When you put your trust in a dog trainer to advise you about educating a pet you care deeply for, you have a right to expect the same high standards as you would from any professional providing a service to a family member.
But dog trainers aren't licensed and they don't have to pass a standardized test or agree to a code of ethics. They may have letters after their names that indicate where and how they received their professional training. That's valuable information, but in itself, it doesn't guarantee that the individual will be right for you or for your pet.
If you ask five dog trainers the same question, you'll probably get five different answers. Nevertheless, most trainers fall into one of two distinct camps.
The first is the positive reinforcement trainer who uses only modern science-based behavior modification. Positive trainers have expertise in behavior modification and learning theory. They get a detailed history of the dog from the owner and involve the owner in the dog's training. They elicit desirable behaviors from dogs without force or punishment and reinforce them systematically. Dogs who work with positive trainers express themselves freely with happy enthusiasm, with wagging tails, and with energetic cooperation. They're imperfect but they don't stop trying.
The second is the old school fear-based trainer. They use techniques that rely on force, punishment, and pain. Although their methods have been proven ineffective and damaging, these "trainers" persist in their use and often bully owners with authoritative warnings about not letting your dog get away with stuff (as if the dog were your enemy).
Dogs who work with fear-based trainers show indications of fight, flight, or freeze. Because these dogs often shut down as a defense mechanism, they give the false impression of compliance. These trainers often exclude the owner from the process so the training breaks down in their absence.
You must be wondering why anybody who loved their dog would allow anyone to inflict fear, force, and pain as an excuse for training.
I wondered, too.
So I talked to owners.
The scary part is that this kind of so-called trainer not only intimidates dogs but also intimidates people by taking advantage of owners who already feel guilty, confused, and even embarrassed about their dog's behavior. Owners looking for help feel judged and so they go along, ignoring the inner voice that's warning them of danger.
We are all advocates for our dogs who seldom get a say in the decisions we make on their behalf. We strive to make careful decisions that protect their wellbeing.
So when it comes to choosing a trainer, do your due diligence but most of all follow your gut!
If that little voice in your head is telling you something isn't right, listen to that voice because she knows what she's talking about!
If you need more backup information, pay close attention to any of the following words and phrases. These are the red-flag warnings of fear-based training: balanced training (code for punishment), dominance, pack leader, correction, command, stubborn, disobedience, spiteful.
If you're told to use choke chains or shock collars (or eCollars so they sound less harmful) or to strike or use a threatening voice to get compliance through fear, then that little voice in your head should be screaming!
So do this. Listen with awareness. Don't be intimidated. Follow your gut. This is so important that I actually created a course to teach dog owners how to hire a positive reinforcement trainer. The course is completely free because there's no price tag on your dog's safety. You can access the free course here.
If your dog had words, those words would probably be, "Thanks, Friend!"