By Joan Hunter Mayer
Based on the comments from previous posts, I’m glad that the topic of dog training is being discussed – education and awareness are key!
Did you know that dog training is an unregulated industry in many countries, including the U.S.? There are no official government bodies that oversee the practice of training dogs. Additionally, there are no official universal rules, policies, procedures or gold standards that trainers are required to know or adhere to. This basically means that anyone can call themselves a trainer and do whatever he or she wants – whenever and however they see fit. Some dog trainers don’t even have a business license.
Consequently, finding reliable information on pet-related services can be challenging. One person’s website offers one opinion, while another’s recommends something completely different. Friends and family offer their advice only adding to the confusion. How do you filter through all the friendly advice, suggestions, and online searches? How do you know who to trust?
Searching for a dog trainer is similar to searching for other service-based businesses: do your due diligence, be a critical thinker, read reviews and learn about their approaches and methods before committing to any services.
Here are some guidelines:
· Check that the dog trainer/business has both transparency and integrity; the training approach should be straightforward, clear, and humane.
· Trustworthy dog trainers will use transparent, clear, and consistent content throughout their websites and social media pages.
· If they are claiming their techniques are “the best” and/or “most humane,” then they should have evidence to back up those claims.
· Is this person or business describing training methods that enhance the experience and relationship for both dog and guardian?
· Does it sound like the training experience will be enjoyable for both the dog and the handler?
· Do you get the impression they really have their clients’ best interests at heart?
· Do they belong to groups or organizations that are respected across the industry?
· Ask specific questions as to which training methods the prospective trainer uses, and under which circumstances.
· Ask the trainer what he or she does when the dog gets the training right. Also ask what happens when your pup doesn’t do what you would like or does something you don’t want him to?
· Remember- humans are animals too! If something doesn’t feel right, trust your instincts.
• Techniques that risk injury should raise a red flag.
• Is this person/business implementing outdated techniques or tools, including those that can cause fear or discomfort to the dog?
• Watch for subjective jargon, which can be misleading and can cloud decision making for pet guardians. A term like “balanced” might sound harmless, but is it?
• Those dog trainers who express their use of treats, as well as “dominance” or “corrections,” give a murky picture as to what their methodology is.
• There are some trainers out there who use both positive reinforcement (i.e., treats, petting, praise) and “positive punishment” (i.e., collar corrections, alpha-rolls, aversive training collars). This is a contradiction in terms AND in approach, and also sure signs that your pet will at the very least get mixed messages, and possibly be subject to inhumane treatment.
• Fear-based techniques are outdated. Trainers who use them may not have an education on animal learning theory or science-based techniques, may be unaware of progress within the industry, or don’t have a grasp on the fallout of coercion and aversives. (Thankfully, progress has been made over the years, proving that while these training techniques can work to change behavior, they are unnecessary for training dogs- or any animal – due to the risks of damaging physical and emotional side effects.)
• Also, be aware of the self-titled “dog behaviorist.” (Much more on this in our next post. In short though, “dog behaviorist” is not a recognized certified or credentialed professional designation.)
• If someone says they got their own training exclusively from YouTube videos and television, you really should think twice before hiring that person for professional services. There are many professions that might not require a college degree, but they still warrant professional and concrete on-the-job training and mentorship.
Many folks out there think that just because they’ve had dogs, grew up with dogs, love dogs, know dogs and/or watch TV shows about dog training, they know all there is to know about training canines.
That would be the same thing as me saying, “I love to bake, and enjoy watching the shows on the Food Network. Once I even won a blue ribbon in a brownie baking competition. So, I’m clearly a professional baker.” While you might encourage me to donate treats to your bake sale, there’s no way you’d hire me to make your wedding cake!
In other words, when you work in a specialized field, such as dog training, to elevate your status from amateur to professional, formal training and education are essential.
“When you know better, you can do better”
For too long, force-based techniques have been used because they were part of our culture. Now there’s a pawsitive cultural shift. Those who use a force-free approach will talk about using whatever motivates the dog to want to participate in the training plan. They will focus on rewarding wanted behaviors, and teaching the dog what the best behavior choice is — without instilling fear.
With the right dog trainer, you’ll have a professional who will listen to your needs, develop a plan that works for you and your dog, and provide proper education and support along the way.
Additionally, trainers worth their salt will admit if a specific case is outside their scope of practice, or if they are unfamiliar with the situation presented. For instance, when clients ask me about issues that might have an underlying medical origin, I always refer them to their vets. I often get questions about foods a particular dog should eat. Again, this is a question for that animal’s vet.
A More Pawsitive Experience All-Around
The lack of regulation in the pet training and behavior consulting industry is concerning. However, for pet guardians who go that extra mile and invest time, money, and effort into professional dog training, this lack of oversight does not have to be an overwhelming obstacle. A look into methods, continuing education and professional affiliations are a good place to start. Also keep in mind that while addressing the overall goals of the client, training should still be fun throughout the process — for all involved.
Whether you’re a first-time puppy parent or seasoned dog guardian, each new experience brings new needs and goals. For some, it might help to start with fresh eyes when addressing pet care needs- finding a dog trainer, dog walker, groomer, pet sitter, doggy daycare or pet boarding facility. Time taken to conduct an interview and ask questions is time well spent. Use your research skills to review their websites, online reviews, and even social media to vet them thoroughly before entrusting them with your canine companion.
For you, the pet guardian, the lack of oversight and regulation in the dog training industry means that finding the best dog trainer for your dog might take a little more research. But that’s okay – it’s good to be inquisitive, and our inquisitive canines are worth the effort!
The Inquisitive Canine was founded by Santa Barbara canine behavior consultant and certified professional dog trainer Joan Hunter Mayer. Joan and her team are devoted to offering humane, pawsitive, practical solutions that work for the challenges dogs and their humans face in everyday life. Here’s to barking with the dogs, cheering for the humans, and having fun!