There is no law requiring certification of trainers or that establishes a standard by which someone is labeled a trainer. I say I'm a trainer, so I am.
There are lots of schools that will "certify" trainers who attend. These schools range from six weeks to, I think, two years. I only know of one, the new program at the San Francisco SPCA that Jean Donaldson is administrating, that is not compulsion-based. They vary in quality.
NADOI (National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors) is an organization that will test and endorse instructors. Its requirements are extremely stringent, and its endorsement is quite coveted among class instructors. Until recently, however, the tests were for instructors of competition obedience classes -- not just companion dogs -- and there is still no endorsement for trainers who do private consulting only.
I do indeed think you should ask the trainer where she got her certification -- and you should press to find out what the requirements were to get it.
No matter who endorsed or certified the trainer, the real test is the trainer's ability to communicate with you and to teach you to train your dog. There are many incredible trainers who are not certified. There are some truly scary people who are not only certified, but who are certifying others.
Observe a class or a client session. If the trainer won't let you do that, go the other way.
What methods is the trainer teaching and/or using? If you don't feel comfortable with even one thing, go the other way.
Are the students AND their dogs happy and relaxed? Are they having fun? If not, go the other way.
How does the trainer react when the student asks questions? If he's not open and willing to share or becomes defensive, go the other way.
If it's important to you to find a trainer who doesn't use aversives, ask very specifc questions about that. Ask when the trainer feels aversives are necessary. Ask how he defines aversives. Ask what he would use in those circumstances. Ask how he handles barking in class or other common "problem" situation. If you aren't comfortable, don't sign up.
Finally, how do you get along with the trainer. Do you understand his explanations? After all, even if everyone else loves him, if you don't understand him, it's a waste of time and money. And, by all means, if you don't like him, go the other way!
After you choose a trainer, remember that you are still the dog's owner. Don't turn over your dog's leash unless you know what the trainer is going to do. Don't let the trainer correct your dog. If at any point, you feel uncomfortable, call it a lesson learned and leave! Don't let a bad experience with a trainer ruin your relationship with your puppy.
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