How To Choose A Dog Trainer
“The average person will spend months researching a new car,
but few people ask dog trainers about their qualifications.”
–Rose Browne, Dynamic Canines Owner
It’s truly a “buyer beware” industry with no official oversight. Be careful to look beyond marketing. Be careful not to confuse popularity with proficiency. Be careful not to assume years of experience equals qualification.
Think of it this way—we’ve all grown up going to school, but that doesn’t qualify us to be teachers. Growing up and working with dogs doesn’t translate to a scientific knowledge base about dog behavior and training. And without that knowledge base we continue to labor under all sorts of misconceptions about dogs—like dominance theory or leader of the pack programs—that are not supported by science but are nonetheless the basis of most traditional dog training.
2. Beware fancy titles—most of them are made up
Online certifications are easily obtained, and the title “Certified Professional Dog Trainer” can be used by anyone; it is not connected to a recognized, official certifying body. That said, there are internationally recognized certification councils that professional trainers can voluntarily submit themselves to. These bodies list the trainers who have passed their exams (exams created and given under the auspices of National Commission for Certifying Agencies), and hold them accountable to a set of professional practice standards, in addition to requiring continuing education to stay abreast of current practices.
“Behaviorist” and “Behavioralist” are another two buzz words to watch out for. Certified modern trainers never use the term “Behaviorist” as they understand that in order to claim this credential one must have a PhD and have obtained the Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB) status. The use of the term of “Behavioralist” means that a person is an advocate of behaviorism but this does not hold any credentials. Anyone who has ever shown an interest in the study of behavior (human or animal) can call themselves a “Behavioralist”.
3. The industry is unregulated, but the science is in—and it says no more punishment
All the leading professional organizations* have come out firmly behind the science, which demonstrates that punishment comes with serious side effects and is no more effective than positive training methods. Increased pressure to go positive has led many traditional trainers to adopt the language of positive training while continuing to use outdated methods like choke and prong and shock collars, leash corrections, physical hands on, spanking, spray bottles, shouting, and the like.
Force-free training means absolutely no force in any circumstances. No use of pain, fear, intimidation, or hands-on manipulation of the dog’s body. In fact, truly modern trainers often use no leashes at all, as they are able to gain compliance by using fear-free training that motivates the dog to engage in the desired behavior.
Avoid any trainer still teaching methods based on the concept of being a “pack leader” or who talks about dominance—these are scientifically outdated concepts that serve as the basis for aversive and coercion-based training.
Also avoid the term “balanced” trainer or training. This is a euphemism for a trainer who utilizes a mix of positive and outdated training methods. You’ll hear it said that the method must be matched to the dog. While this is certainly true, the method matched to your dog should always be a positive one that is fear free and force free.
*Among them: the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, The ASPCA, the Association of Professional Dog Trainers, the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers, the Pet Professional Guild.
4. Run away from “guaranteed results”
The Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers, the Association of Professional Dog Trainers, and the Pet Professional Guild expressly prohibit members from guaranteeing behavior results, and for very good reason—it’s unethical to do so. You cannot guarantee the behavior of another living organism. Trainers who do are generally using severe punishment techniques to suppress behavior to fulfill that guarantee.
Instead, look for trainers who guarantee they’ll use only positive, force- and fear-free training with your dog.
Look for a modern dog trainer who…
Successfully completed a nationally recognized dog training school based on modern behavioral science
Is certified by an organization that lists its members, holds them to a set of professional standards, and requires continuing education
Uses only truly force-free, positive training methods—no choke, prong, or shock collars and no corrections.
Can train “naked” without a leash or physical restraint of any kind required to control your dog
Allows auditing of their programs—no training behind closed doors
Does not use language like dominant or stubborn, or blame behavior on breed
Welcomes questions about their methods and educational background
Are like your smart phone—always updating to stay current
Have questions? Want to know more about modern force-free dog training?
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1. Dog training is unregulated—anyone can call themselves a trainer
Anyone can call themselves a dog trainer, with no training in animal behavior at all. Or an aggression specialist, with no special training in aggression. Or a dog psychologist, even though there’s no such thing. Or a dog whisperer, which also doesn’t exist unless you watch too much TV. (Did you know that Caesar Milan has no education in animal behavior and that leading organizations like the ASPCA have repeatedly asked National Geographic to end his show, citing the unscientific and often harmful techniques he teaches?)