If you are looking for a dog trainer, you may be surprised to learn the dog training industry is not regulated. There are no formal education requirements, no required practical skills tests for dog trainers, or regulatory bodies to ensure dogs are treated humanely. However, good professional dog trainers exist in the world.
There are plenty of dog trainers that have studied scientific, evidence-based dog training, do not harm dogs, and get excellent training results. How can you tell who these trainers are?
One way is to ask your trainer three questions:
- What exactly will happen to my dog when she gets it right?
- What exactly will happen to her when she gets it wrong?
- Are there any less invasive alternatives to what you propose?
Here is what you should expect in response to those questions:
What exactly will happen to my dog when she gets it right?
Your dog will be rewarded with something she likes. This will reinforce the specific behavior your dog was doing at the time, which means your dog will do the behavior more frequently in the future. Rewards can be anything your dog wants including food/ treats, toys, the opportunity to sniff something or go play with another dog.
What exactly will happen to her when she gets it wrong?
Your dog will not receive a reward. This will set up a discrimination of correct responses are rewarded, and incorrect responses are not. After wrong responses your dog will get another chance to earn a reward for a correct response.
Responses made by trainers that you should avoid would include: your dog will be physically corrected with a leash, choke chain, prong collar, or shocked with a remote e-collar.
Also avoid trainers who are not transparent and talk about using energy, dominance theory, natural or balanced training and words that do not actually describe what they would physically do to your dog. Usually when these types of words are used, the trainers are employing methods that frighten or hurt your dog in order to motivate them to behave.
For example, a trainer might say they are going to motivate your dog with leadership, when what they actually do to your dog is shock him with a remote collar.
Are there any less invasive alternatives to what you propose?
Not currently. Using rewards to train dogs results in positive side effects, such as dogs liking people and other dogs. To maintain behaviors, you will have to keep rewarding/ reinforcing them with something the dog likes. After your dog is an experienced learner you won’t have to reward every instance of correct behavior, but you will have to reward some. If you don’t, your dog will not have motivation to do the behavior.
If the trainer is using physically harsh methods, there is a less invasive alternative, and that is positive reinforcement/ reward-based dog training as is described in the first scenario. Side effects of aversive/ harsh training can include causing dogs to fear things or become aggressive. It can actually do harm to your dog and make his behavior worse. Trainers using these methods have to continue to apply techniques that hurt or scare dogs in order to maintain the behavior. If you want to avoid negative side effects, avoid this type of training.
It is your right and obligation to speak up for your dog. If you are uncomfortable with what a trainer is doing to your dog, you have the right to tell the trainer to stop.
Good professional dog trainers also continue their education in animal behavior science and participate in professional organizations.
The three questions were created by Jean Donaldson of The Academy for Dog Trainers.