Client Beware!

Bad trainers can ruin your dog. Good trainers can help you and your dog become a great team.


It’s almost impossible to avoid them! They are everywhere. This lucrative criminal activity is increasing. You are at most risk if you are a worried parent with a child who needs a medical alert or other SD. Therefore, the con artists concentrate on diabetic alert dogs and autism assistance dogs.

Veterans are another group frequently targeted by scam trainers. Often, really terrible dogs with little or no training are adopted from shelters and sold to Veterans as SDs.

The worst offenders often have great websites, but their victims often also set up web sites to warn other potential victims.

Check every reference and do lots of background checking. Google any site you are interested in with the word complaints added to your search, to find out what is going on. Beware of organizations who require large amounts of fundraising to get a non-returnable dog.

Many scam organizations falsely claim to be registered 501 (c) 3 non-profit charities. Do your homework!

For a price of about $30,000, you might purchase the best SD possible from a great trainer or organization, or you might receive an untrained, aggressive, unhealthy dog, or you might receive no dog at all. You might not receive promised followup training.

Pursuing legal action on dog purchases from out of your own state may require you to pursue legal action in that state. Financially this is not possible for most people, so the scams continue.

Puppies cannot be trained as SDs, but many scams promise pre-trained puppies for medical detection. Some claim the ability to detect medical issues is bred into their puppies. Nobody can possibly guarantee that a particular puppy will grow up to be a suitable SD.

Training Credentials Do Not Mean Much:

Six-week or six-month-long dog trainer schools are meaningless. It’s a good start on a very long journey, if the school was good.

Seminar attendance depends on how much the trainer learned, not how many attended.

“Alphabet Soup” collections of letters after a name can mean a lot, or a little!

“Master Trainer” is usually a self-designated title.

Titles in working dog activities are a good sign, since they usually can’t be achieved except by training dogs. Make sure the trainer actually trained their dog, and did not just purchase a trained dog and learn how to manage it.

Understanding hearing loss and Deaf culture are pluses. Most trainers are not knowledgeable in this field, but a trainer who is good at communicating with people should enjoy communicating with you. This trainer should be eager to learn about your needs, and want your input and suggestions on how the training is going. Good trainers always are curious about doing new types of training, and should view working with you as an opportunity to expand their skills to Hearing Dog training. They should not expect you to follow a useless technique that does not work for Deaf people, such as:

  • working in large groups in acoustically poor areas.
  • heeling the dog in circles so that the client cannot see the trainer at all times.
  • requiring that hands needed for treats, leashes, praise and sign language must also operate a clicker.

Clickers are great for training, and everyone needs to know the concepts involved, but asking Deaf people to relate to a sound is like asking blind people to flick a flashlight to reinforce behaviors. Instead, a rapid sign/verbal signal can be substituted for a click. Experiences that you cannot perceive are hard to believe in as reality. I personally know that many sounds I cannot hear do exist, but this knowledge is never uppermost in my perceptions. For instance, I love to watch bats; I have learned about echolocation. But I never think about their sounds when observing them.

Trainers should be able to show at least ten years’ experience. Twenty is better. Educators now generally accept research that shows that 10,000 hours of direct practice is the key to proficiency in any activity. The wildlife biologist George Schaller made a brilliant statement: he said that to begin to understand the communication of any animal species, you need “5,000-hour eyeballs”. He may have understated the time frame.

Trainers should demonstrate to you that they can keep a dog really happy while training, and also that they can stop dangerous or unsafe behaviors without overly upsetting the dog. It is up to you to decide what level or types of aversive training methods are acceptable to use on your dog. Watch the trainer train other peoples dogs first, not your dog. If you feel uncomfortable, try another trainer. There are lots more out there!

Trainers should be humble, not boastful. People who are still learning are constantly making mistakes and learning from them, especially when dealing with a different species. Dogs are full of surprises even for very experienced trainers. Boastfulness reveals a person who has stopped learning, is insecure, and is coasting on what they have decided is true.

Avoid trainers who remind you of drill sergeants, bad teachers you have had, spiritual cult gurus, infomercial touts, cult followers, or ultra-permissive parents. Look for trainers who remind you of the best parents and teachers you have met, who valued children no matter what, and loved communicating with them.

Contact several previous clients.

Get several referrals from fellow dog professionals who know the trainer.

Don’t believe too much you are told. Sometimes trainers bad-mouth each other. Dog training is a very difficult way to make a living. Most clients take classes or lessons for a limited time, and then stop when the dog becomes livable, or they give up on a difficult dog. A constant flow of new clients is the main way to make any profit. Competition for the limited number of clients means that promoting gadgets, gimmicks and lies can get good results. One well known TV trainer in the 1980’s would have private clients come to his kennel, and leave their dog in the car. After a few minutes conversation, he would approach the car, making a few subtle threatening looks and body postures that the owners would not notice. When the dog reacted by barking and snarling, he would sadly turn to the owner, shaking his head. “I’m sorry to tell you, but you’ve got a CANINE TIME BOMB in that car.” The solution? Three months training in his kennel for thousands of dollars.