4 things you should know
before choosing your trainer
“The average person will spend months researching a new car, but few people ask dog trainers about their qualifications.”
–Rose Browne, Dynamic Canines Inc.
1. Dog & puppy training is unregulated—anyone can call themselves a trainer
Anyone can call themselves a dog or puppy 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?)
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—that are not supported by science but are nonetheless the basis of most traditional dog and puppy 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 nationally 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” is another buzz word to watch out for. Certified modern trainers never use this term, as they understand that in order to claim this credential one must have a PhD and Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB) status.
3. The industry is unregulated, but the scientific evidence 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 emotional and behavioral 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, 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. (Ask us why we love “naked training!”)
Avoid any trainer still teaching and using methods based on the concept(s) of:
- being a "Pack Leader"
- uses "Nothing in Life is Free", or "Learn to Earn" programs
- uses Dominance to explain behavior issues
—these are scientifically outdated concepts that serve as the basis for aversive and coercion-based training based on punishing (and frustrating) failure for the dog instead of setting up and rewarding success.
Also, avoid the term “balanced” trainer or training. This is a euphemism for a trainer who utilizes a mix of positive and old school training. You’ll hear it said that the method must be matched to the dog. While this is certainly true, the method matched to ALL dynamic canines should always be a positive one for them.
*Among them: The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, the ASPCA, the Association of Professional Dog Trainers, the Pet Professional Guild.
How to choose a puppy trainer, then?
Look for a modern puppy trainer who…
Has 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 or reprimands
Can train “naked” without a leash or physical restraint of any kind to control your dog
Allows auditing of their programs—no training behind closed doors
Does not use language like “dominant,” “stubborn,” or “being a jerk,” or blame behavior on the dog's breed
Welcomes questions about their methods and educational background
Are like your smart phone—always updating to stay current