< Updated 27JAN18 >
To listen to a 7JAN17 podcast from The Woof Meow Show on this topic <Click Here>
As someone who has been living with dogs for 40-plus years and teaching other people how to live happily with dogs for 20-plus years, I can assure you that finding a good dog trainer, even before you get your puppy or dog, is every bit as important as finding the best veterinarian for your pet.
Dog training is currently an unlicensed profession. As such, anyone, whether qualified or not, can call themselves a dog trainer, so it pays to be cautious when selecting someone that will be working with your family; you, other adults, your children, if you have them, and your dog!
Below you will find criteria, in order of importance, that I suggest you use when selecting a dog trainer.
- Select a dog trainer that is aware of and complies with both the 2015 American Animal Hospital Association Canine and Feline Behavior Management Guidelines and The Pet Professional Guild Guiding Principles. If the trainer you are considering is not aware of these organizations and documents, look elsewhere. It is important to note that a pet care professional may not be a member of the Pet Professional Guild (PPG) if they violate the Guiding Principles. That is why it is in your pet’s best interest to choose a member of the PPG.
The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) and the Pet Professional Guild (PPG) recognize the danger posed by choosing the wrong dog trainer. In the following excerpts from the 2015 American Animal Hospital Association Canine and Feline Behavior Management Guidelines the AAHA explains the type of dog trainer one should avoid and the type one should choose.
“This Task Force opposes training methods that use aversive techniques.1 Aversive training has been associated with detrimental effects on the human–animal bond, problem-solving ability, and the physical and behavioral health of the patient. It causes problem behaviors in normal animals and hastens progression of behavioral disorders in distressed animals. Aversive techniques are especially injurious to fearful and aggressive patients and often suppress signals of impending aggression, rendering any aggressive dog more dangerous. 1
Aversive techniques include prong (pinch) or choke collars, cattle prods, alpha rolls, dominance downs, electronic shock collars, lunge whips, starving or withholding food, entrapment, and beating. None of those tools and methods should be used to either teach or alter behavior1. Nonaversive techniques rely on the identification and reward of desirable behaviors and on the appropriate use of head collars, harnesses, toys, remote treat devices, wraps, and other force-free methods of restraint. This Task Force strongly endorses techniques that focus on rewarding correct behaviors and removing rewards for unwanted behaviors.“ – [1 Emphasis Added]
The Guiding Principles of the Pet Professional Guild state: To be in anyway affiliated with the Pet Professional Guild all members must adhere to a strict code of conduct. Pet Professional Guild Members Understand Force-Free to mean: No shock, No pain, No choke, No fear, No physical force, No compulsion based methods are employed to train or care for a pet.1 The PPG Position Statement on the Use of Pet Correction Devices defines which training tools should and should not be used and explains why this is so important to your dogs quality of life. [1 Emphasis Added]
The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) is a group of veterinarians and research scientists dedicated to improving the lives of animals and people through an understanding of animal behavior. They have also published position papers that recommend against the use of dominance theory and punishment, and for the appropriate socialization of puppies. Their newest position statement outlines the importance of pet-friendly, fear-free, or positive veterinary care. I recommend that the trainer you select be aware of these positions as well. You can find links to these documents below, or by clicking on the highlighted word in this paragraph.
In summary, avoid dog trainers that tell you to be “dominant,” alpha,” or the “pack leader.” Avoid trainers that use or recommend; choke collars, prong collars, shock collars, alpha-rollovers, or any tool or technique that involves the use of force, intimidation, fear or pain.
- Select a dog trainer that has at least one of these credentials from one of the following organizations; Professional Canine Trainer (PCT-A) by the Pet Professional Accreditation Board (PPAB) (http://www.credentialingboard.com/), Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT) by the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT) (http://www.ccpdt.org/) or a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC) by the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC) (https://iaabc.org/)
A training facility may have some trainers on staff working towards their certification, but hey should be under the direction of at least one certified professional. In the case of the PPAB and CCPDT, a professional dog trainer must be in a lead teaching position for a minimum of 300 hours before they can apply to take a certification exam.
It is important to understand that there are many “certifications” available and that they are not all the same. The credentials mentioned above are all issued by independent organizations and require testing, compliance with ethical standards, and continuing education to maintain certification. A “certificate” from “Don’s School of Dog Training” or “The XYZ Dog College” is far from being equivalent to the for mentioned certifications.
Certification by one of the above organizations is NOT a guarantee that a dog trainers methods are free of the use of force, pain, or free. Always ask, and if you find that a dog trainer uses fear, force or pain, find a different dog trainer.
- Select a dog trainer that is a member of at least one of these organizations; the Pet Professional Guild (PPG) (http://www.petprofessionalguild.com/), the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC) (https://iaabc.org/) or the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT) (https://apdt.com/). As noted above, The Pet Professional Guild (PPG) is currently the only pet care organization that has a strict code of ethics ( Guiding Principles), which denies membership to those that would use pain, force or free. That is why it is in your pet’s best interest to choose a member of the PPG.
Dog training is a rapidly evolving profession, and those who are committed to it are members of these organizations as a way of staying current in the field. The three organizations mentioned above offer a wide variety of continuing educational opportunities for those in the pet care profession.
- Look for dog trainers who treat people and dogs with respect, rather than an “I am the boss” attitude. Remember, you will be the one being taught by this person. A professional dog trainer not only needs to be able to train dogs, but they also need to be able to teach people of all ages. Classes should be such that both you and your dog look forward to attending.
- Ask the instructor about their methods for teaching people. Do they provide comprehensive written materials? Do they demonstrate how to teach a behavior? Do they coach you as you practice with your dog? Are they available for questions outside of class? Not all people learn the same way. Training classes, whether private or group, should accommodate an individual’s learning style.
- Look for classes with at least one instructor for every eight students. At Green Acres, a Basic Manners class of 5 students will typically have two instructors so that we can give every student the individual attention they require. A forty-five minute class with 15 students and one instructor, not uncommon in the profession, leaves very little time for individual instruction.
- Avoid trainers who object to using food as a training reward. Food is an acceptable positive reinforcement training tool. Just like us, our dogs do things because there is something in it for them, usually food. Research demonstrates that with most dogs, food is a better reinforcer than play and touch. Praise typically has the lowest value as a reinforcer. If a trainer insists that dogs should work for praise only, ask him if you can take their classes for free if you tell him they are a wonderful trainer. You can be assured that praise will not work in that scenario.
- Ask to observe a training class before enrolling. Are the dogs and people having a good time? Talk with a few participants and see if they are comfortable with the trainer’s methods. If a trainer does not let you observe a class, don’t enroll. However, understand, that the trainer will focus on the students in the class as you observe. Any questions or comments should be directed towards the trainer after the class is completed.
- Check references. Ask area veterinarians, animal shelters and rescues, boarding kennels, daycares, and groomers whom they recommend for training, and why they recommend them. Check several references so that you know you are getting objective recommendations.
- Avoid trainers who offer guarantees about results. Trainers that guarantee results are either ignoring or do not understand the complexity of animal behavior. No living thing is one hundred percent predictable, and training a dog involves many variables that a dog trainer cannot control. These include your level of commitment and your compliance with the trainer’s Most professional training organizations have a code of conduct or ethics statement that strongly suggests that trainers should not guarantee specific results.
- Ensure your dog trainer will take care to protect your dog’s health in a group setting. Ask if dogs and puppies in classes are required to be vaccinated before class and, if so, which vaccines are required. Make sure you and your veterinarian are comfortable with the vaccination requirements.
- The PPG suggests that you ask any prospective trainer 10 questions <Click here>. I have reproduced these questions below along with how we would answer them at Green Acres Kennel Shop.
- What dog training equipment do you use when training a dog or do you recommend I use? – We recommend the use of a 6-foot leash, a regular flat collar or a front-connect or rear-connect harness, a treat bag, some treats, and a clicker. We recommend against the use of choke, prong or shock collars or any equipment that is intended to punish, scare or hurt a dog.
- What happens in your training program when the dog responds in the way you want him to? – When a dog responds in a manner we desire, we reward the dog with food, a toy, attention; something the dog likes. We remind people that many times the dog is ignored when they are good and gets lots of attention when they are doing something we do not like. Make a point of looking for opportunities to reward your dog, even when you are not training.
- What happens in your training program when the dog responds in the way you do not want him to? – We teach you how to manage your dog and their environment to prevent undesirable behavior. We suggest that you ignore or redirect any behavior that occurs that you do not like, as long as it is not dangerous to any living thing or could result in the destruction of something valuable. To pay attention to this ‘bad’ behavior could actually be an unintentional reward to your dog, making it more likely to occur again. For example, if the dog jumps up on you and you push them off saying “No,” you have just given the dog attention in three ways, you touched them, looked at them and spoke to them. Jumping on a person is often an attention seeking behavior, and if you did what I just described, you have rewarded it threefold. After the ‘bad’ behavior is interrupted, you can look at ways that you can reward a mutually exclusive behavior or prevent the behavior from happening in the future.
- How will you punish the dog or advise me to punish the dog if he gets something wrong or exhibits a behavior I do not like? – We do not punish dogs for behavior because it is counter-productive. Instead, we focus on teaching you how to train and manage the dog to offer desirable behavior. Often people expect too much from a dog too soon, leading to frustration by both. That is why in addition to teaching you about training, we also teach you about normal and abnormal canine behavior, the importance of meeting your dog’s physical and emotional needs and how to manage them and their environment to prevent behavior you do not like.
- How do you ensure that my dog is not inadvertently being punished? – All of our staff, not just the trainers, receive extensive training on canine communication and body language and stress to ensure your dog is having a good time. It is our goal to have you and your dog love Green Acres! If we see that a dog is feeling anxious or stressed, we will let you know, and we will look for ways to help reduce their anxiety.
- How do you know that the type of reinforcement you have selected to train my dog is appropriate? – We have experience in using a wide variety of reinforcers to motivate your dog. We will start teaching you about reinforcers and how to choose the right one for a specific situation at your Basic Manners orientation.
- How will you know or how will I know if my dog is stressed during the training? – Our entire staff is trained to look for signs of stress so that we can prevent it. Additionally, we do extensive training on canine body language and communication with all employees. We will also cover some of this material in our training classes. If you read my blog, you can find information on this topic that you can use at home. To read How Can I Tell When My Dog Is Anxious or Fearful? < Click Here > Even if you never take a class at Green Acres Kennel Shop, I strongly encourage you to read this article.
- Which professional dog training associations are you a member of? – All members of the Green Acres team; customer service, groomers, pet care technicians, trainers, and managers are enrolled as members of the Pet Professional Guild (PPG) as soon as they complete their employee training. Because of the PPG’s Guiding Principles and commitment to pet care that is free of pain, force, and fear, we believe it to be the most important of the organizations for pet care professionals. Green Acres’ owner Don Hanson is also a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC).
- Will you guarantee your training results? – We do not guarantee training results because quite simply we are dealing with a living, breathing, sentient being and in reality we cannot control all of the variables, including you and what you do at home. We are here to give you all of the support we can, but you live and work with your dog far more hours per week than we do, so you will have the greatest influence on how well your dog does with training.
- How do you think a dog’s behavior should be addressed if the dog is growling or snapping at people or other dogs? – Safety for all the people and dogs in our classes is our first concern. If your dog has a history of growling and snapping at people, please let us know before you enroll in a group class, as that may cause your dog’s aggressive behavior to get worse. If your dog is growling or snapping at people outside of class, talk to your veterinarian and us as soon as possible. You may find this article at Don’s blog helpful – Help! My Dog is Aggressive, Reactive, Fearful, Anxious, etc. – What do I do? < Click to Read > For more information on growling, read Canine Behavior – What Should I Do When My Dog Growls? < Click here >
Articles on Don’s Blog (http://www.words-woofs-meows.com)
Green Acres Kennel Shop Position Statement on Pet-Friendly, Force-Free Pet Care – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2006/02/01/no-pain-no-force-no-fear-green-acres-kennel-shop-position-statement-on-pet-friendly-force-free-pet-care/
Green Acres Kennel Shop Position Statement on the Use of Dominance and Punishment for the Training and Behavior Modification of Dogs – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2010/07/01/no-pain-no-force-no-fear-green-acres-kennel-shop-position-on-the-use-of-dominance-and-punishment-for-the-training-and-behavior-modification-of-dogs/
How science and reward-based training have pulled dog training out of the dark ages – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2016/04/21/dog-training-how-science-and-reward-based-training-have-pulled-dog-training-out-of-the-dark-ages/
Dog Training: A Holistic Approach to Dog Training (Parts 1 & 2) – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/02/01/dogs-dog-training-a-holistic-approach-to-dog-training-parts-1-2/
Dog Training – What Is Clicker Training? – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2007/02/01/dog-training-what-is-clicker-training/
Dog Behavior – Dominance: Reality or Myth – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/06/20/dog-behavior-dominance-reality-or-myth/
Dog Training – The Four Essentials For A Great Dog – Part 1 – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2016/02/02/dog-training-the-four-essentials-for-a-great-dog-part-1-knowledge-relationship-management-training/
Dog Training – The Four Essentials For A Great Dog – Part 2 – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2016/02/28/dog-training-the-four-essentials-for-a-great-dog-part-2/
A Rescue Dogs Perspective to Dog Training – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2016/01/04/dog-training-a-rescue-dogs-perspective/
Canine Behavior – Understanding, Identifying, and Coping with Canine Stress – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/11/01/canine-behavior-understanding-identifying-and-coping-with-canine-stress/
The Unintended Consequences of Shock Collars – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2013/08/05/dogs-the-unintended-consequences-of-shock-collar/
Podcasts from The Woof Meow Show (http://www.woofmeowshow.com)
<Click on the title to listen to the show>
Selecting A Pet Care Provider – How to choose a dog trainer – Kate, and Don discuss what to look for when choosing a dog trainer and dog training class, as well as what to avoid. Dog training and recommended approaches to training a dog have changed dramatically as we have learned more about canines. As a result, we now know that some long-standing methods used to train a dog in the past, are in fact detrimental and can cause serious, long-term harm to your dog. Learn what to look for so that you and your dog have the best experience possible.
The Importance of Training Your Dog and 2018 Classes at Green Acres – Kate and Don address the questions; Why is training a dog so important, What will one typically learn in a dog training class, Why the methods used to train dogs are so important, What one should look for in a dog training instructor, and the dog training offerings scheduled for Green Acres Kennel Shop in 2018. If you have a new dog, or an older dog, you will want to tune into this show so that you can how to ensure you and your dog become and remain best friends for life.
Pet Behavior, Vets & The AAHA Canine and Feline Behavior Management Guidelines with Dr. Dave Cloutier from Veazie Veterinary Clinic – In this week’s show Kate, Don and Dr. Dave Cloutier of the Veazie Veterinary Clinic discuss the American Animal Hospital Associations (AAHA) new guidelines on behavior management for dogs and cats. This groundbreaking document represents the first time that a major veterinary organization has addressed pet behavior. According to the guidelines “More dogs and cats are affected by behavioral problems than any other condition, often resulting in euthanasia, relinquishment of the patient, or chronic suffering.” Tune in and learn why behavior is so important and why a behavioral assessment should be part of every pet’s annual wellness exam.
Dr. Cloutier, Kate, and Don discuss reasons for an increase in behavior problems, and how these problems can best be addressed. Dr. Cloutier explains changes he and his colleagues have made to work towards free-free visits for their clients. We address serious behavioral problems such as separation anxiety and aggression as well as nuisance behaviors like jumping, barking, and counter surfing. We address how veterinarians and dog trainers can work together and why it is essential to focus on rewarding desired behaviors and removing rewards for unwanted behaviors. Lastly, we review the guidelines recommendations on refraining from using any training methods that use aversive techniques such as electronic shock collars, choke collars, prong collars, alpha-rollovers, and other things that work by causing fear, intimidation, force, discomfort or pain.
Canine Behavior: Myths and Facts – This is a follow-up to our show of March 12 when Kate and Don discussed the AAHA Canine and Feline Behavior Management Guidelines with Dr. Dave Cloutier from Veazie Veterinary Clinic. In that show, we discussed how behavior issues have become a significant issue and how many of those behavior problems have been caused, at least in part, by people’s misconceptions about canine behavior. This week we examine what people think they know about dogs and where that information is coming from and how reliable it is as a source of facts. We then discuss several myths about canine behavior and counter them with what science has shown to be the facts.
Myths examined include: dogs are wolves, dogs are pack animals, people must be dominant, or Alpha over their dog, punishment and aversive tools are necessary to train a dog, dogs should work for praise alone, growls are bad, all dogs like all other dogs, crate training a dog is cruel, all dogs need a job, getting a second dog solves behavior problems, dogs do things to get revenge, dogs know right from wrong, and dogs and kids go together like peanut butter and jelly.
Facts that we bring to light include: dogs respond very well to benevolent leadership, dogs benefit from training, food rewards work very well for training, wolf packs are about families cooperating, dogs only form loose association with other dogs, growls are a beneficial way for a dog to communicate that they are feeling threatened, you are not a bad owner if you do not take your dog to daycare or the dog park, dogs are den animals and hence most love their crates, dogs need both mental and physical stimulation, behavior problems can be contagious, dogs know safe from dangerous, and dogs and kids are lots of work.
The Four Essentials to A Great Dog – Don and Kate discuss the four essentials to a great dog. In their experience most great dogs are the result of time and effort by both the person and the dog, which is exactly what that they teach students in Green Acres Kennel Shop’s Basic Manners classes. The four essentials are; Knowledge, Relationship, Management, and Training. Tune in and learn how you and your dog can become a great team and best friends for life.
Dog Training Questions for Don and Kate with special guest host Dr. Mark Hanks – part 1 – Dr. Hanks interviews Don and Kate about their experiences as professional dog trainers. He asks Kate and Don about how training has changed in the past 26 years since Mark began his practice, why training a dog is important, the importance of training for mental enrichment, how breed effects training and compatibility with a family, how human intervention has adversely effected health and behavior, researching dogs before one decides what dog and breed to get, making temperament a key decision when picking a dog, what we typically teach a client and their dog, Green Acres holistic approach to training (husbandry, nutrition, body language, ethology, and training), inadvertent reinforcement of undesirable behaviors, the continuing necessity to refute antiquated and inaccurate myths about canine behavior, the optimal age for starting training, the structure of Green Acres training classes, Green Acres program to help parents find the best pet for them, how family lifestyles have changed and how that affects time for a dog, knowing when to wait before starting a group training class, and how they deal with special needs rescue dogs.
Dog Training Questions for Don and Kate with special guest host Dr. Mark Hanks – part 2 – Dr. Hanks asks Kate and Don about: Green Acres holistic approach to training (husbandry, nutrition, body language, ethology, and training) and how we work with families to understand their dog and the importance of having a good foundation of education so people can better understand their dogs, how some students may attend class without their dog either because their dog is sick, in heat or simply because the dog learns better at home, private training options at Green Acres, the critical period of puppy socialization and habituation, why socialization needs to be actively planned and implemented by owners – it doesn’t just happen, what do you do you when want your puppy to be a therapy dog, the difference between therapy dogs, service/assistance dogs, and emotional support dogs, the fake service dog epidemic, can you teach an old dog new tricks, how do you deal with constant barking, and how do you deal with clients that need the dogs behavior changed tomorrow.
Dog Training Questions for Don and Kate with special guest host Dr. Mark Hanks – part 3 – Dr. Hanks asks Kate and Don about: dominance, pack hierarchy and alphas and the current science which indicates wolves are a cooperative social species, the benefits of kind leadership as opposed to coercive based leadership, the myth of dogs doing things just to please us, temperament and personality in dogs, the importance of knowing parents because of the genetic role in temperament, “stubborn” dogs versus under-motivated dogs, epigenetics and the possibility of mental health disorders in dogs like autism and PTSD, and temperament as a continuum and nature versus nurture.
The Dominance and Alpha Myth – Don and Kate discuss the concept of dominance, alpha dogs, pack hierarchy, and how this whole construct is a myth with both dogs and wolves that are not supported by science. They discuss how this has led to a punishment and compulsion based system of dog training which is not only unnecessary but is often counterproductive. They discuss the importance of leadership, boundaries, management and the use of reward-based training as a smart alternative to the dominance approach. You can learn more by reading these articles: http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/06/20/dog-behavior-dominance-reality-or-myth/ and http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2010/07/01/no-pain-no-force-no-fear-green-acres-kennel-shop-position-on-the-use-of-dominance-and-punishment-for-the-training-and-behavior-modification-of-dogs/
First Air Date: 21MAR10
Position Statements on Animal Behavior, Training, and Care
2015 American Animal Hospital Association Canine and Feline Behavior Management Guidelines – https://www.aaha.org/professional/resources/behavior_management_guidelines.aspx
The Guiding Principles of the Pet Professional Guild – http://www.petprofessionalguild.com/PPGs-Guiding-Principles
The Pet Professional Guild Position Statement on the Use of Pet Correction Devices – http://www.petprofessionalguild.com/Equipment-Used-for-the-Management-Training-and-Care-of-Pets
The Pet Professional Guild Position Statement on the Use of Choke and Prong Collars – http://www.petprofessionalguild.com/chokeandprongcollarpositionstatement/
The Pet Professional Guild Position Statement on the Use of Shock In Animal Training – http://www.petprofessionalguild.com/shockcollars/
The Pet Professional Guild Position Statement on the Use of Dominance Theory in Animal Training – http://www.petprofessionalguild.com/DominanceTheoryPositionStatement/
The Pet Professional Guild Position Statement on Puppy Socialization – http://www.petprofessionalguild.com/PuppySocializationPositionStatement/
American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) Position Statement on the Use of Dominance Theory in Behavior Modification of Animals – https://avsab.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Dominance_Position_Statement_download-10-3-14.pdf
American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) Position Statement on The Use of Punishment for Behavior Modification in Animals – https://avsab.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Punishment_Position_Statement-download_-_10-6-14.pdf
American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) Position Statement on Puppy Socialization – https://avsab.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Puppy_Socialization_Position_Statement_Download_-_10-3-14.pdf
American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) Position Statement on Positive Veterinary Care – https://avsab.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Positive-Veterinary-Care-Position-Statement-download.pdf
Professional Pet Care Associations
The Pet Professional Guild – http://www.petprofessionalguild.com/
The Pet Professional Accreditation Board – http://www.credentialingboard.com/
The International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants – https://iaabc.org/
The Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers – http://www.ccpdt.org/
The Association of Professional Dog Trainers – https://apdt.com/
©27JAN18, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved <Click for Copyright and Use Policy>
Don Hanson is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop (greenacreskennel.com) in Bangor. He is a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner (BFRAP), Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC), Associate Certified Cat Behavior Consultant (ACCBC) and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA). He produces and co- hosts a weekly radio show and podcast, The Woof Meow Show heard on The Pulse AM620 WZON and streamed at http://www.wzonradio.com/ every Saturday at 9 AM. A list of upcoming shows and podcasts of past shows can be found at www.woofmeowshow.com. Don also writes about pets at his blog: www.words-woofs-meows.com.