Every once in a while, I get a message from a reader that reminds me to remind you of one very important thing: Dog training is an unlicensed industry.
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Anyone can hang a shingle and call themselves a dog trainer, a dog behaviorist or a dog psychologist. Your best defense is some solid 411. It’s up to you to ensure your dog doesn’t end up in the wrong hands — hands like these:
We adopted a puppy last year, and ever since we brought him home, he has been nipping and biting. We met with a woman who trains dogs, and she said it could be an issue. She advised us to pinch his lips against his teeth as soon as he nips to show that it hurts. It doesn’t faze him at all. He jumps up on us, lunges at us and bites. He is a good dog otherwise.
This is just one example of the bad training advice that’s out there. You might hear it from your neighbor, your groomer or your own mother. But the most sinister version of bad advice is that which comes from a “professional trainer” who professes to “care about animals” and then suggests or performs any of the following “techniques”:
The rolled-up newspaper as a swatting device for any part of your dog’s anatomy; rubbing his nose in his own mess; yelling; pointing; hitting; spanking; stepping on his paws to prevent jumping; holding his mouth closed to prevent barking; biting him back to show him what it feels like; humping him to show him I have no idea what; pulling his tail; forcing him onto his back and pinning him to the ground; isolating him; depriving him of food or water; and, clearly, pinching his lips against his teeth.
Everything on this list is animal abuse dressed up as dog training. Dogs don’t learn this way. Well, they don’t learn what you want them to learn. Instead, they learn to fear you, to be suspicious of you, to guard against you, to brace themselves when they see you coming or even go on the offensive.
No reputable trainer would employ or advocate the use of any of these tactics with the goal of educating a dog.
Next time you’re shopping for a dog trainer, first do a little research and think about how you’d like your dog to be treated during the training process. Consider your dog’s personality — shy, effusive, aloof, dominant — and think twice about a trainer who doesn’t consider it, as well. You don’t teach a shy dog the same way you would a dominant dog. The tone of voice, the physicality and the actual tools a trainer uses will vary from dog to dog based largely on temperament and personality.
Here are some things to discuss with potential dog trainers before you even schedule an in-person consultation:
• Do you have any recent references I can contact?
• What is your philosophy on dog training? You’re looking for a value statement here.
• How do you motivate dogs to learn new behaviors? Food? Fear? Intimidation? Positive reinforcement? Personally, I believe in motivating dogs with lots of love, praise and affection.
• Ask whether they have experience either developing or discouraging any particular behaviors that apply to your situation.
• Ask about their history as a dog trainer — education, experience, failures, proudest moments — and listen with an ear for whether this person is a professional trainer or someone who “grew up with dogs.”
• Finally, ask them how they work with dog owners. A lot of dog training boils down to human training.
The problem with a bad dog trainer is that they could do so much more than simply fail to deliver. They could make it worse. Much worse.
Dog trainer Matthew “Uncle Matty” Margolis is co-author of 18 books about dogs, a behaviorist, a popular radio and television guest, and host of the PBS series “WOOF! It’s a Dog’s Life!” Read all of Uncle Matty’s columns at the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com, and visit him at http://www.unclematty.com. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail to Uncle Matty at P.O. Box 3300, Diamond Springs, CA 95619.
COPYRIGHT 2012 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.