Responsibilities of a Professional Dog Trainer

What kind of dog trainer would tell a dog owner they have only two choices - either put a shock collar on your dog or go buy her a hamburger before you take her to be euthanized!  This trainer told the owner her dog was aggressive and the only way to “fix” it was with a shock collar. The owner felt she had no choice so she trusted the trainer, resulting in even more trauma to a dog already on emotional overload.

This dog owner is an intelligent, receptive woman who was seeking professional help for a fairly common behavior problem. She had unofficially “adopted” the dog a few months earlier after she could no longer tolerate the abuse and neglect this little girl was suffering at the hands of her former owner. She soon discovered the dog had some fear issues but since she was great with the kids and liked other animals, she was willing to work with her.

She could have done like so many people do - ignore the issues until someone got hurt or just “get rid” of the dog, but instead she chose to keep her, seek professional help and give her a chance at a normal, happy life. She did the right thing by enlisting the services of a dog trainer but unfortunately it nearly cost the dog its life.

I had a consult with the dog owner and her dog yesterday. We met in a quiet, out of the way area of a small strip mall that was having a pet adoption event. We could see other people and dogs at a distance but didn’t have to interact with them. Her dog was a small, cute, lab mix, not much more than 6 months old. She appeared calm and non-threatening, but her body language said she was confused, scared and untrusting.

I was able to spend about 30 minutes working with them. I showed her how to desensitize and counter condition her dog by keeping her below threshold - that point just shy of where a stimulus is of sufficient intensity to begin to produce a reaction - and how to watch for any desirable behaviors she could reward - all of those nearly imperceptible bits of behavior that happen in just a split second of time – I explained that the more she rewarded those behaviors the more she would see those behaviors increase - leaving less and less time for the dog to practice the unwanted behaviors.

I received an email from her that evening thanking me for my help and letting me know that she could already see a change in her dog’s behavior. She told me she learned more in those thirty minutes then she did in the weeks she spent with the other trainer. Unfortunately she is leaving to go out of town for three weeks but we have plans to do some more work when she returns.

I am a dog trainer and I earn a good part of my living as a dog trainer so I guess some would consider that enough to qualify me as a Professional Dog Trainer. I have been working with dogs for over 21 years and I am still uncomfortable about calling myself a professional. To me that title holds a lot of responsibility and I want to be sure I can live up to it. Funny thing is …I find that the more I learn about dog behavior and dog training the more I realize there is to learn.

I will never pretend to know what I don’t know and I am not ashamed, embarrassed, or too proud to admit it. If I am ever in a situation where I cannot help a client I will advise them to consult a Veterinary Behaviorist. I do not have the right or the expertise to recommend euthanasia of any animal. I will be there for that client for emotional support and whatever else they need, but the decision should be made by the client with the help and advice of a Veterinarian or Veterinary Behaviorist.

Most people do not realize that dog training is not a regulated profession. There are no requirements for education, no licenses or certifications required. You can open a dog training business tomorrow and call yourself a Professional Dog Trainer without knowing the first thing about dog training. This is definitely a business that is “Buyer Beware.”

So how can you protect yourself and your dog from a situation such as this one? If you are looking for a trainer, one of the best questions to ask is: “What training tools do you use?” If the answer is anything like: “All dogs are different. We use a variety of tools. It depends on the dog.” Keep looking …A good dog trainer should need only a leash, a buckle or martingale collar or harness and a variety of reinforcers including treats and toys. In fact a good dog trainer may even tell you some of their best dog training is what we refer to as naked training! If a trainer suggests any training methods that make you feel uncomfortable trust your instinct …your first responsibility is to your dog. You have the right to say whatever you want …and your dog is counting on you to say STOP!
 

9 comments

  • Kelly + Winston

    Kelly + Winston

    Great blog post Anne! I'm so glad this woman found you and i'm sure her dog is too! I can't wait to keep reading about your future training experiences. :)

    Great blog post Anne! I'm so glad this woman found you and i'm sure her dog is too! I can't wait to keep reading about your future training experiences. smile

  • Sara

    Sara

    Anyone who is going to use a shock collar should try it out before they put it on their dog. Maybe they'll have second thoughts after that?!

    Anyone who is going to use a shock collar should try it out before they put it on their dog. Maybe they'll have second thoughts after that?!

  • Rhiannon

    Rhiannon

    Great post! The best "training" is always through positive reinforcement in my honest opinion. Whether it be children or pets :). This was written really well Anne! I hope you continue to share your experiences. ~On a side note, I find it extremely disheartening to hear the advice this woman was given by said "professional dog trainer". How sad..

    Great post! The best "training" is always through positive reinforcement in my honest opinion. Whether it be children or pets smile. This was written really well Anne! I hope you continue to share your experiences.

    ~On a side note, I find it extremely disheartening to hear the advice this woman was given by said "professional dog trainer". How sad..

  • Kreacher's Mum

    Kreacher's Mum

    I am a foster parent for rescue organizations in the Tampa area, including the local county shelter. Although it was not intentional, my niche seems to have become saving the lives of the frightened ones. Not necessarily by design, but because so many dogs are not adopted, and ultimately euthanized, because they are scared! It made me so angry that, much like this "trainer" to which you refer, some shelter workers place a death sentence on a dog that simply needs a little time, patience and positive reinforcement. I choose the basket cases, intentionally. So they don't die. Dozens have been successfully rehomed, and their stories of the happiness they bring their new families is heartwarming. The thought of putting an electric collar on any of my frightened foster babies sends chills down my spine. I can't fathom it. Bravo, Anne, for stepping up and speaking out!

    I am a foster parent for rescue organizations in the Tampa area, including the local county shelter. Although it was not intentional, my niche seems to have become saving the lives of the frightened ones. Not necessarily by design, but because so many dogs are not adopted, and ultimately euthanized, because they are scared! It made me so angry that, much like this "trainer" to which you refer, some shelter workers place a death sentence on a dog that simply needs a little time, patience and positive reinforcement. I choose the basket cases, intentionally. So they don't die. Dozens have been successfully rehomed, and their stories of the happiness they bring their new families is heartwarming. The thought of putting an electric collar on any of my frightened foster babies sends chills down my spine. I can't fathom it. Bravo, Anne, for stepping up and speaking out!

  • Beth Brady

    Beth Brady

    Fear and anxiety in a pet is really no different than fear and anxiety in humans. You simply have to talk to the pet in a different language...so it's just a different therapy than what is available to humans to solve the underlying issues. How could a trainer mistake fear for aggression - aggression is usually a symptom of fear and if you can calm the fear, you can usually calm the aggression. How could a trainer have such tunnel vision to advise someone in such a way? Thank goodness she found you Ann - I'll take experience and compassion over certifications any day!

    Fear and anxiety in a pet is really no different than fear and anxiety in humans. You simply have to talk to the pet in a different language...so it's just a different therapy than what is available to humans to solve the underlying issues. How could a trainer mistake fear for aggression - aggression is usually a symptom of fear and if you can calm the fear, you can usually calm the aggression. How could a trainer have such tunnel vision to advise someone in such a way? Thank goodness she found you Ann - I'll take experience and compassion over certifications any day!

  • Melanie Phillpot, EagerPup.com

    Melanie Phillpot, EagerPup.com

    Anne - We value your kindness, intelligence and positive reinforcement based training expertise immeasurably here in Gainesville!! Rock on! : )

    Anne - We value your kindness, intelligence and positive reinforcement based training expertise immeasurably here in Gainesville!! Rock on! : )

  • Dee Zurburg, Class Act for Dogs, 6-26-12

    Dee Zurburg, Class Act for Dogs, 6-26-12

    Dogs are in our lives to teach us how to be respectful and compassionate. Every time someone like you steps up and speaks out in favor of reward-based training, aversive-based training loses ground. If we "speak" as a group, we can make a difference. Aversive training is like cussing; people use it when they don't have any skills.

    Dogs are in our lives to teach us how to be respectful and compassionate. Every time someone like you steps up and speaks out in favor of reward-based training, aversive-based training loses ground. If we "speak" as a group, we can make a difference. Aversive training is like cussing; people use it when they don't have any skills.

  • Lori

    Lori

    Several years ago, I was advised by a Gainesville trainer to "flatten" my newly adopted dog for what appeared to be an aggressive display, but in retrospect was a full blown panic attack. Fortunately, I knew better and got us the help that we needed. The dog went on to earn her CGC and AG-1 agility title and is now doing pretty well in nosework and is happily doing agility courses in a location where she feels comfortable. We have a relationship based on mutual respect and trust, rather than on fear of consequences. I shudder to think what would have happened, if I had "flattened" the dog and made her "think that she was about to die" per this trainer. Lately, I am hearing all sorts of interesting rationalization for the use of certain training "tools". Those of us who know better need to speak out for those who can't speak for themselves. Thank you for starting a much needed dialogue.

    Several years ago, I was advised by a Gainesville trainer to "flatten" my newly adopted dog for what appeared to be an aggressive display, but in retrospect was a full blown panic attack. Fortunately, I knew better and got us the help that we needed. The dog went on to earn her CGC and AG-1 agility title and is now doing pretty well in nosework and is happily doing agility courses in a location where she feels comfortable. We have a relationship based on mutual respect and trust, rather than on fear of consequences.

    I shudder to think what would have happened, if I had "flattened" the dog and made her "think that she was about to die" per this trainer.

    Lately, I am hearing all sorts of interesting rationalization for the use of certain training "tools". Those of us who know better need to speak out for those who can't speak for themselves. Thank you for starting a much needed dialogue.

  • Me

    Me

    Brilliant article and such a relief that this poor dog and woman found you. Shock collars are about money and the easy way out, not the wellbeing of the dogs.

    Brilliant article and such a relief that this poor dog and woman found you. Shock collars are about money and the easy way out, not the wellbeing of the dogs.

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