There may not be a shock collar in sight amid all the [generic stock] photos, but it’s bound to be there in the small print. When in doubt ask what tools they use. The answer should include a list and not a bunch of vague chit-chat about what they can do.


Do you want a dog who walks well on leash? Ask yourself what that looks like. There’s a difference between casual neighborhood walks and precision show-ring heeling. Do you want basic manners like sit, down and stay? A group class is probably your best bet. Don’t fall for someone whose social media page shows that they’ve “taught” a dog a lengthy stay in the middle of the sidewalk on the Mag Mile. Or does pack walks with a large number of dogs. That’s not practical or necessary, especially for the average dog guardian. It’s side-show showmanship and there’s a lot more going on behind the curtain!


Are you experiencing behavior issues with your dog? Like big feelings toward other dogs or humans? Look for someone who is certified and has the knowledge to take on your case. Very few trainers are qualified to handle true aggression cases. An honest trainer will let you know whether or not they are qualified to handle your behavior case, and will happily point you in the right direction if they are not. Look for differences in vocabularies: cues vs. commands, obedience vs. manners, choice vs. control. Words can give you subtle clues as to a trainer’s philosophy and if your dog would enjoy working with them.


Scour the “About” page. There you should find methods, philosophies, and certifications. Double back to the certifying body and make sure that person is listed on their site. See if they discuss their continuing education. This tells you if they’re keeping up to date with the science behind dog training and behavior. If you see out-dated terms like “dominance” or insistence that dogs are pack animals and need a leader, close your browser tab and go give your dog some belly scrinches!


Then check out their social media presence. Pay less attention to the number of followers and more to the content. Are they making grandiose statements? Talking down to dog guardians? Do they talk about the steps they took to get a dog from A to B?  Are they trying to connect with you? Are they empathetic to your circumstances? Are they experiencing the same struggles you are? (Spoiler alert: not all trainers have perfect dogs.) Are they about controlling the dogs they’re working with or helping everyone to live their best lives?


Dog training is a wild and completely unregulated industry. Living with dogs in a city as large as Chicago is difficult. Take a bit of extra time and do some research before deciding on a trainer or facility. I hope you can find someone who thinks outside of the box and knows that what we “used to do” may not be the best thing we can do going forward.


"Find the Best Trainer for You and Your Dog," Whole Dog Journal, online, May 2023



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