Many Labrador owners want to avoid trainers that use punishment, and have heard that it is possible now, to train dogs without force.
This is entirely true, and you can find out a lot more about force free or positive reinforcement dog training on this website.
Avoiding harsh trainers
Despite the massive changes that have taken place in the field of dog training in the last few years, not all trainers have kept up
Old fashioned training methods using harsh corrections are still used by some dog trainers.
So how do you go about avoiding these individuals?
How do you find a dog trainer or training class, that will help you train your Labrador in a positive and effective way?
Finding a trainer that is recommended to you by at least one friend is often a good way to be sure you will get the trainer that you want.
Bear in mind though, when acting on recommendations, that even between good friends, differences in opinion on what is the right way to handle a dog, will frequently occur.
Ask yourself also how your friend’s dog behaves.
You are looking for a class that is positive, not permissive. If you friend’s dog is well mannered and confident, that is a good sign.
What if you don’t know anyone?
Unfortunately many people, especially with a first dog, simply do not have any friends that attend dog training classes.
Others may have recently moved into the area and don’t yet know any local dog owners.
In this situation, you need to take a more formal approach.
Dog trainer accreditation
A good starting point is to find a dog trainer that is affiliated to, or accredited by , an organisation that both sets down a code of conduct, and enforces that code.
This is not a simple matter.
Enforcing a code of conduct is not an easy for any organisation because warning and even removing ‘rogue’ trainers can cause a great deal of upset on both sides.
However, the trainer’s agreement to a code of conduct is meaningless, if the organisation setting down that code does not have the teeth or the courage to strike off trainers that break the rules.
In the UK, The Association of Pet Dog Trainers and the Gundog Club both have instructor accreditation systems which are enforced, and are not afraid to remove from their registers, trainers that cannot maintain the required standard.
The Association of Pet Dog Trainers (UK)
The APDT provides a register of pet dog trainers, some of whom also instruct in specialist areas such as agility, or gundog work, which are great fun and highly beneficial for all Labradors, especially those from working strains.
Many APDT trainers hold classes in village halls up and down the country. Most will help you work through the Kennel Club’s Good Citizen scheme which is a great way to get you dog started with obedience training and basic manners.
Victoria Stillwell (USA)
In the USA TV presenter and dog trainer Victoria Stillwell, runs a network of professional dog trainers that are committed to positive reinforcement training.
You can find a Victoria Stillwell licensed Positive Dog Trainer (VSPDT) in your area using the search facility on this page
The Gundog Club (UK)
In Britain, the Gundog Club provides a growing register of specialist gundog instructors many of whom also offer general outdoor obedience classes for pet Labradors and other gundog breeds, whatever their ancestry.
Although much of the gundog training community is still quite traditional in nature, the Gundog Club has a small but increasing number of force-free trainers on its books. And all its instructors undertake not to use harsh punishments
Outdoor classes are important if you wish ultimately to have control of your dog in the countryside. And this is one of the great benefits of Gundog Club training
Neither the APDT or the Gundog Club requires pedigree papers to participate in their training classes.
The Gundog Club also provides a non-competitive national Graded Training Scheme in which all Labradors and other gundog breeds can participate. This scheme is very enjoyable for dogs and their owners.
Gundogs in the USA
In the USA the situation with gundog training is very different. The vast majority of trainers use electric collars as routine in training.
So if you prefer to train without force, you are going to need to attend pet dog training first, to get your dog to a good standard of obedience, and in order to withstand the pressure to convert to ecollar methods once you get onto fieldwork.
Go along and watch a class
Occasionally some trainers do have to be ‘struck off’ these professional registers, which brings us to the fact that Accreditation even with an organisation that enforces a code of conduct, whilst a good place to begin, is not an absolute guarantee.
Trainers cannot be disciplined until a person or persons has complained, and that complaint can only occur after the breach of conduct has already happened.
So if you are finding a dog trainer through a professional accreditation register or scheme, your next step should be to find out if they are the kind of trainer you will be comfortable with.
One of the best ways to do this is to meet them and find out.
Remember to let the trainer know what your requirements are before committing your time and his. You will need to say for example if you want positive-only training, as not all trainers offer this. And then you will need to either observe a training session before going along with your dog.
Alternatively you could an introductory ‘meet the trainer’ session, before committing yourself to a course of lessons.
Know what you want in advance
There are as many different styles of training, as there are trainers. Most take a middle road when it comes to correcting dogs, using some mild corrections, and physical contact with the dog.
The fact that a trainer uses corrections (replacing a dog in a particular position for example) does not necessarily make him a bad trainer. But no trainer should be abusive towards a dog, or use excessive force. Trainers should not get involved in a physical tussle with dogs in their class, nor should they encourage owners to do so.
If you do not want to use any corrections at all in training your dog (positive-only training), do not be put off by trainers that tell you it cannot be done.
Dog training without corrections is entirely achievable, you can read the evidence here, and you are likely to be happiest if you find a clicker training class to attend with your dog.
It is a good idea to make sure in advance that your chosen trainer offers this kind of training.
Get the basics right first
If you are looking for advanced and specialised training such as ‘gundog training’ you are likely to find fewer trainers that offer ‘positive-only’ methods.
You may have to be willing to learn from a kindly trainer with a more old-fashioned approach and to adapt his or her methods accordingly.
It will help if you get yourself a good grounding in obedience with a positive trainer before you join the advanced class. That way, your coach will be able to see that your methods work, and be more willing to help you stick with them.
When to walk away
If at any time you feel uncomfortable with the way a trainer is handling your dog, or with the things he is asking you and/or your dog to do, it is really important that you say so, and that if necessary you are prepared to leave.
You are likely to feel really dreadful afterwards, if you allow a trainer to do anything to your dog which you will later regret.
Be wary of trainers that emphasise dominance and pack leadership, you are looking to train your dog not dominate him.
Be wary also of trainers that are disparaging about other trainers or about positive methodologies. They are unlikely to be willing to accommodate your views on how you wish your dog to be treated.
A good trainer is always open to new ideas, new styles and new methods.
Help the organisation accrediting your trainer to do its job by offering feedback promptly.
Sadly many people only complain about a bad trainer, after they have discovered he/she has been struck off. Sometimes many months or even years after their own dog was mistreated.
Let the organisation know when you are pleased with your trainer too. It is great for them to know when they are getting a difficult job right.
Total Recall is a complete recall training programme for puppies and adult dogs
It’s force free and fun.
It explains how dogs learn and how you can change your dog’s behaviour. All in plain English.
You can check it out here: Total Recall
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This article was originally published in 2011 and has been extensively revised and updated