Choose Your Dog Trainer Wisely
Surprise! The Dog Training Industry is Totally Unregulated
By Andre Yeu, KPACTP
From reading the heartbreaking stories of the owners who may have had their dogs lost, hurt, or killed while in the care of FACW K-9 Training in Oshawa, I wanted to take time to share suggestions to our community on how you can prevent this from happening to you and your family, both human and canine. In this article, I'll talk about the inherent risks to dog owners because of the nature of the industry, suggestions on how to shortlist dog trainers, and once you've made your selection, how to keep the experience safe and positive for you and your dog.
Unfortunately, unlike many professions, there is no government regulation, licensing, certification, or standard by which an individual becomes a dog trainer. Anyone can create a web site, print some business cards, and advertise as a dog trainer and start a dog training business. Imagine for a moment if the same were to apply to dentistry. How much due diligence would you do before allowing someone to fill a cavity for you, if the qualifications of that practitioner could vary from expert to faking it? This is the reality for dog owners selecting dog trainers. It is easy for anyone to fake it.
Some of you may find the comparison between dentistry and dog training to be a stretch - but I assure you, it's not. Incorrect advice from dog trainers that are faking it could produce consequences as mild as a poorly trained dog, to one that is unwanted, and therefore surrendered or rehomed, all the way to the creation of an aggressive dog, which can lead to the harm (and potentially, death) of people and dogs.
Not Isolated - This Happens All The Time
The case in Oshawa is not an isolated incident. Here are a few examples of other cases of people "faking it" and causing harm to dogs, just in the last twelve months.
Mississauga Dog Trainer Convicted of Animal Cruelty - March, 2010 - Heat stroke and all four paws injured by being dragged by force by trainer.
Dog Trainer from Chester Township (NJ) pleads guilty to animal cruelty - July, 2010 - Shih-tzu beaten with an 18 inch PVC pipe.
Dog Trainer Suspected of Animal Abuse - January, 2011 - 12 week old puppy returned covered in urine, dehydrated, and his eyes were hemoraging. The latter is usually caused by being restrained at the neck or high pressure around the neck.
These are just cases that are reported and make it into the media. With the number of dogs, and dangerous dog trainers out there, the total number of incidences of injured dogs must be significantly higher.
The Dangers of "Behind the Barn" Training - aka Board and Train
In all four of the abuse cases, the dog trainers offered "board and train" services. Typically, these services guarantee results, within a specific timeframe, and involve the owners relinquishing possession of the dog for a predetermined period of time.
Under no circumstances should you hand your dog over to a complete stranger where they have carte blanche to do anything they wish to your dog! You should be fully aware of the exact protocols that the dog trainer will be employing. Perhaps most importantly, the dog trainer should be teaching YOU how to implement training protocols.
It is when your dog is "behind the barn", and out of your sight, that these "trainers" hang, kick, strike, drag, and hurt animals to an inch of their life.
I'm not trying to imply that all board and train services are dangerous - there are some great trainers out there that do walk-and-train (day training) and board-and-train services. It should, however, require a long-term relationship and a very high degree of trust before you hand your dogs to anyone for training. And, in either case, you should have complete right to be present and observe any portion of the training exercises you wish. If a dog trainer is reluctant to have you present during training, during any or all of the sessions, leave immediately.
Learn to Recognize Fear in Dogs
Dog training is something you do with your dog, not to them. When you watch the training videos on FACW K-9's web site, you see dogs that are absolutely terrified. The dogs are complying with commands because the consequences for failure to comply frighten them into performing.
If a dog is fearful or anxious during training - common signs include tail tucked between legs, low body posture, avoiding the gaze of the trainer, panting, lip licking, or yawning, your dog is not enjoying the training one bit. Dogs should be eager, excited, and motivated to work. Their tails should be wagging, they should be relaxed, and be eagerly awaiting feedback and instruction from the trainer.
This illustration by Lilli Chin of Doggiedrawings.net does a great job of illustrating common physical signs of emotions in dogs. If your dog is showing signs of stress, anxiety, or fear during training, stop - the trainer is doing something wrong.
Five Tips to Protect Yourself
Here are a few tips and additional resources to consider as you choose a dog trainer:
1. Observe their classes and training - Before committing to any training sessions or classes, request permission to audit one of their classes. In particular, audit a class with untrained dogs (a beginner's class). In these classes, where dogs will likely be very green, you will get the best impression of what your first class will be like. You want to see what the process of training looks like, not a class full of already trained dogs. Do not take for granted what you see on a web site or read in a brochure - many trainers will describe their training methods in ways that can be highly misleading.
2. Great instruction - Trainers and instructors should be highly articulate, communicate clearly, respectfully, and set students up for success. The trainer's primary job is to teach the dog's owners, not the dog.
3. Education - Serious dog trainers will invest a considerable amount of money each year to attend conferences, seminars, and workshops, to continue their education. Ask about their investments in their education - both initial and ongoing. There are also a variety of certifications, credentials, and associations in the industry, but, the quality and value of these vary greatly - so you'll have to do your homework to determine their merit.
4. Avoid dog training methods that require the use of force, pain, or intimidation - Organizations like the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior suggest:
"Look for a trainer who uses primarily or only reward-based training with treats, toys, and play. Avoid any trainer who advocates methods of physical force that can harm your pet such as hanging dogs by their collars or hitting them with their hands, feet, or leashes."
5. Go With Your Gut - If a dog trainer asks you to do something that makes you feel uncomfortable, listen to that little voice inside you and stop immediately.
Remember, dog training is something you do with your dog, not to it. Your dog is depending on you to keep her safe. Do your research, make a great choice, and continue to keep her safe while attending classes or working with a dog trainer.
Andre Yeu, head trainer and owner of When Hounds Fly! is proud to be Toronto's first Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner (KPA CTP). When Hounds Fly! (www.whenhoundsfly.com) is conveniently located in Downtown Toronto West, and offers puppy socialization, basic obedience, rally obedience, tricks classes, and private lessons to dog owners in our community.