CHOOSING THE RIGHT DOG TRAINING PROFESSIONAL
There is much confusion among the dog owning public about which professional is appropriate for what particular canine problem. Many times the specialist themselves are less than helpful. It is important that you, the consumer, are aware of the strengths and weakness of each specialty. Hopefully, armed with proper information, you, the dog owner, can make an informed and educated decision as to which professional you wish to retain to help you meet your dog training goals.
Unfortunately, there is no state or federal licensing at this time for dog trainers or animal behaviorists. Anyone can hang a sign on their door and proclaim they have experience in the field and consumers wouldn't know the difference. Here are some very useful tips for making an educated decision. What does the consumer need to know? How do you find a reputable dog training professional or behaviorist?
10 Step Check
1. A recommendation from a friend, neighbor, veterinarian, humane society, boarding kennel or groomer is a good place to start.
2. Be wary when visiting websites. Just because it's in writing on the internet doesn't mean it's true. Do your homework! Ask questions! Many times the advertising is misleading, whether intentional or unintentional. "I've worked with The Dog Whisperer!" may really mean "I've attended one of his seminars and I sat in the audience.".
3. Avoid sales pitches such as "Extraordinary Results!", "Incredible!", "Guaranteed!", "Overnight Success!", etc... If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. There is no dog trainer in the world that can guarantee a dog's response to any type of training because of variables in dog breeding, temperament and owner commitment and experience. The only thing a trainer can and should guarantee is client satisfaction with his/her professional services.
4. Beware of self-proclaimed dog training "experts" or self-proclaimed "Master Trainers". These are NOT earned titles or degrees. The user simply chooses to refer to themselves as such.
5. Ask to meet the trainer's dog! This is a perfect way to see both the social manners and the level of training. It's the best form of advertising a dog trainer can give you. A "Demo Dog" is a living, breathing, example of the animal professional's skills at teaching a dog to master the behaviors needed to meet a higher standard. If the trainer doesn't have a dog or comes up with excuses for not being able to show you their dog - that's a RED FLAG!
6. Look for credentials and experience. Look for a trainer that competes or demos with his/her own dog.
7. Memberships: Don't assume that a trainer's "membership" in a dog training association qualifies him/her as a suitable instructor. Not all associations' membership criteria will meet your expectations. Not all members follow the code of ethics of the organization nor is there any way to monitor this. Keep in mind that someone with no experience or credentials at all can pay dues and become a member of most organizations. Lots of "Memberships" just means lots of dues.
8. What exactly is a "Certified" Dog Trainer?
Many schools teach dog trainers and offer certification for their specific programs that, for the most part, are based on successful completion of their own training programs. These certificates, however, reflect only the teachings and quality of a specific school. Other organizations offer take-home, open book tests for certification. These tests are not monitored, nor are the testing processes standardized. There are also virtual on-line courses on the internet that offer their own "certifications". These types of certification programs have little credibility. The educational requirements are not as rigorous as the scientific courses required for certification by professional societies and organizations.
9. What is a "CPDT"?
The Association of Pet Dog Trainers offers a certification program for trainers. The criteria for certification includes at least 300 hours within the past 5 years of training experience plus a passing score on a four hour examination. Referrals from veteranarians, other trainers and clients are also a requirement.
The Certified Pet Dog Trainer (CPDT) program is an internationally recognized certification program for professional dog trainers. A trainer who has received the CPDT credential has met eligibility requirements and has successfully demonstrated his/her knowledge by passing the certification exam. Knowledge of dog behavior and application of training techniques are assessed in the following content areas:
- Learning Theory
- Instruction Skills
The Certification Council for Pet Dog Trainers is the first national certification program for dog trainers. Rigorous testing and recertification systems provide dog owners with information to help you make an informed choice when selecting a dog trainer.
Certified Pet Dog Trainers (CPDT's) maintain their credentials through continuing education by attending workshops, conferences and hands-on seminars for professional dog trainers. This continuing education requirement ensures that CPDT's are knowledgeable about the most current thinking, research and techniques in the field. There are CPDT's all over the United States and in countries outside the U.S.
To locate a CPDT or recognized certification in your area, visit the following website: The Association of Pet Dog Trainers at www.apdt.com.
10. Who can use the professional title "Animal Behaviorist"?
At present, there is no licensure for this title so anyone can call themselves an animal behaviorist with no training or experience in the field. Always ask for credentials. Too many trainers are using this term loosely.
The Animal Behavior Society (ABS) certifies Applied Animal Behaviorists (CAABs). Certified behaviorists have meet all the academic, experiential, and ethical requirements set forth by the Society, including completing a master’s degree or Ph.D. degree in a behavioral science with specific courses in animal learning, ethology and behavior. A DVM and advanced training in animal behavior can also meet the criteria for certification by the ABS.
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) certifies veterinary behaviorists through its College of Veterinary Behavior. Certification requirements include but are not limited to a Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) from an accredited college of veterinary medicine and completion of an approved residency.
When using the terms "applied animal behaviorist" or "animal behaviorist" professionals are now referring to people who have graduate degrees in animal behavior. The general approach in education would be to earn a BA/BS in either biology, zoology or psychology and then an M.S. or Ph.D. in Animal Behavior. There are many graduate programs in animal behavior in nearly every part of the country. These may be in Biology, Psychology, Ethology or another department. While few of them will offer specific courses or opportunities in companion animal behavior, they will provide the broad basic background needed in animal behavior principles, including Learning Theory, Comparative Psychology, Ethology, Experimental Psychology and Physiology.
WHAT DO ALL OF THOSE "LETTERS" FOLLOWING THE NAME MEAN?
As stated above, some schools offer their own "certifications" that have little or no credibility. Below are 8 approved designations from 6 different organizations - all RECOGNIZED PROFESSIONAL CERTIFICATIONS. If the certifications are not listed here, it is advisable to do some further research.
APDT RECOGNIZED PROFESSIONAL CERTIFICATIONS
CPDT - Certified Pet Dog Trainer - Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers
CAAAB - Certified Associate Applied Animal Behaviorist - Animal Behavior Society
CAAB - Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist - Animal Behavior Society
CABC - Certified Animal Behavior Consultant - International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants
CDBC - Certified Dog Behavior Consultant - International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants
CDTA - Certified Dog Trainer Advanced - International Association of Canine Professionals
CCAB - Certified Clinical Behavior Consultant - International Association for the Study of Animal Behavior
DACVB – Dilplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists - American College of Veterinary Behaviorists
THE BREED DOES MATTER!
If a dog training professional trains or has owned only one or two breeds of dogs, particularly if these dogs are "easy" dog breeds, such as Border Collies, Labs or Goldens or Shelties, and you don't have that breed, please give it some thought as to why. The truth is that some breeds of dogs are easier to train than others; usually these breeds represent the top four breeds in number of participants and number of titles earned in a year. The top four breeds in the most popular dog sports in the last ten years are:
- Golden Retriever
- Labrador Retriever
- Border Collie,
- Shetland Sheep Dog
These dogs are generally considered "easy" dog breeds to train because of the many factors related to the genetic make-up of these breeds;
- ability to bond with people,
- willingness to work with people,
- ability to perform repetitive tasks for long periods of time,
- and a softness of spirit.
It is considered harder to train and title the more independent dog breeds. It takes more training know-how to motivate these independent, willful and aloof dogs to join ones team. Dogs such as scent hounds, sight hounds, northern sled dog breeds, any terrier, working rare breeds and most toy dogs.
Some professional dog trainers has deliberately set out to make a name for themselves and their ability to train difficult dogs. Such trainers pick dogs that rank near the bottom for obedience intelligence. Therefore, when these dogs are eventually titled, the trainer has earned many extra "notches" on his training belt, and in my humble opinion, rightfully so! Hats off to the St. Bernard with a UD Title or the Beagle with an Agility Title! It is harder to train some breeds of dogs to do behaviors that they do not do naturally, and it is equally as hard to train these types of dogs to stop doing behaviors that they would rather keep doing, instead of work with you.
Be wary of an animal training professional that refuses to train particular dog breeds, such as German Shepherds, Dobermans, Rottweilers, Pitbulls or rare working breeds. This may be an indication of an inability to handle more complicated training and breed specific behavior issues.
Usually trainers that stick to one breed of dog exclusively, especially if it's an "easy" breed, usually are not able to train the more difficult dogs or are unable to fix difficult dog problems.
There are always exceptions to the rule so do your homework!
THE PROFESSIONAL DOG TRAINER: IMPORTANT POINTS
- The professional dog trainer, at the top of his game, knows what to do when the clicker, the cookies and the head halters won't work.
- The professional dog trainer is not wedded to one training methodology. He has a well stocked tool box of scientifically based training techniques. Any trainer who rigidly and dogmatically adheres to one specific method of training may be considered inflexible, and perhaps even limited in training skill. There are numerous ways to train animals, so as his/her skills and understanding of canine behavior and learning theory evolve, the methodology should evolve too.
- The professional dog trainer is familiar with, and will always consider veterinary medical problems as a possible cause for behavioral problems, but he will not diagnose medical conditions or dispense medical advice, as it is both illegal and unethical.
- The professional dog trainer employs humane training methods which are not harmful to the dog and/or handler.
- The professional dog trainer will stay informed about innovations in dog training and behavior, tools and techniques. He pursues ongoing educational opportunities.
- The professional dog trainer, alone of all of the animal professionals, has spent every minute, of every day, for decades investing his mind, heart, dollars and soul in learning as much as possible about just one animal: your dog.
"If you can't decide between a Shepherd, a Setter or a Poodle, get them all ... adopt a mutt!"