Sunday, 17 April 2016

Finding a Trainer

Finding a Qualified Dog Trainer


If you need help with your dog's behaviour there are important factors to keep in mind.

Did you know that anyone can call themselves a trainer with no credentials? If you are looking for a trainer, please ask any questions you have to ensure you know who you are hiring! Ask about their philosophy, their education and experience, ask to see proof of their credentials. Ask "What happens if my dog gets it wrong?" and "what happens if my dog gets it right?" If you are not satisfied with the answer, keep looking. Keep your pets safe and engage the help of qualified, evidence-based trainers.

Important points to look for in a dog trainer:
  • Some kind of certification and/or formal education (look into where the certification or degree comes from to ensure it is a reputable source).  
  • If they say they are certified but don't elaborate, ask where and how they attained their certification and what was required of them to achieve the title.  
  • A working knowledge of animal behaviour, development, body language, and learning theory. 
  • A variety of positive approaches and an ability to be flexible to fit the needs of individual dogs and their families (for example, using a variety of reinforcers such as treats, toys, play, praise, pets, exercise, whatever motivates the dog).  
  • Your trainer needs to be able to explain to you what they are doing, why they are doing it, and how you will be able to do it once they leave.  They are not a magician, they are a teacher, and their job is to educate and empower you to understand how your dog learns and how to get desired behaviours from your dog.  This should be done in a way that works for you and your family and in a way that helps strengthen your relationship with your dog.

 Red flags to be wary of:
  • The trainer or company offers a "100% guarantee" or any kind of guarantee.  Dogs and all animals are dynamic, individual living creatures and there is absolutely no ethical way to guarantee specific results.  
  • The trainer simply uses experience as their credentials.  Anyone can perform any activity the wrong way for decades.  While hands-on experience is extremely valuable, it must be combined with academic study and a drive for continuous professional growth.  
  • Gimmicks.  If the trainer's website uses slogans that belong in a late-night infomercial, click on.  Claims referring to a "secret" method or a one-of-a-kind approach?  They're one-of-a-kind for a reason.  Science belongs to everyone and the behavioural sciences should be part of every trainer's toolkit. 
  • The trainer uses wolf behaviour as an analogy or explanation of dog behaviour.  Dogs are descendants from wolves and are genetically nearly identical to wolves, but behaviourally they are extremely different.  Dogs are domesticated animals and have learned to cooperate and live peacefully with humans, which is why their species has been so successful.  For more on this topic, I recommend the book "Dogs" by the Coppingers
  • The trainer uses dominance or similar theory to justify harsh methods: aversives, punishment, pain, intimidation, bullying, fear, etc.  
Dominance hierarchy is defined as "a social ranking within a group, in which some individuals give way to others, often conceding useful resources to others without a fight" (Alcock, 2013).

You already control your dogs' treats, meal times, walks, toys, access to water, play time, affection, comfy sleeping locations, shelter, fresh air, exercise.... (I could go on).  There is absolutely no need for us to be mean to our dogs in order to show them who is boss.

Aggression is defined as "hostile or violent behaviour or attitudes toward another; readiness to attack or confront.   The action of attacking without provocation, forceful and sometimes overly assertive pursuit of one's aims and interests."

Dominance and aggression are two very distinct concepts and a trainer must know understand the difference.  For a great lecture on this topic, visit Clive Wynne's YouTube Channel:


Remember, we invited our dogs into our homes to be loving members of our families.  When things go wrong what we really want is peace.  Aggression does not lead to peace, aggression begets further aggression.  Challenging behaviours in our dogs can really take a toll on us and on our families, I understand the desperation and fear in not knowing where to turn.  When we can help people and dogs through really difficult times in a way that helps repair and rebuild their relationships, there is no need to use methods that create division and discord between human and their companion dog.  When we can look at our dogs with the understanding that they are only doing what works for them, we can dilute the anger and resentment and realize that we just need to show them a better way.  And my hope is our wonderful community of evidence-based, force-free trainers can continue to be part of showing the humans a better way.


If you need help with your dog's behaviour there are important factors to keep in mind.

Did you know that anyone can call themselves a trainer with no credentials? If you are looking for a trainer, please ask any questions you have to ensure you know who you are hiring! Ask about their philosophy, their education and experience, ask to see proof of their credentials. Ask "What happens if my dog gets it wrong?" and "what happens if my dog gets it right?" If you are not satisfied with the answer, keep looking. Keep your pets safe and engage the help of qualified, evidence-based trainers.

The APDT website has an excellent article on the topic: https://apdt.com/resource-center/how-to-choose-a-dog-trainer/ wherein they list their seven most important questions to ask of a potential trainer.

And here are my answers to those questions:

1.  What method of training do you use?
  • I use primarily positive-reinforcement based training.  This means I seek to find out what motivates the dog (i..e toys, play, praise, treats, exercise, etc.) and use those rewards to teach the dog the behaviours we need or want him to learn.  
  • I use the least invasive, minimally aversive methods.  This means I strenuously avoid the use of any intimidation, pain, coercion, and seek to use behavioural sciences to elicit desirable behaviour rather than forcing it out of the dog.  
  • I use the behavioural sciences to inform my training and am continuously adapting my approach to meet the needs of the dogs and their families.  
2.  What is your educational background in the area of dog training?
  • I have a degree in Psychology with a focus on animal behaviour and learning 
  • I have worked as a professional dog trainer for six years, including teaching classes, working at our local humane society, and doing private consults through my business.  
  • I am a certified professional dog trainer (CPDT-KA), this means means that my knowledge on animal learning theory, husbandry, health, ethology, training equipment, and instructing skills have all been evaluated to the standard of the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers.  This also includes adherence to a code of ethics and to the humane hierarchy for animal training.  
3.  What is some recent continuing education that you have attended?
  • In November 2016 I completed a 9-hour course to become Fear-Free Certified.  This course focused on helping animals experience less stress at the veterinary hospital and on implementing low-stress, gentle handling techniques during vet visits.
  • In June 2015 I travelled to Toronto and attended a workshop called "Getting In Shape", a seminar on shaping behaviours using clicker training
  • In March 2015 I received my CPDT-KA (Certified Professional Dog Trainer - Knowledge Assessed) designation, after many months of study and an extensive examination encompassing animal learning theory, husbandry, health, ethology, training equipment, and instructing skills.
  • In May of 2014 and 2011 I attended conferences put on my PABA (Professional Animal Behaviour Associates).  These were two day symposiums with a number of different speakers on a variety of topics. 
  • In October 2011 I attended a huge dog-training conference put on my the Association of Pet Dog Trainers in San Diego, California.  It is a week-long conference filled with wonderful, knowledgeable speakers and great opportunities to learn and grow as a professional.  
4.  What equipment do you use?
  • My most basic equipment is a clicker and treats.  I use my brain (instead of my body) to train.  
  • As training aids I sometimes use or recommend gentle leader head halters, no-pull harnesses, long leads, and similar pain-free management tools.  
5.  What kind of follow-up do you provide to your clients?
  • After my training sessions I follow-up with an email summarizing the content of the session as a refresher and to invite any questions that my clients may have.  I also provide recommendations for reading, classes, and any other resources I feel they may find helpful. 
  • I am available for follow-up questions or assistance throughout the process.
4.  Can you provide a list of clients we can contact for references?
  • Yes.  If a prospective client asks for references, I can provide them.  
5.  Do you belong to any professional associations?
  • Yes, I am a member of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the Pet Professionals Guild.
6.  What are your credentials and do you have any certifications?
  • As mentioned above, I am a certified professional dog trainer (CPDT-KA) 
  • This means means that my knowledge on animal learning theory, husbandry, health, ethology, training equipment, and instructing skills have all been evaluated to the standard of the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers.  This also includes adherence to a code of ethics and to the humane hierarchy for animal training. 
  • I am also fear-free certified - this certification was focused on helping animals experience less stress at the veterinary hospital and on implementing low-stress, gentle handling techniques during vet visits.

7.  What sort of services do you provide for pet owners? Do you provide specialized services?
  • In addition to private training services, my company also provides dog walking and pet sitting services.  
  • This means that progress your dog has made can be continued because of the consistency we can offer. 
  • You can continue to work with someone you have developed a trusting relationship with and with whom you and your dog are both comfortable.  



Transparency in Dog Training


Jean Donaldson from the Academy of Dog Trainers recommends asking a prospective trainer the three questions listed in the graphic above.

1.  What exactly will happen to my dog if my dog gets it right?
  • Click & treat!  
  • Your dog will receive a reward marker (saying "yes", "good", or using a clicker to mark the desired behaviour), followed by a reinforcer.  A reinforcer can be a treat, throwing a toy, or some other stimulus the dog finds rewarding to increase the likelihood of the behaviour happening again.  
2.  What exactly will happen to my dog if my dog gets it wrong?
  • The behaviour might be ignored.  Pretend it didn't happen, reset, try again.
  • We might back up a step.  If we moved too quickly and the dog wasn't understanding what we wanted, we can go back, make it more clear for the dog, then move forward again.  
  • Change the environment to set the dog up for success.
  • Change the reinforcer to help motivate the dog.  
  • Re-evaluate our training plan - see what mistakes we might be making and try something different.  Every dog is an individual and we must be creative and flexible.  
  • We do not use positive punishment to "correct" undesired behaviours, we aim to replace them with desirable behaviours.  We do not use choke, shock, or prong collars, nor do we ever hit, harm, or attempt to scare or intimidate any animal into doing what we want.
3.  Are there less invasive/aversive alternatives to what you propose? 
  • Our aim is to focus on using positive reinforcement to increase desirable behaviours.  
  • If ever anything does not feel right for you or your pet, please let us know right away and we will come up with a different plan together.  
  • Training your pet must be collaborative.  As a trainer, we are only with you for a short period of time.  You must feel comfortable to move forward with the tools and strategies given and be able to do them on your own.  
  • Our job is to empower you and support you to meet your training goals and solidify your relationship with your pet! 

Companion Animal Psychology has an excellent post on this very question: https://www.companionanimalpsychology.com/2016/12/how-to-choose-dog-trainer.html

I Speak Dog has a great article on this subject: http://www.ispeakdog.org/how-to-choose-a-dog-trainer.html

Dog Star Daily also has an article on the topic: http://www.dogstardaily.com/blogs/when-choosing-dog-trainer-buyer-beware by Dr. Ian Dunbar.


To learn more about us, please visit our website:
 http://www.pawsitivepooch.ca







And visit us on Facebook:
 www.Facebook.com/PawsPooch


Reference
Alcock, John. (2013). Animal Behavior: An Evolutionary Approach. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates, Inc.

Addendum:  We later added another blog post explaining why we use positive reinforcement and a fear free approach in the delivery of all our services.  Pawsitive = Fear free, force free.   

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