Friday, June 27, 2014

Choose Your Friends (and Dog Trainer) Carefully

I've been doing some thinking and reading lately, and there's something I really need to get off my chest, so bear with my rambling.
I train dogs. I help with behavior modification, problem solving and simple obedience training. I don't call myself a 'dog whisperer', behaviorist, or someone who strives for 'fast, effective results'. I also do not 'guarantee training results'.
If I spent my time speaking softly to dogs, I suppose I could call myself a 'whisperer' but that's not what I do and honestly I think it sounds weird.
I do not consider myself a behaviorist because I do not (yet) have a Master's degree or a PhD. To call myself a behaviorist, I need a lot more knowledge and a lot more experience; I'm just not there yet.
I never, ever, ever, never promise fast and effective results from training. Unless the only problem you have is a stinky dog (the resolution for which is a good bath), odds are there isn't a quick fix. It's simple to teach behaviors using just about any type of training, but it's the generalizing and proofing that takes time. By the way, generalizing and proofing need to be done with any type of training, which is why it's not accurate to offer fast, effective result.
I don't guarantee training results. Not because I don't believe in my work or my methods, but because training requires lifetime maintenance. I cannot guarantee that you, the owner will keep up with training after our lessons are done. I certainly hope you will, though.

Enough about me. I want to talk about you. You and your dog. Your dog who chews up everything, who only listens when you have treats in your hand, who forgets everything you have worked so hard to train as soon as you open the freaking front door. I've been there myself. I've been there with clients and the best part of my day is when a client says "I can't believe he's listening! I never thought that would happen!" The second best part of my day is knowing I helped them achieve that without harming their dog or their relationship with their dog. I want you and your dog to get to that point even if I never get to meet you, even if another trainer is the one who gets to share that moment with you- I want you and your dog to have that because it's a great feeling.

Now, to pick a trainer...
It's tough to choose a trainer for your four legged family member. I've had to do it and luckily I got a great one on my first try. The first place you can turn to is your veterinarian. I spend a lot of time and money getting to know veterinarians and letting them get to know me. I offer free education sessions for staff members at vet clinics as well as puppy folders with information on development and early training tricks. I answer all questions they ask me, and I thank them for their referrals. I want them to know they can rely on me and trust me with all of their clients. Next, I do the same with groomers and breeders. My point is this- a good trainer, who cares about their clients, community and reputation will do this, and the names you (usually) get from other pet professionals are the folks who are putting out some effort.

You have a name from your veterinarian, now what? Seriously? You have an internet connection and the name of a stranger who you may invite into your home? Google it! Do they have a website? Email address? Phone number? Education? Credentials? Are they listed in the search of any organization devoted to training? If a trainer has an undergraduate, graduate or doctoral degree, especially in animal behavior it's typically a good sign that they will have a solid understanding of canine behavior and development. Specifically, I tell people to look for someone who has any or all of the following designations after their name: CPDT-KA, CPDT-KSA, IAABC, CBCC-KA, APDT, ACAAB, CAAB. Now, these aren't the only designations you may see, just the more common ones and the ones more frequently associated with reward based trainers. For a full list of any letters you may see after a trainer's name, check out this post from the APDT.

You can click on each of those up there for their own websites, but I'll give a quick run-down:

These are all designations granted by the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers to those who have passed a standardized test that they are only allowed to sit for after approval by the Certification Council. In order to apply to sit for the test, an individual needs references from a veterinarian, a client, and a colleague in the training field. They also need at least 300 documented hours of work as the lead trainer in the three years leading up to them taking the test. Oh, and the ones with the -KSA have taken it a step further and have passed a knowledge and skills assessment, which means they take the same test, then provide video showing their capabilities working with dogs and people. The video proves that they can help train new behaviors, adjust to individuals and that they don't utilize force or any type of coercion.

The International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants has different levels of membership, depending on skill level and experience. The Associate Certified Membership means that the individual has at least 300 hours experience in behavior consulting and 150 hours minimum of coursework (in these areas). The Certified Membership requires 500 hours of consulting and 400 hours of coursework at a minimum. 

The Association of Professional Dog Trainers is a professional organization for trainers who are devoted to positive methods and continuing education. The only requirement is that you pay the annual dues, but this means that the trainer is at least putting forth the effort to train in a better way than we did 15 years ago.

The Animal Behavior Society is a professional certification organization that has two levels of certification. The Associate Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist must hold a Master's degree from an accredited college or university in a biological or behavioral science with an emphasis in animal behavior, and have completed a research based thesis. They also need to have two years experience in applied animal behavior. The Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist must have a doctoral degree from an accredited college or university in a biological or behavioral science with an emphasis on animal behavior, including five years of professional experience, or a doctorate from an accredited college or university in veterinary medicine plus two years in a university-approved residency in animal behavior and three additional years of professional experience in applied animal behavior.

I know I keep harping on the reward based training and positive reinforcement training, but only because it's really important. I'll go into more detail in a later post, but for now feel free to read the ASVAB's position on punishment in training. In short, compulsion based training methods frequently do more harm than good and can quickly deteriorate a human-canine bond. Trainers who give up on reward based training either don't understand what they are doing, don't understand animal behavior, or are simply too lazy to follow it through. Reward based training does take more time. It does take more work. Results cannot be guaranteed unless pet parents keep up the work over time (and really, this is true for any type of training).

Above all, if you don't like the trainer- don't use them! If you meet with me for a consult and you don't like my personality, that's fine. Odds are I can tell and I really prefer not to work with people who don't want to work with me anyway. It seems like a waste of both our time and a waste of your money. Remember- it's your money and your time, and it should be money and time well spent.

Today's lesson:
Be sure to research your trainer, ask questions, ask for references, and ask about methods.

No comments:

Post a Comment