Or how to find Mr. or Ms. Right
There often is a great deal of discussion about choosing the proper handler for your conformation dog. It should be mentioned that many of the same factors are involved in sending off a young Lab to a field trainer. It is important to do your homework, especially if you have not been involved with field work in the past.
Anyone can call themselves a “pro”. It simply means that they charge for what they do. It doesn’t necessarily mean they know anything, or that what they know is correct. It does not mean that they will take good care of your dog, that they respect all breeds of retrievers, or that they even have a “clue”. Some are very good at self-promotion; others let their dogs and the work done by the dogs they train do the speaking for them.
If you plan to send your dog with a pro, do as much research as you can to find out which pros are good, which work well with a variety of retriever breeds; which pros do not try to put a square peg into a round hole; and which pros really like dogs. You want a pro that is aware of the more current training methods, who has an open mind, and who can communicate. You want a pro who does not think that “pushing the button” on an electric collar is the only answer to any problem that may occur. You want the kennel to be immaculate and the living conditions for your dog to be excellent.
How do you find a good pro? Check with your local Clubs and see if there are members that belong who are currently working with field pros---on a day basis or through sending their young dogs off for basics. Talk to them. Remember that if you have an obedience question, you would want the opinion of someone like Connie Cleveland, not someone that has trouble putting a CD on a dog. It is the same with field work. If you are interested in hunt tests, attend some. Watch the different pros and how they relate to their dogs, how their dogs run---do the tails wag, do the dogs cringe, do they flinch from a hand raised quickly. Do the dogs looked focused, happy, and eager to work. If you can, watch how the pros interact with their clients. How do they handle the stress of competition? Even if you are not interested in competitive field trials, if there is a well known field trial pro in your area, give him/her a call and ask if they have any suggestions. Many times they will know of a very good, young, upcoming pro who has worked as an assistant and who is just going out on his/her own.
Interview various pros. Ask for a list of their previous clients as well as some of their current clients. Ask where they learned their methods. Did they do an apprenticeship? What is their philosophy regarding dog training. Go and spend a few days watching them train. Ask them to demonstrate their basic program to you. Check into what they have accomplished with dogs they have trained. Don’t let them patronize you, nor, should you come on like gangbusters. Be friendly; keep your eyes open as well as your mind. Remember, you are there to learn about them, not to tell them what you know. Any good pro should more than welcome you to check into his/her program and be willing to spend time with you. The pro should be proud of his program and what he/she has accomplished. Ask around and check with persons who have had a great deal of experience in the field as to what their opinion is of this trainer. Go with your gut. Is this someone you would want to train your dog?
The top pros have a waiting list. Also, previous clients or persons who have a track record with their dogs will get preference. The sooner you can get your name on the waiting list the better. Don’t wait until your pup is six months old to start looking around for a trainer. Tell the pro your goals and aspirations. Be realistic.
Once you have decided on a pro, and have sent your dog off, drop by and check how your dog is doing once the dog has started learning. Often, a pro wants the dog for a few weeks without you on the scene so the dog can adapt to the new environment. Ask the pro to keep you informed with regard as to how the dog is progressing. Remember to use courtesy and common sense while doing this. Pros have a life, too. You can e-mail the pro and list some questions you might have, ask when would be a good time for you to call regarding these questions, or what hours you are available if they would wish to call you. You should spend training days there working with your dog and having the trainer work with you. If a problem arises, ask how the pro hopes to resolve it. This should be done in a pleasant manner and not in an accusatory fashion. Do some further homework---read training manuals, research what your dog should be doing at different stages, etc., so that you can ask intelligent questions. Be an active member of the team, i.e., your dog, your trainer, and you. Always keep in mind that while you may have one dog with this trainer, the pro has quite a few dogs that he/she is training and other clients with whom you need to share time and attention.
It is extremely important that you pick a trainer who is the right one for your dog, not for someone else’s dog, but for yours.