Finding a Dog Trainer: Please, Choose Wisely!


If someone is calling themselves a “dog trainer,” they must somehow be qualified and certified to work with dogs, right?


Literally anyone can say “I’m a dog trainer” and start training dogs. And they can do pretty much anything to your dog, aside from seriously injuring and killing, them without it being considered abuse. I’m serious. Click on the link and read this post. Watch the video it links to. Nothing is actually shown, but listen to the way this guy talks about the dogs he works with, and what he does and suggests their owners do to them. This is allowed.

Click here

Fortunately, there are a number of resources available now for anyone who is in search of a qualified trainer. I am in the US, so a lot of these might be US specific. International friends, please feel free to comment the resources that are native to you. (Please note that I don’t support so-called “balanced” dog training/dog training that relies on intimidating and hurting the dog, so I won’t accept those kinds of suggestions.)

Here is an article about what the different certifications for dog trainers are, and what all those letters dog trainers sometimes have after their names actually mean.

An interesting take on which certifications are trustworthy.

Information on choosing a trainer.

Find a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist

Find a behaviorist with the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior

Find a Veterinary Behaviorist with the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists

Find a dog trainer with the Council for the Certification of Professional Dog Trainers

Find a dog trainer with the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants




Science of Dog Training

Prong collars, shock collars, alpha dog this and that, what’s true? What’s not?

There are a couple of overviews of the studies that have been done which can help one decide for themselves. They take some time to get through, but not as much as going through each study individually, though that is a worthy endeavor if one is so inclined.

This one is about the effectiveness of different training types. Good overview, not everything that’s out there but it’s pretty comprehensive.

This one is shock collar specific. Again, not everything out there, but a good overview with a lot of studies.

This one’s 48 pages long but certainly worth your time.

Click to access dog-training-methods-review.pdf

Finding a Dog Trainer: Why You HAVE to Be CAREFUL

Some people may not know that anyone can call themselves a dog trainer. Truly anyone. There are no rules and regulations about who can and can’t be one, not in the US at least. This opens the field up to people who want to make a living abusing dogs into submission and exacting robotic obedience via force and fear.

I would never send my dog off to do a board and train unless it was with someone who I had the opportunity to observe training dogs many times beforehand and I had been able to interview extensively. Well, truth be told, I would never leave my dog with anyone except my closest friends and family members, but that’s my dog guardian paranoia.

I came across some videos made by someone a few years ago who wanted to expose a franchise called Sit Means Sit dog training. If you want to know what could happen to your dog if you’re not careful, go ahead and watch. If not, well I don’t want to traumatize you so feel free to skip it. you can take my word for it that it’s truly awful stuff.

Unfortunately, finding a dog trainer can be difficult. I wish the field were regulated as this would make things much easier for dog owners seeking a trainer, but for now, it is not, so it falls to the owner to look closely into any prospective trainer and know what they’re getting.


Here are two articles that I think are helpful.

Can you fix it? — The Cognitive Canine

“Think of behavior like water; it can be rerouted but it can’t be destroyed, and if always wants to run downhill. So you can give it an alternative path downhill (or, toward that function) or you’ll face all kinds of havoc.”

Dog owners and trainers alike face behaviors in their beloved four-leggeds that cause them stress. Barking and lunging on leash, bolting out open doors, snatching food from counters, and the list goes on! Dogs do all kinds of dog things that are hard for humans to tolerate. Luckily behavioral science is here to help us…

via Can you fix it? — The Cognitive Canine


There’s a quote I’m getting really sick of seeing by a “dog trainer” called Larry Krohn.

“The e collar is a cell phone. The prong collar is a steering wheel. The clicker is a big freakin’ party. Call your dog and steer him to the big freakin’ party.”

The problem with this quote is that it is 100% pure misinformation.

The shock collar (let’s call it what it is) is cell phone that delivers a painful shock when you don’t answer it.

The prong collar is a steering wheel that jabs your hands with metal prongs when you make a wrong turn.

The clicker is a signal that a big freakin’ party is about to happen.

And the the person who thinks that the first two are fun for the dog is delusional.

Shock collars hurt. Prong collars hurt. That’s how they work, that’s what they are designed to do. If someone who knows this, who knows the fallout that can result from the use of these tools, decides to use them on their dog, then I do not really have an objection. They do not align with my morals, but if they align with yours, then okay.

But I find that this is almost never the case.

It seems that the vast majority of pet owners who use these products are not aware that they cause pain to the dog. They are under the impression that they don’t hurt, it just gets the dog’s attention, or that these collars are even fun for the dog. Which, as you can see (if you have clicked the last three links,) is simply not the case. And that is my problem with the whole thing: people are being misinformed. People are being sold, by the manufacturers of these tools and by trainers who use them, the idea that these are fun, magical pixie dust collars that dogs love to wear and that don’t work by causing pain.

I think that a lot of pet owners, if they knew the actual affects of these collars, if they knew that, yes, they do actually hurt, would not use them. They are using them because they have been misinformed, and are under some sunshine-and-rainbows false impression of these tools. And that is sad to me, because I believe that people deserve to be informed, and hate that they are being lied to.

I do not wish for the shock/prong collar trainers to go out of business. I wish for them to start informing their clients that the methods they use are, in fact, painful to the dog, and make sure their clients are aware of the fallout that can result from their use, so that their clients are able to make an informed decision.

Of course, this would require them to be informed themselves, which many are not.

I hope for a future of informed decisions and responsible consumers.


Show Me the Money: How Hard Would You Work for Praise?

Someone was trying to tell me the other day, as we were talking about recall, that my dog should work for only praise. Now, I don’t doubt that this works for some dogs. But it certainly does not work for mine. I explained to her that, when engaged in a highly stimulating activity like going for an off leash walk or playing agility, my dog jerks away from my petting and ignores my praise; she wants a tangible reward and then she wants to get right back to what she was doing. She responded that my dog jerking away from me must mean we don’t have a very good relationship. As if she could determine that from reading my comments. She then suggested I never show any affection to my dog any other time than as a reward, so then she would accept it as a reward because she doesn’t get it any other time. Um, no.

Brèagha is a very affectionate dog. Any time I sit down, she wants to lie on me or up against me. She comes up to me sometimes, all wiggly and soft, and when I kneel down, she puts one paw on each of my shoulders and “hugs” me. Cuddles in bed are her absolute favorite.

But as I said, when going for a walk, or playing disc dog or agility, she is a no-nonsense dog. She does not want to be petted. She does not care about praise. She is busy. When I call her and she comes back to me, if I go all touchy-feely on her and try to reward her with petting, she jerks away from me. “I’m not in the mood, you fool. Show me the money! I just dropped everything I was doing to come back to you. Give me my compensation so I can go back to what I was doing.” She’s an honest dog, and very good at calling me on my BS. She knows what she wants and what she doesn’t, and she’s not afraid to tell me so. I know that for some dogs, praise and petting is enough. But I think that these dogs are in the minority. My dog prefers food rewards and toys, and doesn’t place very much value on my praise or petting, and I know many dogs who are the same.

The idea that all dogs should work for only praise makes no sense for me. Nothing we ask our dogs to do is intrinsically motivating to them. Most dogs don’t just loooove to obey our every whim just for the heck of it, we are not THAT great. So we need to compensate them for working for us. How hard would you be willing to work for “good job?” Would you continue working somewhere that didn’t pay you, even if your boss praised you every day? Neither will most dogs. If you want the dog to keep obeying you, then you need to give them tangible rewards, rewards that they actually value, or else they will eventually stop listening to you because it’s just not worth it.

I don’t think the fact that my dog doesn’t want to be petted when she’s busy and isn’t afraid to tell me so suggests that we have a bad relationship in any way. She has every right to refuse to my touching her if she doesn’t want to be touched. Imagine you’re engrossed in working on a very important project and your significant other comes and starts being physically affectionate with you. Wouldn’t you shrug them off and say “not now?” Of course it doesn’t mean you have a bad relationship with them. You’re just not in the mood.

And I would never withhold affection from my dog just so I can use it as a reward. I could never be so callous. My dog does not and will not ever have to earn my love. It’s hers for the taking whenever she wants it. She’s not a furry science experiment. She’s my dog, and I love her.

I’m not sure where the stigma of using rewards, especially food rewards, came from. But it needs to go. When you respect someone, you compensate them for the work the do. The same applies to our dogs.


Raising a Dog: Dealing With Non-Constructive Criticism

When Brèagha was a puppy, my non-dog-savvy family basically told me throughout the whole process that I was doing a sh@% job raising her because I allowed her to act like a puppy and mature at her own pace instead of crushing her spirit and forcing her to be “well-behaved.” My parents, who only know the very basics of dog ownership and some old fashioned training techniques from the few books they read before getting their own dog, Molly, are not exactly the authorities on dog training. They kept telling me that if I didn’t get her 100% perfectly trained right now while she was still a puppy, she would turn into a bad dog and I could never fix it because you can’t train a dog once they’re grown up. One time my mother and I went out to dinner with my brother, who is a foxhunter and controls his large pack of hounds with shock collars, as is the standard practice, and whose knowledge of dog behavior doesn’t go much beyond “how to make the dog do what you want it to do,” and his (at the time) girlfriend, who was also a foxhunter.  My mother made sure to bring up the subject of how I refused to use a shock collar on my puppy. My brother and his girlfriend agreed that I was “just being a fuss” and that there was no reason why I shouldn’t strap a shock collar on my dog and shock her into shape right fast and show her who was boss. I refused to argue about the subject and made it clear that my mind would not be changed. I felt outnumbered, ganged up on, and frustrated that my mother had brought up a subject that I had no intention of ever talking about with my brother. Now he probably thought I was judging him for using shock collars, when really I didn’t care what he did with his own dogs. Eventually, once I made it sufficiently clear that I had zero interest in discussing the subject, they left me alone. I didn’t understand why everyone had to make a big deal about it… couldn’t we just agree to disagree? On top of that was my family’s constant complaining about every single puppy thing Brèagha did, and the fact that they persisted in ignoring me when I asked them to leave my dog alone when she was misbehaving and let me deal with it myself. Every time she started to chew on something or mess with the cats, somebody would be jumping up from their chair to stomp and scold before I even a chance to redirect her. “Let me handle it,” I would say, to which the excuse “but you weren’t handling it” was always given. How could I; I didn’t even have a chance to do so before somebody else was there attempting to handle it for me! “She’s my dog,” I would say. “What part of my dog don’t you understand?” But it always fell on deaf ears. I started staying downstairs or outside by myself with my dog, leaving her in my room whenever I was with my family to minimize conflict. I remember one the worst moments when I was asked, in front of my several other people in my family, why I was not letting my 5 month old puppy off leash to run around my brother’s property (which is close to a road.) When I replied that I did not trust her impulse control or reliability at this age, my mother responded, “she’s 5 months old and she doesn’t come when you call… what the hell have you been teaching her all this time?” I could have responded that we had been working on things of actual importance like socialization and building confidence, but I didn’t say anything. They were determined not to understand. What would be the point?

Now, I know a good bit about dogs. I’m not an expert by any means, but I am always reading blogs and books from people more knowledgeable from myself and I try my best to stay up to date with the current information available about dog training and behavior. That is to say, I know a great deal more about dogs than my family, (who only know what they’ve read in a couple old and outdated books and seen on TV.) Despite this, the constant criticism made me question myself. Maybe I was doing a bad job of raising my dog. Maybe I should just give in. But I loved her so dearly that I couldn’t bring myself to hurt her in any way, and deep down I knew I was on the right track and that if I persisted she would grow into a well-adjusted young dog. So I kept her away from my family as much as I could and kept on doing what I was doing. A year and a half later and I can’t imagine a friendlier and happier dog than Brèagha. She’s not perfect of course; she’s only one year old and still maturing. But she’s far better behaved than most dogs you will meet around here, and I didn’t have to hurt her to get that.

When you’re raising a puppy or training a dog for the fist time, it can be daunting. Receiving a lot of harsh criticism can be really stressful and that can spill over into your relationship with your dog. Constructive criticism is good if it comes from someone who is qualified to give it. It’s always a good idea to seek out feedback from qualified dog trainers and behaviorists. But harsh criticism from friends and family is not constructive, especially when they don’t have any real knowledge of the subject.

So here’s my advice to anyone dealing with unnecessary criticism from uneducated people.

If you are a young person, know that people older than you tend to really hate it when a young person knows more about something than they do. Or they will assume that you can’t possibly know more about anything than they do. Remember that your age does not invalidate the knowledge you have gained through careful study.

When you are feeling bullied, reach out. I reached out to some very knowledgeable dog people via the internet and told them about my struggles. It really helped to be reassured that I was doing fine and helped keep me on the right track.

Don’t hate the people who are criticizing you. They likely really believe that you are doing it all wrong and aren’t just saying that to hurt you. Their comments likely come from ignorance, not a desire to hurt. Even though I felt bullied, I really don’t think any of the things my family said or did were meant to hurt me. They just thought I was getting it wrong and didn’t realize that I actually knew what I was doing.

Don’t let the pressure effect your relationship with your dog; keep your eyes on the prize. One dog trainer I conversed with told me to not let the pressure that was being put on me effect my relationship with my dog, and to keep my eyes on the prize. Keeping your eyes on the prize means that you pick a path towards raising your dog to be the dog they are meant to be and you stick with it. Don’t be swayed from your path. Just keep moving towards your goals.

In the end, my family gave up on trying to get me to change my ways. My dog grew into an adolescent and stopped doing most of the puppy things that got on my family’s nerves. It’s been a long time since anyone challenged on my position on shock/choke/prong collars and “dominance” based training, or accused me of just being a fuss. I’m really proud of my dog, and so excited for our future together.



My Dog’s Emotional State: Crucial to Training — eileenanddogs

“Trainers who train with aversives love to paint us as people who are insufficiently tough with our dogs and train with fairy farts and rainbows. Therefore, they say, our dogs must be unruly and jump on Grandma, steal food, and run into traffic. This fable is but a hamhanded attempt at defending the use of force in training.”

I always flinch a little when people start to discuss dogs’ emotions. What’s coming? Relevant, evidence-based observations or woo? I’ve removed some words from my own vocabulary when talking about dogs because of this. Even though my relationships with my dogs are primary and important, I hesitate to talk about “bonds” or “trust” anymore. It…

via My Dog’s Emotional State: Crucial to Training — eileenanddogs

Why Positive Reinforcement ALWAYS Works — The Cognitive Canine

“…positive reinforcement is defined by its function. By definition if behavior isn’t increasing positive reinforcement is not at play.”

“…all quadrants of operant conditioning (positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, positive punishment, and negative punishment) are defined by their effect on behavior; their function.”

“Positive reinforcement doesn’t work for all dogs” is something I have heard so, so many times. This irks me, because the truth is that all of the parts of operant conditioning work. If the behavior doesn’t increase, it’s not reinforcement. If the behavior doesn’t decrease, it’s not punishment. Sarah Stremming gives a nice explanation here.

There is a parenting article circulating right now that aims to outline the shortcomings of positive reinforcement. It’s titled something like “Positive Reinforcement Doesn’t Work Long Term” (I am not going to link it here because I really don’t need five thousand angry parents emailing me about how, as a non-parent, I shouldn’t be talking […]

via Why Positive Reinforcement ALWAYS Works — The Cognitive Canine