Selecting a Trainer pt 1

Dog training is an unregulated industry, meaning anyone can call themselves a dog trainer without any knowledge, skill, education, or experience in the field. This presents a challenge for consumers. How can a dog owner know who to hire? Since laws on animal welfare are very loose in the US, some people claiming to be trainers will use painful methods in the name of training, creating issues of anxiety, reactivity, aggression, or even physical injury to the dog. Even certification bodies for dog trainers will have varying requirements and ethical codes, in which one body may prohibit any use of pain and fear in training, and another allows it in some contexts or with certain equipment. Since there are no laws that prohibit painful and outdated training methods, the consumer has the responsibility of determining what trainers to hire. When searching for a trainer, ask these questions to ensure the right person is hired!

What training equipment do you use or recommend? A properly educated professional will never recommend equipment that’s sole purpose is to inflict pain. Examples include choke/slip collars, slip leads, pinch/prong collars, or electronic collars. Some people may use euphemisms for these items in an effort to make them sound less painful than they actually are. For example, an electronic collar may be called a remote collar, training collar, ecollar, or stim collar. All of those terms are for the same object: a shock collar. No matter how low the level of electronic stimulation goes, electricity is still passing through tissue and muscle, meaning it SHOCKS the dog. There is no ethical way to use a shock collar.  Vibrate collars are also a red flag because vibration is naturally startling. Choke collars, slip leads, and prong collars are all dangerous to the neck of the dog since they put pressure on the thyroid and salivary glands, trachea, and cervical vertebrae. Rather than collars designed to inflict pain, look for a trainer who advocates using body harnesses to protect the neck. 

What happens when my dog gets it wrong? The correct answer is to reset and try again, or to make it easier for the dog to get it right. This may include going back to the point the dog was last successful and repeating it. It should never be assumed that the dog is being stubborn or willful, nor that the dog needs to be corrected. It’s the job of the trainer to set the dog up to succeed and rethink the training plan if the dog is not successful. Dogs also have no concept of “accountability” so anyone who claims to “hold dogs accountable” should be avoided. A dog getting it wrong should not be met with frustration or correction. It is simply information that one or more of the following has occurred: the reinforcement is too low, the criteria is too high, the dog is physically unable to perform. This information should be gathered by the trainer and the training adjusted as necessary. 

What credentials or education do you have in training? It’s safest to hire someone with appropriate education or credentials. Some good educational programs are Karen Pryor Academy, Jean Donaldson’s Academy for Dog Trainers, and Victoria Stillwell Academy for Dog Trainers. These programs are very cost prohibitive for many entering the industry, so some trainers may not attend a school, but may study independently and go through a third party examination for credentials. Credentialing organizations to look for include the Pet Professional Accreditation Board and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants.  Don’t be afraid to ask clarifying questions about credentials and education, such as what had to be done to earn the credential! Look up the credentials the person has and see what code of ethics they are held to, including what equipment and methods certificants are permitted to use. There should also be a continuing education requirement to maintain the credential. 

Do you offer guarantees? Guarantees sound nice on paper but the truth is that one can never guarantee anything about a living creature. Behavior is fluid and there are many influencing factors. Beware of anyone who offers guarantees such as, “Your dog will always listen.” This is generally a sign the dog will be subjected to punitive methods to achieve results, and the promised results are not realistic. A dog may not perform as asked due to illness, injury, stress, or low reinforcement history for the cued behavior. Even working dogs do not respond with 100% accuracy.

Are you covered by insurance? Good professionals will hold liability policies to protect themselves and clients. You can ask for proof of insurance to verify the policy is current. 

How will you know if my dog is stressed? How will you respond if my dog is stressed? How will you respond to that stress?  A good professional is an expert at reading body language and is constantly monitoring for stress. Signs of stress may include whale eye, panting, stiff body, and tongue flicks. When any signs of stress are noted, training should stop immediately and the dog taken back to the point they were last comfortable. If signs of stress continue, the training session should be terminated. The well-being of the dog should always be a top priority!

Asking these questions will give you a better understanding of whether the person you’re speaking to is an ethical trainer. Remember, your dog is depending on you to keep him safe! If you’re in need of an ethical trainer, please contact us using one of the methods HERE to get started.

Stayed tuned for part 2!