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Not all dog trainers are equal

Ever tried to look for a dog trainer to help you with your dog? All the ads say every company can help you. Each web site you look at has a “master trainer” who is the best in the world. The different companies all use different methods and tell you theirs is the only method that works. And, a few of the trainers you talk to even tell you not to go to another company because it is no good. What is going on?

If you think dog shows are competitive you should take a good look at the dog training business.

I entered the profession of dog training over 10 years ago after 20 years of working in the accounting field.  Being a dog trainer was my hearts passion and a hobby most of my life.  I was thrilled (and a little scared) when I made the decision to change career directions.  I though dog trainers were nice people. I really don’t want to criticize them all especially since I am one so I will quote a joke that trainers tell about themselves. “The only reason one dog trainer would talk to another dog trainer is to criticizing a third dog trainer.”  Of course, I am exaggerating.  After all I got where I am because there were other trainer that helped and encouraged me.  But that still leaves us with the question; why do they all disagree on how to train a dog?

There are two parts to dog training; technical and artistic.

In the beginning, dog training is technique. A trainer is a technician; he or she learns a technique and continues to practice it until they are proficient.  Next is the artistic element of the trade.  In order to understand the artistic form of dog training you have to not only study and train hundreds of dog for thousands of hours, you must learn something about the dogs.  Not all trainers do this.  Some trainers are great technicians that never learn to read a dog.  Therefore, they cannot properly evaluate behaviors.Their answer to every problem is to use the same technique they have always used.  These are the trainers who never grow in their knowledge because they cannot (or will not) change their technique. Questions about the use of other methods, puts them on the defensive.  They do not defend their method of training by its merits but simply by criticizing all others.

Many different techniques or training methods work.

If your goal is to make a dog perform a behavior on cue there are many, many different methods that will work.  Some are fast; some take longer; some increase the chances of harming the dog; some increase the chances of harming the handler. You can encourage the dog or you can beat him into submission. Both techniques work. This is how different trainers using different methods can all tell you theirs works. Weather or not one method is the “best” depends on your definition of “best”.  Is the fastest the “best”; is the safest the “best; is the most humane the “best”? Usually this question is answered by the client not the trainer.Sometimes if the behavior you are dealing with concerns safety, this will narrow your choices. But, you do have choices.  

Obedience training is not the same as behavior modification.

Obedience training is getting a dog to perform a behavior on cue. Sit, down, stay and heal are behaviors that you teach the dog to do on cue.  Jumping, barking or running out the front door are behaviors that you want to modify.  Most trainers understand basic behavior modification for things like jumping and barking.  Most have not studied behavior modification for serious behaviors like aggression.  If you are going to do business with a trainer or company that claims to specialize in aggression, ask what qualifies them in that particular specialty.

Behavior modification is something you do. An animal behaviorist is something you are.

It is very important that you understand that there is no law or licensing to regulate who can train dogs. Nor is there any regulation on what a trainer calls himself.  But there are ethical standards. If a trainer advertises himself as a dog psychologist or animal behaviorist, ask them if they have a degree in animal behavior.  To use these titles without a degree is unethical.  Do not do business with anyone doing this. It is ok for a trainer to say they do behavior modification or consulting without a degree but it is not OK to claim to be a behaviorist.  I know this sounds confusing but that is the point.  Not all dog trainers are honest and not all dog trainers are equal.


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