Should Dog Trainers Offer Guarantees?

Photo by Patrick Danforth |

Photo by Patrick Danforth |

When I was a kid growing up in New York, I had a friend who hated her nose. Her parents eventually agreed to allow her to have a rhinoplasty—a “nose job.” After careful research and consultations with various plastic surgeons, they settled on one who guaranteed that if they didn’t like the results, he would modify it again, free of charge. Armed with this assurance, they moved forward. As it turned out, my friend did not like the results. In fact, she hated them. As promised, the second surgery was performed free of charge. Unfortunately, it yielded results no better than the first. My friend was not any closer to having the straight, narrow nose she’d envisioned, and although I would never have said so, it now looked downright odd. It took a third surgery, performed by another surgeon, to get it right.

The problem here was…well, as plain as the nose on her face. The initial surgeon lacked the skills to perform the job correctly. This begs the question, what good is a guarantee of further services if the provider is not skilled enough to get it right the first time? Let’s say a dog training company guarantees results. They even go so far as to state that they will fix your dog’s problems in one session; if not, they will keep coming back until the problem is resolved. Is this a good bargain, especially if the first session is very expensive? Doesn’t the very premise of this “quick fix” structure belie a lack of understanding of the time required to change certain canine behaviors, especially ones that are intense or have been ingrained?

Keep in mind that we're talking about private lessons here, not group classes. Sure, there are basic skills that can be taught quickly and minor behavior issues that can be resolved in one session. But in most cases, trainers promising immediate results for major problems like aggression are using punitive methods. That instant cure may look like a miracle, but there is fallout from the use of punishment—it only suppresses behavior, rather than addressing the underlying problem. And, the owner may not get the same results when attempting to do what the trainer did; people have been known to be bitten that way. Besides, do you really want to treat your dog harshly, and potentially even lose his trust? Of course not.

If you were having a plumber fix your sink, it would be reasonable to expect a guarantee that the problem would be fixed within a specific time frame, at a specified cost. But when dealing with dogs and humans, behavior cannot be guaranteed. Should a dog who has an excellent, rock-solid recall, for example, be expected to come to you immediately when called 100% of the time? No. Dogs aren’t robots. Should you expect the dog to comply a very high percentage of that time? Sure. But perhaps one day Buddy isn’t feeling well, or there’s an unusually intense distraction in the area. Real life happens, regardless of how much work we put in and how well we train.

Then there’s the human end of the behavior equation, which can be guaranteed even less than the dog’s. Once a trainer has completed a training session, it’s up to the owner to continue to practice. We all know how hectic life gets, and sometimes in that multitasking frenzy, things fall through the cracks. Trainers returning for follow-up visits have heard, “I didn’t have time to practice with my dog” more times than we’d like to count. But again, there goes the guarantee. We must also account for handler error on the part of the owner, who is, after all, learning new skills along with the dog. If the person doesn’t lure the dog with the food treat in the correct manner to achieve a sit or down, or doesn’t properly manage the dog who jumps on visitors, it negates the chance for the skill to be taught or the problem to be solved, no matter how good a job the trainer did.

The truth is, finding a trainer who is experienced, personable, and uses positive, gentle methods is more important than a guarantee of a quick fix. Any ethical trainer will strive to work with you until your dog’s problems are solved, no price gauging involved. If you cooperate with the trainer and put in the time and effort to practice with your dog in a kind, consistent manner, not only will new skills be learned and behavior problems solved, but you will also be strengthening the bond between you. And that’s a guarantee.

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Positively Expert: Nicole Wilde

Nicole Wilde is the author of ten books and lectures worldwide on canine behavior. She is a columnist for Modern Dog magazine, and blogs for Positively, the Huffington Post, and her own blog, Wilde About Dogs. Nicole runs Gentle Guidance Dog Training in southern California.


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