We may love them, but we sure don’t respect them

small black dog from puerto ricoIt would seem that it is too much to expect that people who decide to make a living from “working” with dogs, actually spent some time learning about them. There are plenty of jobs out there that don’t require any education for someone to excel at them. If you want your lawn mowed and raked hiring a neighborhood kid with the tools is probably not a big risk. But if you want your fruit trees pruned you’d better be careful before you give that kid a pair of clippers.

Awhile back I caught grief for suggesting that as admirable as her intentions might be, having a 15 year old run an animal rescue might not be the greatest thing in the world to happen to animals. A similar thing happened when I suggested that stopping to let a newly freed group of rescued laboratory beagles out of their crates to explore the great outdoors, might not be the best choice. That any animal copes and thrives when handled inexpertly is not an excuse for the handling method.

The pet industry is booming. Anyone can label themselves a trainer or behaviorist. Log on to any chat board and it’s apparent that many of these so-called trainers base their understanding of dog behavior on what they’ve seen on television. There’s a saying that if you can’t “dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.” One of the problems is that many of the bafflers have no idea that they’re doing it (some do and are laughing all the way to the bank).

I was asked to go through the hand-outs that a vet gave to new clients with puppies. The information came from another vet who made the rounds on the speaking circuit. I was aghast at what I read. Despite the lack of evidence that dogs form rigid social hierarchies or live in packs, the literature was full of advice for owners on how to securely position themselves at the top of said hierarchy. The methods for doing so ranged from cruel to absurd. This came from a vet who, like the rest of us, has access to information about animal behavior and the science of learning. That they were unaware of this information, or chose to ignore it in favor of their own, scientifically unfounded hypotheses on behavior, is inexcusable.

Anyone can start a day care center, dog walking or sitting service. These are people who will be in direct contact with an animal, or numerous animals. If you’ve got a happy dog who only needs to get out for walks, finding someone who enjoys being with dogs may not be a bad decision. But once someone sets themselves up in business they should be held to a higher standard of behavior. I recently heard about a day care center that employed one of the most misunderstood forms of punishment, the time-out. A dog who became overly aroused and did not play well with others was removed from the group and isolated in an area where he could see, but not get to the group of dogs continuing to play. Did the staff expect that by doing this the dog would come to the conclusion that he needed to play more appropriately?

Since I brought it up, the time-out is a tool that is used to end a dog’s ability to continue to perform an inappropriate behavior and then set them up so they can be rewarded for performing the right one. Putting a dog into a time-out and expecting that they’ll come out when they decide to apologize is as silly as it sounds, but yet, it is not far off from what people think is going to happen.

Someone who labeled themselves the “top behaviorist” in their country (I discovered that it’s crowded up there at the top with other self-appointed “tops”) called me an idiot for suggesting that comforting a fearful dog did not tell them they were correct in being afraid. Though they had an impressive history working with and training dogs, they held no certification or credentials as a “behaviorist.” This is not uncommon in the dog world and pet owners would be wise to cotton on to it.

When someone decides to label themselves a surgeon, and goes on to perform surgeries, they end up in jail when they are finally caught. And within the medical industry a surgeon who practices psychiatry, without first taking (and passing) the requisite courses is also frowned upon. If you are inclined to suggest that performing surgery and training dogs are completely different things, maybe you should think about it from the dog’s side of the equation. Screw up a gall bladder operation and you might end up with a dead patient. Screw up teaching a dog to stop resource guarding and there’s a good chance you end up with a dead dog. As someone who takes animal behavior and training very seriously, this thought is never far from my mind.

If we truly love and care about our pets as much as we claim to, we have to put our money where our mouth is. The hope I hold in my heart is that when the art and science of dog training and behavior modification is respected for what it is, and people who put the time, effort and money into learning about it, are both respected and compensated for it, one day the knowledge that we have will filter out into the general population. It will replace the misinformation and myths currently touted and adopted as truth, and dog trainers will have fewer behavior “issues” to deal with and can focus on teaching dogs to open the refrigerator and get their owner a can of soda.


64 comments so far

  1. Terri on

    Rock on!!!!

    • fearfuldogs on

      Plan on rocking til the chair falls apart!

  2. thegraceofdog on

    I could not agree with this more! In my work as a positive dog trainer and Tellington TTouch practitioner who works with many anxious/fearful/shy dogs, I teach all my clients my “3 Rs of Dog Training”: Recognize what’s really going on with your dog, Respect how the dog is feeling, and Respond to the situation appropriately and compassionately. You have to understand all three aspects in order to help the dog. Great post–thank you for putting this out there!

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks for reading and your comment and for sharing those very important Rs.

    • Mel on

      Love that! I wish more said this exact same thing.

  3. Anthony on

    Great opinion. I currently take my dogs alternately to a daycare and the other to work each weekday. I have been slowly bringing them around to the way i treat my pets in order to keep them calm and obedient. My younger dog has anxiety issues but is very eager to please. These forces constantly work against each other and she is challenge to keep calm. I ask her to sit and wait at each door(threshold) and wait for my queue to go through the threshold. The daycare staff were taking her leaping and bounding through two gates and a door and releasing her into the population of anywhere between 2 and 10 dogs(very early in the morning). I mentioned “I like my dogs to be introduced to the pack in the back so they are viewed as a threat or “sketchy” when the other dogs greet them. The staff try to calm her by talking and asking her to sit, which just elevates the anticipation of getting to see the other dogs through the gates. I have often thought about going “into the business” myself. My knowledge is through trial and error and reading other’s books. When I’ve looked into education, it is sorely lacking in availability. Even if I never go into business myself, I’d like to have this knowledge to better my dogs’ quality of life and maybe even extend it. I’m sure I had a point in there other than telling a story!

    • fearfuldogs on

      There are options available, and more becoming available all the time. You might want to check out Dr. Susan Friedman’s Behaviorworks.org website. She offers online courses as well.

  4. Jessica on

    I am nodding violently.

    I also do wish that just averagely good trainers were quicker to point out that your dog might need more help than they can give. We’ve used two training places in our town. The first one was good, don’t get me wrong. They would have been great for a “normal” dog. This is the place we did puppy kindergarten and obedience 1. And obedience 1 again, later. Looking back, there were a hundred signs that my puppy was genetically fearful. Did they ever suggest anything besides their basic training? Breathe a whisper that I might want to be very careful about how I socialized him? Nope. I finally went to place 2, just for convenience reasons, and within five minutes had a recommendation for a veterinary behaviorist. “I can do X and Y with your dog, but before you spend a lot of money on private lessons, you should probably go to …”

    • fearfuldogs on

      When someone thinks that most behavior problems have to do with getting an owner to exert some kind of power or control over their dog (that does not include the control of reinforcers), the solution can seem simple. We know better.

  5. rangerskat on

    So true. If I had a dollar for every self-proclaimed expert that has told me I’m doing everything wrong with my fear aggressive Finna I wouldn’t need to make any budget cuts elsewhere to pay our certified, qualified, educated, and carefully researched trainer. I also wouldn’t be seeing steady improvement in Finna’s ability to think rather than just react. That Finna starts to react and then realizes that she has other more pleasant options and chooses those instead is a huge advance. We’re actually starting her in a carefully structured group class for reactive dogs on Monday!

    • Anthony on

      You’re very lucky to have a class like that available. Most trainers are steering away from any kind of “aggression” where I live. They don;t want to be responsible for any incidents(my opinion).

      • rangerskat on

        We are lucky; where I live there are two trainers that I believe to be qualified to deal with aggression. (one is studying for her degree in behaviorism the other has many years of experience including with her own dog) There are also those who claim expertise they don’t have but they aren’t anyone I’ll deal with. Finna has been in private lessons with the one I chose for six months now and when I say carefully structured I mean just that. The class is held outside and only one dog is worked at a time, the others are crated or locked in a vehicle. Finna will never be closer than six feet to the location of another dog. As the class progresses the degree to which the dogs are allowed to interact will develop but not until there is 99.99% certainty that the dogs are all ready for that.

      • fearfuldogs on

        Many will envy having even one to help them out. Finna is lucky to have your love and commitment.

  6. Lynn on

    We’ve just started with a private trainer at home for our reactive, dog-aggressive Jasmine (who looks like the little black dog in your picture, by the way). The trainer, who came very highly recommended by our vet, trains search and rescue dogs, and has a lot of testimonials on his website from people whose difficult and aggressive dogs he’s evidently helped. He emphasizes “love, trust and respect,” and I like a lot of what he says about tuning in to how the dog is thinking and so on. But he doesn’t believe in rewards because he thinks you don’t earn a dog’s respect with bribes, and he says there will inevitably be times when Jazzie’s triggers will outweigh the promise of a piece of hot dog. Do you remember when you posted the piece on rewards? I want to show it to him.

    We’ve only had one lesson so far, and Jazzie didn’t seem to enjoy it much, although he claims she’ll love him by lesson three. Most of the training was actually directed at me and my husband, teaching us to teach her. There are very few trainers near us, and I’m out of my depth with aggression. I’m not sure our fearful Tulip is ready for this, but the idea is to give her the last ten minutes of a lesson. I think he said he gives food treats to bond with fearful dogs …. We like the guy, but I’m going to be keeping a sharp eye out for any doggie anxiety or unhappiness.

    • fearfuldogs on

      A “trainer” who emphasizes respect over the reinforcement of appropriate behaviors and shuns the use of primary reinforcers is displaying their own lack of understanding of how animals learn. That he does not seem to understand the difference between bribes, lures and rewards is unfortunate. How does anyone know how dogs think? I sure as heck couldn’t tell you what is going on in a dog’s head. I wouldn’t even be able to tell you what is going on in another person’s head.

      If you are seeing improvements in your dog’s behavior working with him, that’s great. That there will be competing motivators for our dog’s attention is not reason enough to not use food rewards or other primary reinforcers to build behaviors. What’s the alternative?

      • Liz Shaw on

        In fact, that a dog can’t take food is often a sign that it is over threshold and the situation is not conducive to learning. When a dog can’t take food it is often a sign to take a step backwards, literally and figurativelyand rething the training session.

      • Lynn on

        To be fair, he’s talking about mutual respect, and he tailors the training to the way each dog reacts (rather than thinks) and uses praise as a reward. I can’t fairly judge him after a single lesson, and I realize it’s ironic that five minutes after I hire a trainer, I want him to read something another trainer wrote … but could you please remind me of when you posted the rewards piece? I intend to continue using treats along with whatever else we learn.

      • Debbie Jacobs on

        To get technical, rewards and reinforcers can be different things. Rewards may be nice, such as praise, but may NOT be reinforcers. Reinforcers, by definition increase the chance that a behavior will be repeated in order to achieve the reinforcing consequence. WE don’t get to decide what an animal finds reinforcing. Go clean your room and mommy will be happy may be reinforcing to some kids, but others may need a weekly allowance to make room cleaning a routinely repeated behavior. We might want our kids to do things to make their parents happy, and many will, but we need to be realistic in that there will often be competing motivators, like video games or chatting with friends on the phone, that will be more reinforcing than making someone else happy, for teenagers anyway.

        To contradict myself immediately, we CAN have an impact on how dogs respond to what we are providing as either rewards or reinforcers, increasing or decreasing their value for the dog. But when we are starting to work with a dog the reinforcer that makes the most sense to use is the one which the dog already is willing to “work” for and which stands a chance out bidding another one for getting a behavior from a dog. Food is usually high on the list.

        Might I suggest that instead of asking the trainer to read something that you firmly wrap your head around the information and work with your dog as you decide is most appropriate. If the trainer has other ideas for you, consider them and then make your decision based on an understanding of how consequences effect behavior and the difference between using food a bribe, a lure or a reward. And most importantly on how whatever you do effects your dog’s behavior.

        That’s my long way around admitting that I don’t know that I can easily find the blog post you are referring to 😉

        On Fri, Feb 8, 2013 at 9:58 AM, Fearfuldogs' Blog

  7. Jessica on

    But is certification really all that meaningful when all it entails is that you have $400 to give to the APDT? (Which is not a measure of ethical behavior, as both successful and con-artist type trainers make a good amount of money)

    If you demand a governmental certifying body or certain educational credentials of all dog trainers, you might very well be excluding people who are better dog trainers with tons more experience than little ol’ me, who HAS credentials but has only been working with dogs about 2 years. I mean, I have a B.S. in biology and an M.S. in behavioral ecology, but what solution do you propose to the pickle?

    • fearfuldogs on

      The APDT is a membership organization and does not provide certification. The CCPDT is a certifying organization and has two levels of certification, one for “knowledge” and the other for “skills”. In any field there will always be people who “recently passed the test” and have a minimum of hands-on experience. As consumers we are responsible for doing our due diligence.

      The purpose of certification is to achieve a level of standardization. That there will be people who excel in a chosen field who haven’t passed a test or completed a course does negate the value of setting a bar and asking people to reach or exceed it in a way which can be evaluated according to established guidelines. As a professional within the industry I have an understanding of the difference between someone who calls themselves a behaviorist and someone who is a CAAB. Or someone who lists their professional memberships but holds no certifications or degrees.

      Pet owners need to understand the differences as well.

    • k9mythbuster on

      It seems you need to look further into what it actually takes to earn certification. It is not simply purchased. And, while it only tests for the foundation of knowledge and skill, it is at least a basic standard. Two local trainers in my area, each with two decades of experience over me, both failed the knowledge exam. They didn’t have even a basic understanding of what they were doing or why it worked/didn’t work.

      Certification is how we can weed out the bad trainers, not how to prove who is the best. The best will rise to the top on their own.

  8. Frances on

    Oh how I agree! There is more regulation of nail technicians than of dog trainers, and few people seem to know the difference between a qualified trainer, a qualified behaviourist, and the chap down the road who read half a book and watched a television series or two…

    • fearfuldogs on

      It will change. It is changing. We are the evidence for it.

  9. Shearaha on

    I couldn’t agree more. I spent 2 years studying behavior and training before I started my dog walking and pet sitting service. I wish that there was something more than unknown professional organizations to regulate the industry. Those don’t even do a good job, as long as you pay your dues you’re listed as a member.

    • Mel on

      How wonderful Shearaha. I wish more pet sitters did this.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Folks like you could list your education prominently on your PR materials. That might help consumers understand that this information exists and some people have it and others don’t.

  10. Tamara on

    Yes. Click! JACKPOT reward for saying this! Unless a vet goes on after vet school to complete further education, they usually have very little if any classes in vet school on behavior. As a certified dog trainer, I will not advise people if their dog has cancer, if the vets will not advise on behavior.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thank you. I have been adequately reinforced and will keep on writing!

  11. Natasha on

    Very well said, as always! I was foolish to sign a “forever” contract, for tons of money, with an international group that believes I should growl at my fearful dog! The person they sent is very good with her and says she works with fearful dogs, but the training techniques are not very positive. They were recommended by a staff person from the doggy daycare that specializes in dogs with issues, and completely socialized a customer’s shy dog. I now have references for behaviorists, and some meds.

    • fearfuldogs on

      That there are dogs who respond the way we want, to abusive methods, does not justify the method, but alas far too many people think it is. I’d be growling at those people!

  12. Michelle on

    *sigh* In the world of dog grooming, it’s much and more of the same. Most groomers know little about dogs in terms of behavior or training, and yet we take in every different kind of dog imaginable and somehow (you don’t want to know how) manage to make them sit still and allow us to cut their nails, pluck hair out of their ears, and a million other unpleasant things. While the training world is in the middle of a change to positive, force free, behavioral based training, the grooming world has barely even begun.

    • fearfuldogs on

      There’s certainly a far way to go getting this information into the heads of groomers. And again, they deserve respect and compensation for incorporating it into the work they do. If a pet owner wants their dog restrained and terrified they should understand that that is what they going to get from an uneducated groomer. BUT, what an opportunity for a savvy groomer! Offer desensitization and counter conditioning sessions for dogs and puppies. I got a client, referred to me by a groomer, who refused to groom the dog because she was so scared. Many good changes get their start “barely.”

  13. jet on

    The daycare near my place only accepts ‘easy’ dogs, and my boy was turned down because of his excessive toy drive and being a bit anxious in the group situation. It turned out to be the best thing that happened because I got him another dog to play with, and she turned out to be the best dog ever :))

  14. Anonymous on
    • fearfuldogs on

      The excuse that a particular person or coercive technique is a dog’s last chance is a lame excuse for abuse IMO. We either make decisions about an animal based on good information or rescuers can join the ranks of hoarders. Hoarders also often make the same lame excuse for their behavior.

      • KellyK on

        Absolutely! If it’s abuse, it’s abuse, whether it’s done to a so-called “red zone” dog or to a dog just starting obedience.

        And if a dog is really truly so badly messed up (from previous abuse or neglect, congenital fearfulness, or whatever) that they can’t be taught to be safe around people and given the skills necessary to have a life, without resorting to abuse, then the appropriate thing to do is put them to sleep, not drag out the inevitable. That probably sounds harsh, but having a dog suffer so you can feel like you gave it a last chance is *not* in the dog’s best interest. (There might be disagreement on what constitutes actual abuse, just like parents differ on whether it’s okay to spank a child, but once something meets that definition, there’s no justifying it.)

  15. Mel on

    Absolutely loved this one Debbie. I read it at work twice. It was timely because I have been writing about some of the things I learned at the Suzanne Clothier seminar. I was a little afraid to write about it because I didn’t want people to think I was a certified trainer (although I would like to be some day). I am probably more knowledgeable than the average dog owner, but that doesn’t make me an expert. I am always conscious of that especially when I read stories like the vet you mentioned above.

    • fearfuldogs on

      If everyone practiced thoughtfulness what is going on in the dog training world would be less of an issue. One does not need to be certified to think. You are doing good work Mel.

  16. deepdowndog on

    Debbie, thank you for all you do to educate everyone- trainers, caretakers, owners- on the challenge of wading through the crap that is out there about dog behavior. It isn’t all that easy to find the truth about how to lovingly work with dogs in ways that work and are compassionate. I wish everyone read your blog!!!

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks so much for taking the time to say this. I appreciate it. A blogger’s dream….everyone read them!

  17. fearfuldogs on

    There’s good info out there to be had, at very reasonable cost!


    • Debbie on

      Read through the fearfuldogs.com website. There is a lot of info & links to good resources.

      Debbie Jacobs Fearfuldogs.com

  18. K9 Instinct Blog on

    Excellent article!

  19. thelittlebeardogblog on

    Hi Debbie, great post. Can you say a little more about Time Out?
    I use it with Little Bear if he acts aggressively (growls and barks) at the cat at home. I don’t expect him to apologise during his 30 seconds in the cloakroom ;-), but it has proved effective at preventing the behaviour. If I hear a growl starting, asking him if he wants a time out is usually enough to stop him now.
    We have an outdoor version too which is ‘Do you want your lead on?’ as a last resort if he’s ignoring me.
    I appreciate its a negative punishment and I wouldn’t use it I could observe any detriment to him, but I’d like to understand more about it and about better alternatives. Thanks!

    • Debbie Jacobs on

      Time Out is short for “Time out from positive reinforcement.” When a dog is performing a behavior we want them to stop, and we are finding it difficult to get that to happen, it’s likely because the behavior is reinforcing to the dog.

      In order for the time out to be effective we have to figure out if it something that will also not be reinforcing to a dog. For example, a dog who wants other dogs to go away from him, and barks at them, may find a time out (being used to end barking) to be reinforcing, the dog wants to be away from the other dogs and may also get some kind of reinforcing attention from the owner in the process. I’m NOT saying we should make the dog stay around the other dogs who bother him, just that it’s important to think about what we are hoping to achieve through the technique and what is a reinforcer for the dog.

      Time outs can’t be too long, dogs need to have the opportunity to behave how we want them to, so we can reinforce it, soon after we have applied the TO consequence. We are basically setting the scene again for them, but this time to do the right thing. We may need several repetitions in order for the dog to make sense of what is going on. They need to be implemented with a minimum of feedback from us. The consequence is the TO, not our disapproval for their behavior.

      As with everything else we do with our dogs, the proof is in the pudding. If we are using TO’s correctly to end unwanted behaviors, we should see a decrease in those unwanted behaviors. If we are not seeing a decrease in the unwanted behaviors we should reassess what it is we are doing and the consequences we are providing for behaviors.

      On Sun, Feb 10, 2013 at 11:11 AM, Fearfuldogs' Blog

      • KellyK on

        dogs need to have the opportunity to behave how we want them to, so we can reinforce it, soon after we have applied the TO consequence. We are basically setting the scene again for them, but this time to do the right thing.

        *That’s* what I’ve been missing with timeouts. Setting the dog up to succeed immediately afterwards and rewarding the correct behavior. (My current foster is an incessant cat-chaser, and while it seems playful rather than predatory, it upsets the cats and we/they really need him to knock it off. He keeps coming out of time out and going right back for the cat, and I’ve been getting really frustrated. Next time, I will make sure I have something *appropriate* for him to chase after the T.O., and reward him going in any direction that *isn’t* toward the cat.

      • Debbie Jacobs on

        Or you could set him up for another highly reinforcing behavior that doesn’t include chasing. Lower the expectation to chase to begin with and then use something else to chase as a reward.

        Just a thought.

        On Thu, Feb 14, 2013 at 4:57 PM, Fearfuldogs' Blog

      • thelittlebeardogblog on

        Great, thank you! 🙂

      • KellyK on

        Yeah, that’s probably a better idea…especially since I want to work on having him be able to chill out. (We’re training “go to bed” and trying to make sure he has enough physical and mental exercise.) Maybe reducing the expectation to have things to chase would be a good thing.

  20. Karl Mattingly on

    Great point of view! I fully agree and I think that people need to be more open about discussing these issues.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks for reading and commenting Karl, appreciate it!

  21. Can Dogs Eat on

    I really agree with your post.
    I have never been able to get my dog to sit for a time out.

  22. savannahr96 on

    I nominated you for the Liebster Award! Read more on my page! http://savannahr96.wordpress.com/2013/02/25/liebster-award/

  23. pawswithpotential on

    Really enjoyed this, thank you

  24. Linda Blauch on

    Well said!

    • Debbie Jacobs on


      On Sat, Mar 2, 2013 at 6:23 PM, Fearfuldogs' Blog

  25. EQUIJAY on

    Fantastic article and, unfortunately, the same applies to the horse world.

    • fearfuldogs on

      So true. Horses have been and are subjected to some of the most barbaric handling practices.

  26. Leandra on

    Good article. He who dares to teach should never cease to learn.

  27. Vince Egan on

    Well said. Heck I thought I was a reasonably good trainer after more than a few dogs at the ranch. Won’t detail the stories. Invention is almost always more fun than knowing! It is a very hard process to bring a fearful dog out of their shell using only positive reinforcement. It worked with Ellie. Only took 3 years but disciplining was counter intuitive. If you cannot “talk” with the dog you should get fish. The risk is becoming the Alpha dog by default. It happens; happened to me but now Ellie is almost a normal dog. Each day brings a new surprise from that red headed BC; she smiles.chases prairie dogs, catches Frisbees but only Frisbees and often has ot be touched once before she will get in the truck but she gets in!!!!!!!

    • fearfuldogs on

      With practice, as with anything else, we learn how to use positive reinforcement more effectively. And the return is not only in the improved behavior of our dogs. It does a body good to be positive.

  28. example58943 on

    The problem is that people who sincerely want to learn what’s right for dogs have a lot of false information and misinformed people to learn from. People seem to blindly accept anything that’s being told to them, and you know, once someone is on TV they’re automatically deemed an expert! Viewers tend to forget that this is 30 to 60 minutes at most, and they’re not seeing everything that goes on, and certainly not seeing the fails from the particular trainer. And there are A LOT of fails!

    • fearfuldogs on

      Dogs have been victims of alternative facts for ages.

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