Dog training isn’t rocket science, and yet a lot of us insist on making it more complicated than it needs to be. As the legendary Robert G. Wehle put it in his classic Wing & Shot, “The actual mechanics of training are quite simple. The difficult and important part is how the mechanics are carried out and what you have left when the job is done.”
Still, most serious waterfowl and upland bird hunters — dog owners almost by definition — will, at one time or another, find themselves in need of the services of a professional trainer. Perhaps your dog’s developed a chronic problem that you can’t seem to cure; perhaps you want to add a training refinement that you don’t have the time, expertise, or facilities to tackle; perhaps you want your dog “tuned up” so that he’s tack-sharp come Opening Day; perhaps you’re looking for the whole ball of wax and want your dog trained into a serviceable hunting companion from the ground up.
This brings up the cardinal rule governing all transactions between owners and professional dog trainers: Make sure that both parties have a clear understanding of what the owner (i.e., you) want accomplished. Think of it in terms of a work order, or a scope of services to be provided. Both sides benefit if everything is spelled out as specifically as possible. Professional training isn’t cheap — rates range from $400-$800 per month depending on where the trainer’s located and the kind of reputation he or she enjoys. If you and the pro aren’t on the same page, you might as well run your money through a paper shredder.
It goes without saying that the pro should have a proven track record working with your breed of dog and producing the specific result(s) you have in mind. Every pro worth his salt will gladly provide references, but in point of fact you should thoroughly vet any pro you’re considering before you talk to him or visit his kennels (which should be clean and secure if not necessarily fancy). The best testimonial of all, of course, is an impressive dog the pro has worked with; failing that, you need to ask around and solicit the opinions of people in a position to know. (A good place to start is your local DU, RGS, or Pheasants Forever chapter.) If the same name keeps coming up time and again you can be pretty confident that you’ve found your man (or woman).
If at all possible, try to find a pro who’s located reasonably close to your home. You don’t want to make a nuisance of yourself but the more time you can spend in your trainer’s company the better-equipped you’ll be to keep your trained dog trained and deal with any problems that arise. As virtually every pro will tell you, usually with a wry smile, “Training dogs is easy. It’s training their owners that’s hard.”