Choosing a Dog Trainer

Nov 12, 2018   Tracey Aston   Training

Our dogs are born with an innate ability to love and bond with us, but they are not born knowing what we expect of them.  We have to teach them that.  As soon as your dog enters your life, you should start working on creating a mutually respecting bond, while teaching them boundaries and manners. If during your basic training, you realize that you want, or need, the guidance of a professional trainer, it's important to know how to choose a good one in a sea of many.  

When searching for your professional trainer, you should look for words like “force free” “rewards based” and “positive reinforcement.” But what do those words really mean? Force free training is teaching an animal without intentional pain, intimidation, threats or force and without the use of aversive training methods such as choke, shock, pinch/prong and e-collars. Reward based training, and positive reinforcement training, are methods that focus on telling your dog when they are correct, instead of punishing them when they are incorrect.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Debby McMullen, a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC), owner of Pittsburgh based Pawsitive Reactions LLC and author of “How Many Dogs?! Using Positive Reinforcement Training to Manage a Multiple Dog Household and regular guest contributor for Victoria Stillwell's website,  Debby's training methods are force-free and rewards-based, utilizing modern positive reinforcement. These modern training methods are dog-friendly, using proven science backed techniques for effective and humane relationship-based training. Ms. McMullen believes in training not just dogs but their owners.

“Real behavior change comes from teaching the dog to make better decisions; it's not about controlling your dog.”  In Ms. McMullen's article, How Do I make him do what I say?, for dog training website, Positively, she writes, “Do you want to be a scary dictator or a wise parent? I will choose wise parent every time. Part of being a good parent is mutual respect.” “So stop MAKING your dog do things. Teach him what you want and make it fun! You will wonder what took you so long! Respect, give it and you earn it!”

When speaking with Debby, it's obvious that she honestly wants the best for you and your furry loved one and sees all dogs as individuals and treats them with respect and compassion. Isn't that what we want for our furry family members?

In her article, False Positive: Why Certification Isn't Enough in Dog Training, Ms. McMullen warns against simply choosing a professional trainer based on the word ‘certified' alone.  “Currently the only country to legislate dog training is Germany. They overwhelmingly require modern methods be used. There are testing requirements and licensing requirements for dog trainers. There are also testing requirements for dog PARENTS! I consider this a wonderful thing. The trainer requirements seem to vary a bit by district but what is all encompassing is that the country's humane laws state that one cannot cause pain to a dog in order to train them. That fact does more to level the playing field in Germany than any “certification” in the USA that is currently available will ever do.” “Choosing someone with a certification would seem the way to go, but wait, is the playing field level when the word certification is used by someone as their claim to a credential? Not even close! Certifying bodies (or individuals!) are all different and have widely ranging criteria. Add to that, the fact that literally anyone can say that they are certifying people as dog trainers and it is perfectly legal to do this. The word certified has been rendered meaningless in this field. With no single oversight organization regulating the body of knowledge required by dog trainers at any level, there is simply no way of knowing what each certification is required to achieve, if anything at all.”

“Real trainers won't offer a guarantee, dogs are not robots” she says, again showing the respect for our dog's individuality and personality.  That's not to say that your animal is untrainable by any means, but it does mean we all, dogs included, learn differently and no one size fits all is going to work. But all dogs can be trained with modern methods so don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

When interviewing for a professional trainer, Ms. Mullen recommends asking a ton of questions. This is your family member you're putting into someone's hands after all. Some questions to have in mind are “How do you achieve training?” “What tools do you use?”  “What does force free, modern training mean to you?” Simply asking a professional trainer if they're force free or positive reinforcement isn't enough, as some will advertise as such and still use aversive tools for training.

When choosing a trainer, do the research, ask questions, read reviews and ask others for their opinions.  Realize that professional trainers aren't just for dogs with behavioral problems, even though that is part of the equation.  Unwanted behavior is best addressed before it even has a chance to start; therefore, all of our dogs can benefit from a professional trainer, and will be calmer, happy and healthier when they know what is expected of them. 

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