Yes, this is a serious question. When your teeth hurt, do you call a plumber? Of course not, you call a dentist. But, do you call a dentist who would use wooden teeth to replace the rotted ones he might extract from a patient’s mouth?
If you have a training or behavior problem with your dog and you call your friend, watch a TV show, ask your dog’s breeder, pick a trainer from the list your rescue or vet gave you without checking their credentials or auditing a class, or buy a dog training book from the average bookstore, you are doing the equivalent of going to an 18th century dentist and expecting him to know how to straighten your teeth when braces haven’t even been invented yet, or asking a plumber to fill the cavity in your left premolar.
Training and behavior modification of dogs is a completely unregulated industry, so, unlike a modern dentist, who must graduate college and maintain continuing education, and actually KNOW how to treat you (or even a plumber who must either go to trade school or apprentice with a legitimately licensed plumber), a trainer can just hang out a shingle and use any method he wants to try to train your dog.
Finding a dog trainer who will not hurt your dog, either physically or EMOTIONALLY, is not easy. You, as a consumer, especially if you have not adopted a new dog within the past ten or fifteen years, might not even be aware that there are new and different methods for training dogs which do NOT involve painful devices.
Years ago, most trainers were using some form of compulsion from leash pops to helicoptering. Today’s compulsion trainers, who haven’t adopted more modern methods, may still use harsh tools and punishment. Some of them, realizing that public opinion may finally be leaning more toward science-based force free training that keeps dogs happy while educating them not to rip up your slippers or greet guests nicely, are adopting language on their web sites to fool you in to thinking that they are much more positive in their approach than they really are. (Just one example of this: Shock or correction collars have suddenly become “remote” or “reminder” or “vibration” collars that are set to “beep” - what the trainer doesn’t tell you is that those collars have multiple settings and that some dogs are given shocks that are higher than that “buzz” you felt on your wrist when the trainer let you try it for yourself to prove how “harmless” it was.)
Certification is not universal or mandatory, and no certification currently exists that guarantees that your trainer will be using modern force free methods, any more than AKC registration means that your puppy didn’t come from a puppy mill.
So, how do you protect your dog from harmful methods that some trainer is telling you are fine??? One way is NOT to send your dog to any trainer who operates a “boot camp” – if you want the trainer to train your dog, be present during the sessions, and if anything is being done that you are not comfortable with, stop the session! You are your dog’s only hope of protection. If you still want a trainer to train your dog, but absolutely cannot be present, then send the dog to a trainer who belongs to the Pet Professional Guild. It is the only national organization that requires member trainers to pledge that they will avoid the use of choke, prong, or shock collars.
There are some regional organizations forming as well, so that local force free trainers can have other safe trainers to refer back and forth to.
Another way to keep your dog safe from harm is to reject the services of anyone who tells you that you need to be a pack leader, show your dog who’s boss, be the alpha, or dominate your dog. Veterinarian behaviorists, who DO need a solid education in dog behavior before they can practice as such, are advising regular vets not to refer their clients to trainers who use such outmoded techniques: http://avsabonline.org/uploads/position_statements/dominance_statement.pdf
You can also prohibit, in writing, the use of choke, prong, or shock collars on your dog. If the trainer gives you any problem about that, then you know that he or she lacks the skill to train your dog without those devices. Modern trainers have largely adopted training methods used by marine mammal trainers (ever try putting a prong collar on a whale?), and marker, or clicker training, that teaches dogs by reinforcing them for behaviors you like.
For more information about modern training, see Pam’s videos at www.pamsdogtraining.com, or visit the Kikopup channel on YouTube. If you are in the Boston/North Shore area, contact us at Paws for Praise for help or a referral.