An Unregulated Industry: Navigating the world of dog training and its many providers.
Because the training and behavior industry is unregulated, there are no restrictions around who can call themselves trainers, consultants, or behaviorists. Education is not required. Certifications are not required. Continuing education is not required. This means that professionals who have committed to learning, practicing, and having their knowledge and skills assessed do so out of their own personal desire to bring best practices to those they are helping.
It also means these professionals will come up in the Google search right alongside others who may not be concerned with the above standards.
Having access to people’s dogs is a huge privilege and requires a binding ethical and moral responsibility to the dogs and to the owners.
Until we move legislation toward mandatory education or licensing, (think nurses, massage therapists, and mental health professionals), the responsibility of due diligence rests heavily on the shoulders of the dog’s guardians to select the best practitioner.
So how do we select one from the other? How do we transcend the marketing speak? Can we cut through the vague descriptions and the promises of “fixes”? How do we identify a qualified training or behavior professional who prioritizes the mental and emotional health of your animal?
Conduct Interviews: Everyone searching for help should be conducting interviews. It is understandable that you may want to connect with the first person who calls you back—especially if you are dealing with DEFCON 1 situation like intra-household aggression or human-directed aggression.
Experience - What kinds of dogs do you work with? What kinds of behaviors do you focus on? How long have you been doing this?
Education and Credentials - Do you have any? If so, from which organizations? Then check the legitimacy of the certifying bodies to see if their values and commitments are in line with what you want for your dog. (For example, LIMA is a set of guidelines around training and behavior that members of certain organizations pledge to uphold and it stands for: Least Intrusive Minimally Aversive. It is really a competency standard.)
If it’s one person collecting money and basically tapping people on the shoulder with a sword declaring them a Master Trainer, that might be a red flag and you may want to dig a little deeper.
Are they committed to continuing education even if they are not re-certifying?
If you speak to someone who has been “training dogs” for like 30 years and has never given or attended a workshop or seminar, they just might not be completely up to speed on all of the advancements.
Is it a franchise that onboards anyone who can pay the fee?
Methods and Reasoning: What will happen to the dog in the session? Is problematic behavior being instigated in order to use intimidation or confrontation to momentarily shut the dog down and suppress them? Can they talk about the role of emotional behaviors and why they are critical in behavior cases?
Do they have one answer or one tool for everything?
Can they discuss the science?
Your Gut: Your gut is a tool. If the person you are speaking with is leaving you feeling confused, rushed, pressured, or they're promising to "fix" your dog, take a moment to think about those feelings.
If they are in this because "they don't like people" and prefer dogs, that's a red flag. The only way the dog can get help is for the people caring for them to understand their role in the treatment.
No one, not human or dog, should be bullied, forced, made to feel unsafe, or intimidated into participating or using tools your gut is telling you are not ok. If it feels wrong, it probably is.
Ask More Questions: I offer a free, 15-minute call—with absolutely no obligation to hire me—to discuss anything you may have heard or read and are just not sure about. It is that important that everyone have all the information for making informed decisions.
Cooperation Canine - Blogs about ethical handling: I know how to punish a dog; Know more. Do better.
Fetching the Perfect Dog Trainer - Katenna Jones, Jones Animal Behavior (Find it on Dogwise.com)
This blog was the topic for a radio appearance on Animal Talk. Here is the link to the show if you'd like to listen: