Is Your Dog Trainer A Professional?

pointy-eared dog looking downFor the majority of my adult working life I was involved in the travel and outdoor recreation industry. Early in my career I was introduced to the reality of legal liability. I make no claims about my depth of understanding of negligence vs. gross negligence or how they would be argued in a court of law, I do understand that providers of goods or services have a responsibility to behave in ways that do not put consumers of those goods and services at risk. If you rent a pair of skis at a ski area, hit a tree or take a bone breaking tumble, the company that rented you the skis is not liable. However if the binding on those skis pops off and sends you careening out of control and you’re injured, and an investigation shows that the person who was responsible for checking bindings was fired 2 weeks ago and was never replaced and binding checks, as dictated by industry standards, did not occur (if such a standard even exists), you have a case.

When no standard operating procedures exist in an industry or no regulations regarding a product’s composition, design or strength are in place there will be those who will behave as though those standards exist based on the best information available. Others won’t due to ignorance, greed, laziness, habit or disregard. Though the US legal system regarding liability is often held up for ridicule for perceived excesses, my experience in the recreation industry was that it meant I was less likely to encounter- waterlogged life jackets that wouldn’t keep a cork afloat, climbing ropes that should have been retired years ago and guides who were likely to behave recklessly and put some other motivation ahead of keeping their clients safe. The risk of being sued shouldn’t be the primary reason for acting responsibly and professionally, but it sure doesn’t hurt to encourage a business operator to have those squishy brakes looked at before sending out a van to pick up clients.

I was shocked to discover that despite the information coming from the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, the American Animal Hospital Association, The Society of Veterinary Behavior TechniciansThe Australia Veterinary Association and professionals in the industry who study the effects of different types of training on dogs, there are trainers who continue to use and recommend force, pain, threats and intimidation to pet owners for training purposes. It doesn’t take a degree to understand that if an animal connects being hit, scruffed, poked, rolled over or otherwise feels threatened with bodily harm with a specific person, or people in general, we could see them responding, not surprisingly, with fear, and also possibly with aggression. If a professional in the dog training industry (or pretending to be one on television) suggests that a pet owner hit, scruff, grab, poke, roll over or otherwise threaten their dog, and that dog bites them or someone else, why is the trainer not held responsible for this dangerously wrong information? A doctor who recommended an ointment with mercury in it to treat sores or wounds would lose their license and anyone who followed their advise would likely consider legal action against them.

The body of research and information in the pet dog training industry is turning into a mountain of evidence against the use of force, fear, pain and intimidation to modify behavior. The excuses for using these have worn thin and they do not stand up against the evidence or in the court of professional opinion. A trainer who tells a pet owner to use force or fear to change behavior is like an electrician who suggests you stick a fork into an electrical outlet to find out why it’s not working. Knowing what you know about electricity you’d be foolish to follow their advice, and they’d lose their license for suggesting it. There is no excuse for someone selling their services as a trainer for not knowing that the use of force or coercion to get or end behavior in dogs can lead to increased aggression in those dogs. No excuse. None. Zero.

Not convinced or still have a few excuses? Check out Eileen Anderson’s blog on the topic.



10 comments so far

  1. justthreadtwiddling on

    When my pups were little the female was much busier the her brother and I asked the vet about classes and trainers. At the 3rd lesson, we were waiting for other class members when Tina took offense at pug dressed in raincoat and boots. It kind of offended meas well, but that is another story. I tried to stop her barking quietly but the instructor came up and jerked her leash so hard she came off the floor. She spent most of the class shaking under my chair. We did not go back.

    • fearfuldogs on

      As with doctors a trainer should behave according to the motto, “first do no harm”. There’s no excuse for what happened to your dog and it’s not what you paid for.

  2. Ginny Thompson on

    LOVE this entry! So absolutely true and written in a way that anyone “should” be able to understand.

  3. ejhaskins on

    There IS a problem here.
    A “professional dog trainer” is a dog trainer who charges for training.
    Belonging to a ‘professional association’ is not a requirement, nor is ANY sort of training for the trainer.
    And even membership of an association is no guarantee of competence. Some associations recommend training methods that others consider cruel or dangerous. Some people join associations with no intention of training using the methods that the association recommends.
    So ask not “is that trainer a professional?” — ask:
    What training has that trainer had?
    Does that trainer have dogs of his/her own?
    What breeds has that trainer worked with?
    Will that trainer let me watch lessons/classes before I commit myself?
    Will that trainer help ME with my dog?
    How does that trainer treat other people?
    And of course many more.
    But some amateur trainers (as in Doc Club trainers) can be infinitely better than many board and train professional trainers.

  4. Sylvie on

    Just recently I heard of a trainer who told a client to beat up their dog with a rolled-up newspaper for guarding his food bowl. The “trainer” charged $500 for this advice. It’s time “trainers” like that are held accountable and pushed out of the industry.

  5. Patt Timlin on

    Sad that these so-called trainers take a perfectly happy animal and make them fearful. So many of these fearful dogs then end up in shelters and become someone else’s problem because it so much more difficult to train a fearful dog. We have two! We’ve gone for only positive refinforcement training and an excellent class for fearful dogs. Sophie has been with us for 2 years and sits all the time and still yesterday went into a “thing” – shaking and freaking out and cowering when I asked her to sit. I don’t know what the person who had her before did by way of training but whatever they did, it was too rough. Years ago with another dog, I was looking in the area for trainers and was amazed at their attitudes. When they found out the dog was a shelter-dog, they refused to deal with her. “Now you will find out why she was in a shelter,” i heard time and time again. I was shocked. It thought trainers were “dog-people.” Buyer beware.

  6. Richard Peyster on

    I guess I am surprised that you are shocked. Unfortunately, I come across people all the time who tell me how there dog was pushed to the ground and rolled over by a trainer. More publicity and education is needed. It took a long time to convince everyone that the world is round too!

  7. Richard Peyster on

    I guess that I am shocked that you are shocked! Unfortunately I hear stories all the time from people telling me how a trainer threw their dog to the ground to “show it who is boss.” Sadly, education takes time, and the continued popularity of Cesar Milan doesn’t help. Look how long it took to convince people the world was round.

  8. Edward on

    I got angry with my fearful dog the other day and fell back to my old ways by dragging him back to a sit/stay while I gave the other dog a carrot to replace the one that he snatched.

    He has since been hiding when he sees a carrot, and it has taken days to undo this.

    • ejhaskins on

      LOL!!! My dogs would probably hide if I tried to give them a carrot too!! (because they feel cheated, they really do NOT like carrot eve cooked of juiced. Bones please, and failing bones we MIGHT accept a biscuit — that is only so long as nobody else got a bone!)

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