The Difference Between Good Dog Trainers and Bad Dog Trainers

Happy Dogs Look Happy

I can tell if someone is a good dog trainer or a bad dog trainer simply by looking at the dogs that they train!

You might think this is a gift or a skill that has been honed after the over 20 years experience that I have with dog training, but the truth is it is pretty obvious.

Dogs that are trained by a good/fair dog trainer are happy.

Dogs that are trained by a bad/unfair dog trainer may be one or the other happy, because they don’t have training or trained.

The dogs who are “trained” will seem like they have lost their spark.  Their tails will be down, their ears may be tucked and there will be no happy spring in their step.

The truth is that they are just cautiously waiting and praying not to make a mistake because they are fearful of the “correction” that will ensue.

There is a video that has gone viral of a guy with about 5 German Shepherd Dogs heeling with him around the city, doing various down stays etc.

And, while their obedience is good, their demeanor is sad.  They don’t look happy.  At one point a lady speaks to one and he turns his head like he is about to get a shock correction.

I feel bad for them.

A Friend of Mine

A friend of mine called me the other day.

He has a happy dog, but let’s just say the dog “lacks” a little in the training department.

The dog or I suppose I should say puppy is about 6 months old and he is known to steal objects and run around not listening.

He is certainly a happy puppy but he is also certainly not well trained.  And, his behaviors are not only life threatening (the chances of him grabbing something deadly while running off leash and not listening are exceptionally high) they are also disturbing to the people he visits and occasionally himself.

Frankly the dog needs a little more structure and obedience and a little less freedom and play, at least until these problems are conquered.  If he kept him on a leash for a week or two in the house he could teach him what is and is not appropriate and teach him where to potty.

What he doesn’t need is a “beating” or worse…

Worse than a beating?

Not the Picture of Happy Heeling

Not the Picture of Happy Heeling


He called me because he is visiting (living with for a few months) a friend, and his friend also has a puppy.

The friend’s puppy is about a month younger, so let’s say about 5 months old.  And they are currently taking their puppy to a trainer in their area.

And, of course his friend is disturbed by his puppy’s behavior so he recommended the trainer he has been using.

The problem is, that during the first session with the 5 month old puppy, the trainer choked the puppy out.

I am going to wait for most of you to read that last sentence again, since I know at first you think you didn’t read it right.

It’s True

The puppy about 20 weeks old snarled at the trainer when the trainer went to force the puppy into a down position.

There are a lot of puppies who either don’t like, or are scared of being forced into doing something.

Fight or flight kicks in and some puppies choose “FIGHT” and displace signs of aggression even though the feeling might be one of fear.

Apparently this trainer didn’t care, because he snatched the puppy up by his collar and choked him until he stopped fighting, which was essentially when he passed out from lack of air.

Yes, I Am Horrified

Yes, I am horrified.  I can’t believe trainers like this still exist, much less that an adult man could cause this kind of emotional and physical trauma on an adult, much less a PUPPY!

The other problem is that his friend still thinks this dog trainer is a good trainer.

I foresee lots of abuse in this dog’s near future misrepresented as “training”, and once this puppy’s spirit is completely broken, it will be difficult if not impossible to fix him and teach him to trust.

This is the kind of dog that cowers when given a command.  These dogs often keep their tails tucked and avert eye contact.  They know if they don’t perform to the expectations of owner or trainer they will be physically forced and abused.

Sometimes these dogs look well trained and well behaved to the untrained eye, and perhaps in essence they are, but they are NOT happy.

I like a happy face staring up at me

I like a happy face staring up at me

My Dogs

My dogs are happy!

They prance with their tails held high, their eyes affixed on me and my every movement, and joy in their step.

I can whisper a command I don’t have to shout it!

This is because I use positive reinforcement and PLAY to teach them.  If they make a mistake it isn’t earth shattering.  No one is going to be beaten, much less hung if they don’t listen.

I ask myself, “What am I doing wrong” when my dog does not comply!  Because the truth is with good and effective communication my dog will want to listen!

I remember the first Protection Title I put on my dog.

We were new to competition and I still really don’t like competition much but she did great; head held high tail wagging.

A short time after we found out about our results (she was top) I was approached by an older lady who was volunteering to raise funds so that police dogs could get bullet proof vests.

Her first question to me was, “Was I new to this?” and “You train positively don’t you?”

Both of course were “yes” and she described how all the other dogs looked like they were scared to comply or didn’t comply at all and even the ones who did hung their heads and tails.  She was impressed my dog’s tail was up the whole time.

That is probably the nicest compliment I can get, because it shows me through the eyes of someone else, how my dog sees me!  That is the true testament of greatness.

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  1. Max says:

    I was hoping Minette could give some advice. I have a nearly 6 month old golden retriever (english cream variety) puppy, who is now 52 pounds, he’s beautiful and is going to be big! We got him about 9 weeks old and immediately started “puppy school” at the local petstore using positive reinforcement methods. The dog is very smart and learned all his commands very quickly. He was indoor potty trained using a bell on the door within 4 weeks. We have never laid a hand on the dog, except when he was nipping at my daughter (offered him distraction toy and if that didnt work, closed my hand gently over his muzzle to keep it closed until he relaxed as instructed by the vet and pet store) and he is taken care of at the highest standards…this dog leads a charmed life, as he should.
    The problem is, he is very smart….but extremely stubborn. I purchased, watched, and used the methods on the videos from this website from the very beginning since we had him, and while I know my Max knows his commands, he continues to ignore them unless he feels like doing it.
    The problem now is that he is becoming very aggressive to me. I am, I believe, calm and assertive in my behavior towards the dog. He does not have the same behavior towards my husband. If he doesnt want his leash on, he turns his head to the side and nips/bites me repeatedly. If he doesnt want to walk, he bites the leash, and when I tell him “leave it” he bites me. If after being told to “get off” the couch or my daughters bed, he doesnt comply, I pat his rump or gently take his collar to guide him down, he bites me. He has never broken the skin, and I know if he really wanted to hurt me he would, but I can’t have a dog biting me and a wrestling match every time he needs to do something he deems unsuitable. Everybody just keeps saying “he’s just a puppy, he wants to play” but its more that that. I really think I have a dog that is telling me, just like my 4 year old with a temper tantrum “YOU Can’t make me!”
    He also, as a puppy which I know is normal, wants to see and meet every dog and person that passes us while we walk. Unfortunately, he barks while lunging at them (the older dogs in the neighborhood he plays with bark, and he learned this by example), tail wagging happily (not on point or aggressive in nature, from my observations). The problem is he is getting very big, and not all dogs or owners want friends while walking 🙂 We have been taking him nearly every place we go that allows dogs (restaurants, coffee shops, shopping centers) since he came home with us, but now this is not possible due to this behavior.
    He has not been neutered, as Im sure that will be a question. We are planning on it, but with the recent study on golden’s about the significant increase in hip dysplasia and cruciate ligament tears, as well as some cancers, we were trying to wait until about a year old, if we can, to decrease the risk of these things happening to our pet.
    We got a new trainer who has us using a chain collar, not prong collar for “corrections” and teaching leash walking. We are using a can with some pennies in it to shake when he jumps on the counter, couch or bed, and it seems to be working without having to use the collar. I have tried the “spray can” noise and he just laughs at it. I have tried the bitter tasting spray (in his mouth, on my arm, etc) but he doesnt seem to mind it.
    I am very frustrated. I feel like we have done everything right. I LOVE this dog, and I want him to grow old with us. But I just dont know what to do next to get him to stop this aggressive behavior.
    There must be some happy medium between the positive reinforcement only training and the “pack leader” philosophy, because what we are doing sure doesnt seem to be working…HELP!!
    Any advice would be appreciated. Thank you.


    Minette Reply:

    The first thing I have to say is since I can’t see him I can’t see how serious he is about the aggression.

    Your very best bet is to find a veterinary behaviorist to help witness what you describe and put you all on a behavior modification program to help.

    You can be referred to a behaviorist or find them at veterinary colleges; although some big cities have them. For more on why I use a vet behaviorist and not a “trainer” read this

    I am afraid that “corrections” will make him more aggressive. And, the recent killing of a dog owner by his dog only makes this more prominent in my mind.

    Beyond that I would say that I am a promoter of spay and neuter because the hormones and the behaviors that they cause can be worse.

    In most cases, unless you are going to do very active and very physical sports (like competitive agility throughout his life, flyball competitions, or protection sports) neutering isn’t going to make much of a difference for his dysplasia and ligaments. The dogs in the worry zone are the ones that are constantly physically pushed to their limits. So if he was a person he’d grow up to be a marathon runner etc.

    And, as I sit here both of my dogs are neutered so I practice what I preach. I would rather deal with the maybes of cancer than the “For sure” of dominance and aggression that comes with hormones and I think you are seeing “for sure” signs of that.

    At my house I use a program of privileges. My dogs stay on a leash until they earn the privilege of coming off. So I don’t have to confront them when they steal something or jump up, I have a leash and can just pluck them off.

    I don’t like penny cans etc. because I don’t want to foster fears. Just the other day I was out running my dog when a jackhammer was going off over us on the bridge. I don’t want a dog to run away when he hears loud noises or to have a negative connotation of that.

    I think that if you use a leash and make him comply and do more obedience you will probably see a difference pretty quickly.

    I also think he probably needs more exercise. I make my puppies “retrieve” and chase a flirt pole as exercise before I can really RUN them for exercise (he does have to mature before you can run him next to a bike etc. or you can cause structural damage.)

    But I caution you with the aggression that it would probably be in your best interested to have a veterinary behaviorist see it and give you their personal advice and recommendations so you won’t get bitten badly.

    And, just because it is “positive” doesn’t mean there are not repercussions for bad behavior. My dogs are very well rewarded for good behavior, and privileges are very promptly lost for bad behavior and I am or at least try to be very consistent.


  2. Dawn says:

    I have a 2 year old Vizsla/Lab mix who is VERY much still a puppy! She knows her basic commands like sit,stay,come and laydown (and has since she was 6 weeks old) she is too smart for her own good! The problem I am having with her is, she steels things…she will steel dish towels, clothes, socks, pretty much anything she can get into her mouth and even though she knows the command for drop, she refuses to listen and the only way to get her to release is offering a treat but I dont want to reward her for being naughty but otherwise she gets aggressive when my husband or I try to take the item from her. I know this is her way of getting attention, but I was wondering if you had any advise on how to break this habbit. Thanks so much!!


    Minette Reply:

    I do!

    This is what I do at my house


  3. Kameryn says:

    I have a puppy that is about 9 or 10 months old, and I am going to dog training classes, but the lady tugs too hard on the collar, and makes some dogs whimper. Her dog that is trained constantly looks like he is scared to do something wrong. When we go to the training, my dog gets sad. She listens, but how can I make her happy?


    Minette Reply:


    Training should be a joyous game not a punishment


  4. Anita says:

    Is there any way to report “bad” trainers? I took my dogs to a so -called certified trainer, though she isn’t listed on any of the main training associations (CCPDT, APDT etc,) This woman does NOT understand even basic dog behavior, body language, and teaches (preaches) illegal things. For instance, that services dogs MUST always wear an “official service dog vest) and that anyone can ask 3 questions of the SD team 1. What is your disability 2. Will you demonstrate what your dog does for your disability 3. May I see your SD registration? Once during a class for CGC (though she mostly teaches tricks, barely touches on CGC material) a large dog kept trying to greet the other dogs (she allows no greeting, ever) finally he did a playful lunge, as if to bait the oother dog into a game of chase. She yanked the other dog up into her arms by the leash, screamed at the large dog owner to get it out, its aggressive. All other “students” were shocked and all tried to say that it was an obvious “play” lunge, no growling, biting, raised hackles, ears back etc. She charges 200.00 yet, kicks people out of class for almost no reason, yet won’t give refunds.

    (I have an SD, though she repeatedly yelled at me in front of everyone that it must be fake since I dont have an SD vest on my dog, and no “certification card” I am also a dog trainer in training so to speak, I only lack a few more hours of volunteer work and 40 training hours. I am going to her only for my non SD dog’s GCG and help with his bahavior issue of lunging to play, rather than asking in a more docile way. I thought I could also pick up some new training techniques, and/or help.


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