In Part One of this series, we took a closer look at some frequently asked questions about how dogs (and other animals) learn. We explored a bit of the science behind how humane, reward-based training can help pet parents reach their goals in a way that is both productive and enjoyable for dogs, as well as humans. (Training techniques do matter!)
Building on from there, Part Two of this series will answer frequently asked questions about oversight and regulations in the pet care industry. Our dogs trust us. Discover why they need us to speak up for them and make the most scientifically and ethically informed decisions we can when it comes to their care.
A. Unfortunately, in the United States, the dog training profession is still unregulated. Anyone can call themselves a dog trainer and anyone can use whichever methods and equipment they choose. Therefore, it is up to those of us who believe in and follow the science to “speak up” on behalf of our canine companions, being their voice.
Thankfully, there are some countries and provinces that are making changes. Denmark, Germany, and Quebec are just a few on the list that have banned the use of shock collars. It is progress.
Q. Have leading veterinary organizations published position statements on dog training?
A. Yes- and they back their position up with data and references. Here’s the link to the statement from the American Veterinary Society for Animal Behavior (AVSAB): Position Statement on Humane Dog Training
Q. What are your tips for finding a dog trainer or canine behavior consultant who aligns with the AVSAB position?:
A. “Based on current scientific evidence, AVSAB recommends that only reward-based training methods are used for all dog training, including the treatment of behavior problems. Aversive training methods have a damaging effect on both animal welfare and the human-animal bond. There is no evidence that aversive methods are more effective than reward-based methods in any context. AVSAB therefore advises that aversive methods should not be used in animal training or for the treatment of behavior disorders.” (avsab.org/resources/position-statements)
Being that The Inquisitive Canine’s training philosophy aligns with AVSAB, these are our comments, tips, and recommendations for pet parents when hiring a dog trainer and/or behavior consultant:
- It’s important to ask around and also take your time to research trainers.
- Dog trainers who are worth their salt will be transparent about their education, certifications and how they obtained them, and remain within their scope of practice. The wording they use should be very clear. They may include a few personal musings here and there, but their focus is on what makes them stand out. And it’ll be more than just growing up with and loving dogs.
- It’s important to ask during the screening process what their training methodology is. Knowing up front if this expert uses a force-free, humane training approach will give you great insight into whether you would want to work with them or not.
- A reputable trainer will refer out if he or she feels the case is beyond their expertise.
- Length of time practicing doesn’t always equate to better. A recent graduate from a reputable program that follows a contemporary, humane approach is likely more skilled than someone who has been using outdated training techniques for decades.
- With the current acceptance and understanding of online learning, pet parents can now look beyond their local area for qualified help. If you aren’t finding a resource within your town, scroll through the recommended certification sites for force-free trainers who offer online coaching.
- Read between the lines when scouring websites. Does the person “guarantee” they can “fix” your dog? Dogs are sentient beings with the ability to think and feel; they’re not robots. There are no guarantees – so be wary of anyone who makes this kind of promise.
Q. Television and social media often feature these types of “quick fixes.” What should pet parents know about evaluating such videos or shows?
- Please, avoid using outdated, old-fashioned dog training methods. These tactics include alpha rolls, collar corrections, spray bottles, electric shock, and similar techniques that employ positive punishment which can result in a dog becoming fearful, aggressive, anxious, the development of learned helplessness, and an increased risk of biting. These methods focus on behaviors dog guardians don’t want, as opposed to teaching their dog what they do want.
- Similarly, keep in mind that TV shows that promote and sensationalize outdated dog training techniques, including dominance theory, often include warnings for their audience to not practice the techniques shown and that these shows are for “entertainment.” The dominance theory has been debunked. Sadly, production companies and networks still want to highlight certain trainers because they create drama, which is good for ratings. But an adversarial approach to training is harmful to the animals and dangerous for their guardians.
- When you come across this type of content, there’s one more voice I’d encourage you to add to the mix – your dog’s. If given the opportunity to choose, would your inquisitive canine choose training games and treats? Or being pinched, choked or shocked when engaging in natural, species appropriate behaviors such as sniffing and barking? Or a hodgepodge approach where she might be praised one moment and punished the next, not knowing what to do or who to trust? The truth though, is that dogs don’t get to choose your training style. And, especially in an industry without oversight or regulation, it’s up to you.
And that is why being an inquisitive pet parent is so important. Thank you for choosing A Pawsitive Approach for Positive Results ™!
A Brief Survey of Operant Behaviour
The Use of Punishment and Negative Reinforcement in Dog Training
AVSAB Humane Dog Training Position Statement
AVSAB Position Statement on the Use of Dominance Theory in
Behavior Modification of Animals
Effective Dog Training is Reward-Based Not Balanced
Does training method matter? Evidence for the negative impact of aversive-based methods on companion dog welfare
Frequently Asked Questions (and Answers!) for Pet Parents: Part One – Animal Learning Theory