Who do I choose for my dog's training?
Puppy and Dog Training:
Who do I choose for my dog's training?
Choosing the right dog trainer can be difficult when there are so many choices to be made. There is terminology that can be confusing, buzzwords that may lead you to believe that a particular trainer may be more qualified than another. Looking at a website can be overwhelming when you don't know what you are looking for. Today I am going to give any prospective client looking for a reliable, compassionate and educated trainer some clues to help you hopefully thin the herd.
1. Education: Today there are actually several organizations offering Certifications for Professional Dog Trainers. Most of these organizations require a number of hours working with dogs in a variety of areas from Private training to Shelter Work. Most will also require some sort of test, either a sit down written test, or videos of the person working with dogs, case histories and proof of success with their chosen methods. These test are created by industry leaders and are created to prove a level of competency. I will provide links to several of these organizations, all of which provide a search for Certified Trainers that you can research. You can even look up the trainer you are considering hiring.
2. Experience: While trainers may boast many years of work with dogs, sometimes those years are padded with work on their own dogs, work in shelters, work as volunteers, work as a foster, even work at a pet supply store. These areas will provide some experience with dogs, but not always do they provide the type of experience a Dog Trainer needs to deal with aggression or fear or how to teach a human how to work with their dogs particular issues. What you really want to know is how long a trainer has been in business training other people's dogs and working with their owners. A person who only has experience working with dogs in a shelter environment may have loads of experience hands on with dogs, but may lack the ability to teach, and articulate their education to you and your family. A trainer that has been professionally working with dogs for several years, provides both group classes and private classes will have more to offer in the way of teaching you how to understand and work with your dog.
3. Method: Here is where the "buzzwords" can cause a lot of confusion. Let us start with the favorite term that is thrown around a lot,
Positive Reinforcement (+R): All trainers will tell you they use +R in their training. It is probably true too, they pat the dog on the head, or hand them a treat when they respond in a correct manner.
Negative Reinforcement (-R): Some trainers use -R to teach dogs commands in obedience. This can be done with a leash and nylon slip collar, Electronic shock collar, or even on a leash and harness. -R is when a trainer makes the dog uncomfortable or does something the dog wants to stop from happening to "encourage" a correct response to a command. It can be as basic as putting pressure on a leash until a dog sits or providing a continuous "buzz" on a shock collar. The idea is that the annoying or painful sensation will stop as soon as the dog performs the command correctly.
Positive Punishment (+P): This is when a trainer uses a "tool" like a spray bottle, shock collar, citronella collar, prong collar or yelling, hitting, knee, slap, poke, yank to stop an (unusually) unwanted behavior. The idea being the "correction" is aversive (painful or frightening) enough to make the dog avoid the situation or behavior thus reducing or stopping the unwanted behavior. I am going to use jumping up as an example, when a dog jumps up and you put your knee in their chest it provides an uncomfortable response to the behavior, the desired response is the dog will reduce or stop jumping on the person who put the knee in their chest.
Negative Punishment (-P): This is when you remove something the dog wants to discourage or stop an (usually) unwanted behavior. With the example of a dog who jumps on people this is when the person turns away and denies the dog the attention they are seeking until they put all feet on the floor. Another example of -P would be if a dog is bothering your guests and you put him outside for a short time. You are removing what the dog is seeking (attention) to change a behavior (jumping) to a more acceptable behavior of keeping their feet on the floor.
Balanced Training or Method: Means the trainer will use any or all of the above definitions to accomplish the behavior change or correct response to a command. All tools and methods are at hand for Balanced Trainers, including but not limited to electronic collars, prong collars, plastic prong collars, choke (slip) collars (pain), as well as hitting, yelling, yanking, kicking, poking (fear and intimidation), however not all Balanced trainers will use all of these tools or methods.
Force Free Method: When a trainer will not use any tool or method that causes fear, pain or intimidation to accomplish behavior change or correct response to a cue. There are no commands in Force Free training, Force Free methods are working with the dog to accomplish a set goal with the dog's learning and emotional abilities taken into consideration. ANY trainer who is using the term Force Free to describe their method will not use +P or -R at any point in their training with your dog. If they do, they are not Force Free.
Compulsion Based Method: This is when a trainer or company ONLY uses +P, -P and -R to accomplish behavior change and correct response to a command. This method very rarely uses +R or any praise for correct responses. These trainers start with a prong or shock collar sometimes both with every dog, where as Balanced trainers will use a variety of other less/non compulsive methods or tools before resorting to more compulsive methods and tools and they will also use +R, praise or food to reward your dog.
Counter Conditioning (CC): This is a method commonly used in training where the dog is exposed to situations they may have a reactive response to. for Example a dog who barks at other dogs while on leash. The goal is to change the reactive behavior to non reactive, by encouraging an alternate behavior (look at the owner, sit quietly).
Desensitizing (DS): Often done along with (CC) this training method is where a dog is exposed to a situation until he no longer reacts to the environment or stimulus.
Flooding: Is when a trainer exposes a dog to an environment that is highly stimulating in an attempt to use intimidation to cause the dog to accept it, thus stopping a reactive behavior.
4. Other Buzzwords:
Veterinary Recommended: Means a Veterinarian has recommended the trainer at some point.
Pack, Alpha, Dominate or Dominant, Submissive, Pack Leader or the like:When a trainer still believes in the disproven debunked theory that dogs are Pack Animals and they require dominant or Pack Leadership type methods to control or train them. Often these methods will include but are not limited to "Alpha Roll", "Pinning", biting, yelling or throwing items at your dog along with most other compulsion based methods. These methods are more likely to cause a diminished relationship, fear, intimidation, and in some cases an increase in aggression.
You are your dog's advocate, researching, interviewing and asking questions of any prospect trainer is your responsibility. Not only is the physical health of your dog important, but so is their mental and emotional health. If you feel a trainer is too rough, intimidating or physical with your dog you are probably correct. It matters, your dog looks to you for protection, trust and companionship. Who you hand them over to for training or behavior modification can change your dog in a positive or negative way. Many many many studies have been done and are being done on how to best train dogs and other animals. Ask yourself, would I let someone treat my 3 year old child like this? Would I want to be treated like this? It is never necessary to use pain, force or fear to teach a dog. NEVER!
Thank You for reading, I hope this brings some clarity and understanding for you.
Natalie Hawkins CPDT-KA
A search for articles discussing Alpha Theory as Debunked: