How Do You Check Out A Dog Trainer?

How Do You Check Out A Dog Trainer?

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Sam Basso
PHOENIX , AZ AREA: (602) 708-4531
OR, if you are out of this area, inquire about a telephone or e-Lesson
Email: [email protected]  

I trained Bunker the Dog, who appeared on national TV. This was then followed up by a magazine cover story which was then in all major bookstores across the US.

HOW DO YOU CHECK OUT A DOG TRAINER? Get References! I can ALWAYS provide references. Anyone can say anything on a web page. Every dog you see here on my web page was trained by ME. There are no public domain photos here, either taken or purchased, of dogs that I didn’t train. Every story here can be verified. Every person has a name and address and phone number. So, do your homework. Meet me, talk to my references, see me work a dog in person if necessary… in other words: LET’S KEEP THINGS HONEST

Look, I know you are shopping around for an expert because you love your dog. I put my credibility on the line, by being an open book, so you know it will be ME training you and your dog, and that you know you are dealing with a reputable and capable person. Meet me in person in advance, if you wish.

I’ve seen a lot of stuff over the years. There are things that, in my opinion, are red flags, which then require a lot of research before you go any further. Do your homework and verify claims, experience, methods and so forth. Here’s what I’ll say, and then you be the judge: Be especially wary of anyone who

a.) Takes your money, non-refundable, up front before they have even seen your dog; don’t you want to meet the person FIRST before giving them money? Shouldn’t they assess your dog and THEN recommend a plan? I have no problem paying someone for their time, and neither should you. But, I can tell you of past customers, here, in the Phoenix area, who put up hundreds of dollars non-refundable, only to want to fire the trainer before the first lesson commenced, and couldn’t get their money back! Even worse is being made to sign a contract even before you’ve met the dog trainer. You need to meet a trainer before you hire them. I don’t use written contracts – we do business on a handshake, and I publish my training and business Rules for everyone to see here on my web page.
b.) Whose entire business revolves around using and selling electric collars to address behavior problems (what good is that going to do for house training, for example?), and I’d really ask a lot of questions before I let anyone put an electric collar on any dog for any reason; they have very limited applications, in my experience; [Please Read: Let’s Talk About Electric Collars ]. I’m also concerned about trainers who will muzzle a dog all day. Muzzles have their place in working with aggressive dogs, to make the lessons safe, but they shouldn’t be left on a dog unsupervised. An upset dog can vomit into a muzzle, breathe in the vomit, and suffocate. A muzzle can come off a dog, trapping a dog’s mouth wide open, and injuring the dog as the dog panicks and tries to get it off. Treadmills are OK for exercise, but not if the dog is left unsupervised. Dogs can fall and get trapped in the moving machinery.
c.) Who says they have operations in multiple states (in other words, ask if you will get training by a franchisee or employee instead of by the head trainer; and then verify if they even do business in those other states). Besides, don’t you want to hire a specific person, not a company, to train your dog?
d.) Who can’t prove they trained the dogs in their own advertising, and can’t give you multiple customer references for you to call today. Seriously, how hard is it to take current pictures of the dogs you train? Or give you names and phone numbers of past customers? And if you have a training facility, pictures of the place your dog is going to stay? And I’d like to see current, clear pictures of the person I’m going to work with: a picture tells a thousand words. I have seen very nice training facilities over the years, and places where you wouldn’t even want to get out of the car. I remember one place I saw, years ago, that was in the absolute worst part of town, smelled like urine from the parking lot, and when I entered the trainers there had all been drinking a bit too much alcohol. I got out of there. I’m also wary of slick salesmen, and pushy sales pitches. I’ll never put the “sell” on you. Call me, and you’ll see. Plus, I don’t work with everyone, even if they offer me the money. I’ll work with any trainable healthy dog, but there are people I won’t work with.
e.) Who promises unbelievable results and guarantees they can solve any problem, and doesn’t seem to ask anything of you except your money. Dog training is work. I earn my fee. Ask anyone. I don’t offer magic formulas. Don’t offer guarantees. Don’t claim to be Number One. Don’t claim to be a Guru, Psychic, Mystic, or Shaman. Don’t claim to be The Best. I don’t do any of that silliness, and besides, how do you prove that stuff anyways? Ask my customers. I’ll let them speak for me. No one, not even Cesar Millan, promises they can fix any dog or problem. Let’s say the problem is that the dog is living in an impossible situation in a hectic and abusive home? What if the dog has been so severely abused that it is never going to be 100% all right ever again? Have you read adoption information from rescue groups and shelters about their dogs? Haven’t you seen that they sometimes say it is a dog that shouldn’t be in a home with kids, or cats, or another dog? They aren’t lying. And some breeds were bred to be a certain way. Sighthounds are going to chase prey, guard dogs are going to growl and bite intruders, terriers are going to hunt for lizards and rodents and bark and annoy your neighbors if left for hours unsupervised in your yard, and so forth. Training can’t overcome breeding or breed type. So, if you put a dog into a situation that doesn’t fit the breed, and that annoys you, it isn’t the dog’s fault.
f.) Who bought their way into the business. Just belonging to a franchise doesn’t make you a good dog trainer. Seriously, let’s say you invest $10,000 to pay to belong to a franchise, does that mean you know more about dog training the next day? If I joined a franchise today, would that make me a better dog trainer AT ALL? What it would do is get me better visibility on the internet because of the shared advertising costs, but it wouldn’t cause me to relate to your dog or family any better. I couldn’t say that just because I belong to a franchise that I can use other people’s resumes to back up my own. I started full time in 1997. I’ve paid my dues, and all that I say here can be verified. I didn’t buy a name, I made this business by learning from the best and training a lot of dogs.
g.) Who relys on paid advertisements for visibility rather than earning it through years of being in business. The listings you see at the top, when searching Google, are paid ads. Pay enough money, get to the top of the page. A NEW dog trainer could do this by paying for ads. That stuff means NOTHING regarding experience, ethics, etc. Yes, I will do paid ads from time to time, but that isn’t the same thing as being able to prove your skills, and giving current references for you to check out.
h.) Who Won’t Return Phone Calls. If you call, text or email me, I’ll get right back to you, regardless of the day. I do turn my phone off when I hike in the mountains, and when in a movie. I usually won’t answer a call during a lesson with another student. But, after the hike, movie, or lesson, I’ll get right back to you. I don’t play games. Call me any time, day or night, and I’ll pick up the phone, or get back to you as soon as possible. If you call me at 2 am, I’d hope that it is important. I have taken calls in the middle of the night, however. Those calls are usually current or past students, calling because their dog appears to not feel well and wanting to know if they should take their dog to the veterinarian. Look, if you think your dog is sick enough to ask at 2 am, GET YOUR DOG TO THE EMERGENCY VET IMMEDIATELY. I rarely get a 2 am call from someone who is asking a training question, however.
i.) Who Won’t Let You See Your Dogs While Being Trained. This is a big warning sign. First, dogs don’t obey people they haven’t worked with, so if you aren’t incorporated into the training, you are wasting your money. Second, abusive trainers are known for hiding their abusive methods. I am an open book. I WANT you there, to learn, and to master the techniques. You are not only paying for your dog to learn new things, you are paying for YOU to learn new things. Abusers are in it for the money. Beware. This is the same tactic that puppy mills employ to keep you away from their filthy operations.
j.) If They Do A Board And Train Program, Won’t Let You See How Your Dogs Will Be Housed: This is another big warning sign. It’s obvious that you should check out any facility before placing your dog in someone’s boot camp: is it clean; escape proof; safely constructed; not stressful for your dog; air conditioned in the summer and heated in the winter; etc.? Can you visit your dog during training? What methods will be used? Who will be doing the training? Can I talk to some references? Is someone with the dog 24 hours a day, 7 days a week? Is there a sprinkler system? Is there a web cam so I can watch my dog and the training? Is your facility licensed and zoned for this kind of thing? Do you put electric bark collars on the dogs? MOST IMPORTANTLY: Can I get some veterinary references? Flaky boarding /boot camp operations won’t have a good vet reference.  You want to talk to the vet they use in case of emergencies, and you want to find out the history there. If the vet has never been called, if the vet has never visited the facility, and the business has been in operation for years, then it is not a good reference.
k.) Who Fakes Their Credentials. This is a major problem in the dog training world. There are many ways to become a good dog trainer. But, there is no good in being a liar. I’ve written all over this web page how I got my experience and training. And you can verify it. I don’t fake how many dogs I’ve trained. Seriously, how many trainers have personally trained thousands and thousands of dogs, for example? No one person can do that. If you ran a large group class program for a number of years, then you can say that provided you explain that it was in groups. It’s not right to claim you’ve been training dogs for 50 years when in fact you started a year ago. It’s not right to post pictures of dogs doing obedience, claim you trained those dogs, when you didn’t. This is why I offer everyone that you can call my references and check out my background. I hate dishonesty, and so should you. I’m a very good dog trainer, and you can verify that pretty easily. I’m sure there are better dog trainers around, and I don’t go around claiming I’m the best. How would that be measured? Seriously, can a man or woman who’s been training dogs for 5 years go out and claim they are the “best” dog trainer in the country? And what independent, third party gave them this rating? There is NO independent organization that rates dog trainers as to their quality. There ARE ways to check out references, including doing a background search of the trainer and references on the internet, such as and other such websites. You can also usually tell how long someone has actually been in business by going to and entering their web page address; I’ve seen phony claims over the years about how long people have been in business… yes, the web is a new thing, but still, this kind of research is a clue to honesty and how long someone has been around. Check me out: My web page was created April 16, 2001. I started full time training in 1997. A LOT of new guys have come into the market with the whole Cesar Millan / “dog whisperer” phenomenon, but that doesn’t mean they have a lot of experience. Most are just “ham and eggers”, beginners with a web page.

There are three types of training:

Do It Yourself Training, which is what you have now. It doesn’t work, your dog isn’t mannerly, isn’t fun, and doesn’t listen to you

Quick Fix Training, which is what most programs offer. Many people subconsciously want something for nothing. So, they want a fully trained dog without putting in much effort or time. Or, they want a fully trained dog without spending any money. Either way, you’ll get a few results, but, as we all know, nothing in life is free. Proper and safe training always requires putting in effort. And successful people know they need to spend the money necessary to know what they are doing, otherwise some fast talker will quickly be doing them. (READ: Pet Store Training?)

Then, there is real obedience training. It costs more but it saves you money and hassles in the long run. You need a trustworthy professional to train you and your dog. This is the basis for all good training, and that is the only type I offer.

For example, here’s a case of a dog I did NOT TRAIN… but they contacted me from out of state for advice. This is what a serious problem dog looks like, and the extent to which it might take the owner and trainer to solve a serious problem. Anything less than this kind of commitment and effort is just someone trying to get into your wallet.

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