When To Say NO To Your Dog Trainer

Even trainers like to be students at times, so when a friend invited me to join her for a drop in puppy class, I jumped at the chance. With our 13 week old puppies in tow, we set out for an hour of fun.

I’ll admit, I did not have an opportunity to do any research on the facility or trainer and I was definitely flying blind on who and where we were heading to see. However, I was crystal clear on what my goals where – to socialize my puppy appropriately and to work his basic skills (sit, down, stay, loose leash walking & recall) successfully in a new environment. I was definitely excited to go and more importantly, I was ready to embrace the moment.

We arrived at the facility and I immediately noticed the semi-quasi agility equipment prominently featured out front. It was good equipment, just not to spec for any of the top 5+ agility organizations in the U.S., but definitely a great start for those wanting some basics. To my surprise our puppy class was led out to the agility field where I figured we were simply taking advantage of the outdoor space.

After a few introductory discussions and lessons, our trainer led us over to what appeared to be about an 18″ agility table with an additional 6″ deep worn area just under the table that created a downward slope. The trainer then asked me to have my puppy jump up on the table.

Could my puppy do it? Probably. Would he try his heart out if asked? Absolutely.

Instead of immediately following the directive, I asked if they had a 4″ table. They did not.

Since they didn’t have a lower option for my puppy, I politely said NO by stating “I’m not comfortable working my puppy at that height so I’m going to excuse myself from this exercise. Please feel free to move on to the next person as I’m happy to occupy myself and will rejoin you for the next lesson.” I then moved off to the side with a smile and without interrupting the class, worked my puppy on some basics.

Why Did I Say NO to My Trainer?

The obvious answer would be that he’s a young puppy with growing bones and while that is a part of the reason, it’s not the full reason I said NO.

The reason I said NO, is that the ENTIRE scenario did not set my puppy up for the success I envisioned for him. For example:

  1. My puppy has not yet learned the skill of jumping onto a couch, so why in the world would I think he could jump onto a table that is an equivalent height? Could I have encouraged him to attempt this skill or have helped him up? Of course! But that leads me to reason #2.
  2. Below the table was that downward 6″ slope that my puppy would have had to navigate with his sometimes awkward front and back legs (the slope went to the edge of the table supports). I consider jumping AND navigating a slope to be an advanced body awareness skill for an experienced jumping dog, not a 13 week old puppy. Again, could I have encouraged and helped him? Of course! But my overall goal is to teach puppy-appropriate skills HE can experience and master independently while creating a working partnership that we can both celebrate.
  3. Then of course I had to consider that once my puppy had been on the table and needed to come down, I would have had to deal with the same two concerns I had in #1 & #2, but in reverse (that’s about when the impact on growing bones popped into my head). Does my puppy randomly jump from places I’d prefer he didn’t? Yes, but that doesn’t mean I should allow or encourage that behavior when I can prevent it.

The Biggest Reason I Said NO Revolves Around Two of My Personal Beliefs:

  1. That a puppy or dog who is physically unable or unprepared to do a physical task, should (in my humble opinion) NEVER be asked to do it. A better plan would be to adjust and find another way to accomplish the task (in this case a lower table).
  2. Great trainers and leaders are clear in their purpose, as well as the supporting steps required to achieve that purpose consistently. In this case, I came to attend a puppy class, not a physically challenging class for puppies. More importantly, I am VERY clear on how I want my table performance to look like, how it should be trained and the desire I want my puppy to experience when he engages this obstacle. Scrapping his belly on the side of the obstacle, attempting to pull himself up (he hasn’t perfected the art of jumping), while negotiating unsure ground below his feet was never in my plan.

Because I have complete clarity when it comes to my training vision, purpose and know-how, I was able to quickly identify and confidently avoid what could have been an awkward and confusing situation for my puppy. Part of my experience comes from having lived through past moments I didn’t enjoy (neither did my dog) and making a promise in the future to step-up BEFORE a situation has a chance to escalate into that uncomfortable zone.

Saying NO to a trainer isn’t always easy for everyone and thankfully it’s a rare occurrence. However, sometimes it is best to execute some personal power and make a choice to happily sit on the sidelines. I say happily because I got to play with my dog and create a positive moment for the two of us. I was happy I successfully avoided a situation that would have ultimately made me unhappy had I participated in.

Speaking of happy – Happy Handling Everyone!

Lisa Selthofer

As a 20+ year dog agility coach, I am passionate about producing quality resources for dog agility teams by promoting self-development and delivering clear and specific training solutions that enable teams’ to perform with clarity and confidence!

My unique experience as a hands-on trainer and 18+ year dog agility judge led me to create Sequencing For Success and the highly successful 2on-2off Contact Training DVD.

Our household has included Dalmatians, Labradors, Belgian Tervuren, Border Collies and engaging cats.

Contact Lisa via email AgilityOne at Gmail.com (replace at with @ sign)

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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6 thoughts on “When To Say NO To Your Dog Trainer

  1. Hi Lisa, I have had similar experiences when my Westie Kalani was a puppy. So many trainers out there that have a lack of knowledge about foundations first, growth plates, rear end awareness, etc etc etc all of which you already know! I chose to not only say no but also educate these trainers to prevent future students from injuries . Kalani is 3 1/2 years old now and I am a protective agility partner! I still jump him in preferred AKC at 8″ even though he is more than capable at jumping at 12″ I am always checking the height of the A frame . Anyway I may not be the best agility handler in the world but I am the safest! My first priority is that Kalani and I enjoy our agility journey for a very long time and have loads of fun! The ribbons can wait! Sincerely, Lois Ronis and Westie Kalani

  2. I so agree with you. There are many people out there that hang the title of ‘Trainer’ on themselves and they don’t have clue on how to train other people’s dogs correctly. They do far more damage to the dogs than they are helpful. Fortunately, you know what you want from your dogs and how to get there. There are so many people who go to ‘Trainers’ for help and training. They don’t know what is good and not so good for their dogs.

  3. I had a similar experience. Unfortunately it did not turn out as well. The trainer had set up a triple in an area where the landing area was tight, close to a wall. I told the trainer that I was going to skip doing it with my 24″ dog, who I knew had some issues with triples as it was. The trainer threw on the pressure. I did it. My dog crashed the jump and was injured. It took him months to recover. That won’t happen twice. That trainer runs 7 lb. dogs. I found another trainer.

    • There are so many of us who have been in a situation like that and unfortunately we learned the hard way. Good for you for taking control of the situation and moving on. Lisa