BEWARE of the "trainer" who says they will train your dog without food or toys. There is no MAGIC WAND in dog training. Dogs work either to GAIN PLEASURE or AVOID FEAR/PAIN. There are a limited number of controllable resources that dogs will be reliably motivated by in order to work with us and learn behaviours which do not come naturally to them. Food and toys are the most practical, easily accessible and controllable of these motivators. A trainer who thinks they are not necessary is either stubborn or uneducated. If they refuse to use food or toys, they are without any doubt using force and intimidation. If you want happy, well-adjusted dogs, choose to train in a way that makes them feel good.
Here are a few RED FLAGS to watch out for when looking for a trainer:
1. GUARANTEED OR IMMEDIATE RESULTS: No qualified trainer with an ounce of common sense would guarantee such a thing. Most behaviour problems develop over weeks, months or years and take time to resolve. While highly aversive training methods might appear to bring about quick fixes they either NEVER last or they create MORE unwanted behaviour problems. A person who guarantees immediate results is either delusional, lying or intending to do something VERY NASTY to your dog.
2. NO QUALIFICATIONS OR MENTION OF THEIR EXPERTISE: Dog training is a science. The science has to be learned. Unless someone spends time formally studying how dogs learn and what influences behaviour, they will never have the full knowledge necessary to be able to help you and your dog properly. Qualified trainers are proud of their qualifications and will want their clients to know what these are. When there is no mention of any qualifications in the trainer's bio, then they likely don't exist.
3. NO MENTION OF TRAINING METHODS: A trainer with nothing to hide will be open and up front about HOW they train, WHAT methods they use and WHY. Trainers who never mention their training philosophy either don't have one (so anything goes) or they don't understand what they are doing and can't explain it clearly to clients. They may also be HIDING what they intend doing to your dog, because they know it may be controversial.
When looking for a trainer, find someone who's website or Facebook page tells you very clearly WHO they are, what QUALIFICATIONS they have and HOW they train. Read articles by the person and if possible watch videos of them training their own dogs or working with clients. Look to see that the dogs working with them are enjoying themselves. Check that they are in fact using positive reinforcement and not physical manipulation or intimidation. Check that their blogs or articles reflect a thorough knowledge of the science behind training.
AVOID trainers who do nothing but advertise their services without telling you exactly what those services are or revealing anything about what they actually do!