Dog trainers dirty secret

Anyone can claim to be a dog trainer, even when they’re not.

Unbeknownst to many, anyone legally can claim they are a dog trainer. The accounts of people abusing dogs in the name of dog training is heartbreaking but not uncommon. One of the reasons is because dog training is not a licensed nor regulated profession.

Elizabeth M. Foubert said it best in her scholarly article Occupational Licensure for Pet Dog Trainers: Dogs are not the only ones who should be licensed:

In the United States anyone can work as a dog trainer, regardless of the person’s qualifications. Scientific research in animal behavior and canine ethology indicate how to humanely train dogs, but nothing in the law requires that dog trainers apply these proven methods in practice. Dog trainers may use training techniques that bring harm to dogs and deceive consumers as to its efficacy. The onus is on consumers to educate themselves to these dangers when selecting a ‘qualified’ dog trainer.

The world of dog training epitomizes a Wild West-like environment of ‘buyer beware’ and, unfortunately, our dogs are the ones that pay the dearest price when lack of due diligence, naivete, or misplaced trust come into play.

There is some good news to be found in that we do have one, recognized, independent, certifying body in The Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT). This autonomous body serves the public, not the trainers who choose to apply and sit for their exams. A trainer can apply for an exam only after they have met the qualifications set by the CCPDT. Then, if a trainer passes the exam, they must submit continued education units on an ongoing basis to maintain their certification. Keep in mind that this certification, while based on the scientific method and the evidence we currently have on canine behavior, has no legal structure or recourse. So, looking for a trainer with CCPDT accreditation should be viewed as a good place to start your research into a potential dog trainer but it should go hand-in-hand with additional investigation on the part of dog owners (further research links below).

Then, there is the great news. The dog training industry is starting to change. Trainers, an organization called The Alliance for Professionalism in Dog Training, and legislatures are crafting laws with an eye toward protecting both dogs and professional standards. It won’t happen overnight so, in the meantime, you can refer to the accompanying checklist for questions and points to consider when interviewing a potential dog trainer.

Checklist for interviewing your dog trainer

  • Transparency. How well are they answering my questions? Do they offer sufficient information and exude a willingness to answer any and all questions?
  • What specific training methods are used with the dog? There are buzz words linked with different types of training that may be used to disguise or obfuscate the methods a trainer uses or is willing to use. Know the methods yourself before interviewing trainers.
  • How many years training? Education background? Certifications? CCPDT certification is a good place to start. There are other great training certifications and programs out there – research their certifications.
  • Can you see the space your dog will be trained before you enroll in their services?
  • Do they guarantee results? Hint: the answer should be no!
  • What training equipment do they use on the dogs?
  • Can they provide references from clients and veterinarians?
  • Trust your gut. Above all!

For more detailed questions to ask, dig deeper with this fantastic article from Zazie Todd, PhD.

Certifications to look for:

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