Category Archives: Training

How do I find a dog trainer?

FINDING A DOG TRAINER

People often use Facebook and Google to ask about training or behaviour issues and how to find a decent dog trainer. FB can be great for exploring and sharing problems, and getting opinions from people who have experienced them, but it’s usually best to have someone meet you and your dog(s) since what people say and report they are experiencing is often a far cry from the what the DOG is saying and doing.

clicker

Does the trainer use positive techniques?

Also a qualified (in its broadest sense) professional, experienced in coaching skills with a commitment to continuing their own learning and development, is usually much better placed to offer informed and up to date advice either in your home or in a class. It’s an area where skills are constantly improving and changing as more and more scientific evidence appears.

BUT…and it is an important BUT. There are (sadly) some very poor trainers in business out there and although in the dog training and behaviour world there is a hot debate about who should be calling themselves dog trainers or behaviourists, at the moment the whole industry is unregulated to the point of anarchy.

Experienced or qualified?
There are some excellent people who have no paper qualifications, but oodles of great experience. There are plenty of people who have excellent academic qualifications and loads of knowledge, but not so much hands-on experience. With all shades of both (or neither) in between. There are also people who may have high profiles but whose self-promotion skills are far greater than their dog training skills. There’s no easy way to know who would be best to help you.

The best you can do – in the absence of informed personal recommendation – is probably to go with someone who belongs to one of the reputable organisations who have a commitment to evidence based, positive techniques, ideally with an effective procedure for handling complaints about members (not all do) to make sure their code of conduct, or ethics, and rules are adhered to. Literally ANYONE can set themselves up a trainer or behaviourist – and some people WILL do harm if they are let loose on your dogs.

If the problem is a serious aggression or behaviour problem it is always best to get a vet to check the dog over first – undiagnosed pain is a common factor in aggression and other behaviour problems.

Dog training organisations

Here’s a list of some organisations (in alphabetical order – not in order of any kind of criteria of excellence) I’d suggest are worth checking to get help – all of them have guidelines about who they accept as members which should give you some useful information. It does NOT mean all their members are necessarily suitable for your needs, so don’t just assume they will be. The older organisations may have members admitted under older, less rigorous, criteria.

ABTC – the Animal Behaviour and Training Council. A newish organisation which brings together on 2 registers (one for training, and one for behaviour) members of a number of organisations. However, it is in its infancy and does not include plenty of excellent qualified trainers and behaviourists and does include some people who are not as experienced as one might like.   (http://www.abtcouncil.org.uk)
APBC – Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors (https://www.apbc.org.uk)
APDT – Association of Pet Dog Trainers (UK) (http://www.apdt.co.uk)
IMDT – Institute of Modern Dog Trainers (https://www.imdt.uk.com)
PACT – Professional Association of Dog Trainers (http://www.pact-dogs.com)
Long and short – it’s a bit of a gamble!

Do your research

It is so important to do your research. Dog training and behaviour work doesn’t have a single, straightforward set of skills that will produce the same result in every case once you’ve mastered those skills since there is a very complicated and complex variable we lack so much information about…the dog. It’s not like building a wall, cooking a soufflé or learning to drive. At least, not yet. 🙂

1 – Internet – Google (of course 🙂 ) . Your place name + dog trainer or similar. Ask on FB groups.

2 – Check the websites of likely candidates. Does it give a person’s name? Do you know who you would be letting loose on your dog? Does it tell you what their qualifications and experience are? Are they relevant to what you need? “I became a dog trainer because I love dogs” is NOT a qualification! Google their name – see if it throws up useful facts about their experience e.g. wins in specific activities which may or may not be relevant to your needs, interest in specific breeds or problems

Are they members of any reputable organisation? (See above).

Do they describe HOW they train? Do they state what approach they take? They should. But of course be sceptical. People can say what they like on websites and some trainers are pretty creative. Plenty of them use punishment techniques which we know do harm, but they don’t tend to be upfront so don’t take their word for it. Go and watch them at work.

3 – Go to a class and observe.  Contact trainers first (it’s the polite and respectful thing to do) and ask to go and watch a class. Be prepared for them not to have time to chat

Do the dogs in the class look happy?

to you there, but just observing will inform you. Do they put across what they want people to learn in an effective way? Do the dogs look happy and relaxed and enjoying themselves? Are the methods consistent with up to date techniques and practices? i.e. no use of check chains, water squirters or other forms of nasty aversives. If they won’t allow anyone to go and observe then they need to have a jolly good reason for it. Don’t just rely on their (edited) video clips online. Go see them in action. Reputable trainers welcome the opportunity to let you see what they do before you book their services.

4 – Ask other people locally – chat to local dog walkers, your vet, the local pet shop. Be prepared for them to offer biased and uninformed opinions though (both in favour and against). Gossip and badmouthing people didn’t start with FaceBook! Just  be ready to ignore what may just be scurrilous rumours about bad practice, but you are likely to get a picture of how well respected a trainer is, and the techniques they use, by talking to a range of local people who have experience of their services.

5 – Consider getting a vet referral to a qualified behaviourist for any major behaviour problem. A qualified behaviourist is likely to ask for your vet to do a health check before they will work with you and it is often needed to eliminate pain, the fear of pain or other health issues.

Once you’ve settled on a trainer or class, well, enjoy yourselves! Training your dog should be a load of fun for both of you so have a great time learning together.

Spot the difference

A dog in one of my classes has been something of a barker around other dogs. Not confident around strange dogs, but nothing major. In the hall on his own, happy to work, happy to play.

In the hall with just one other dog – a well behaved, under control, and being kept calm dog – you would not have known the first dog was worried except for a few moments when he looked across and considered barking, but was interrupted so he didn’t escalate to it.

But he did not want to play tuggie this time. Very avoiding of it.
So he was moved out of the hall into the lobby. Still didn’t want to play initially, but was willing to fairly quickly.

An excellent example of a sensitivity we absolutely need to notice – and be aware of when we expect things of our dog we ‘believe’ they know and understand. If a dog won’t eat treats (or is grabby taking treats – which this dog also was), or play, or relax in one environment when he does do those things in a different environment (the other dog made this hall a ‘different’ environment) then there is something happening we should be noticing.

If the dog is discriminating in this way you should immediately be asking yourself ‘why?’. And you probably need to do something about it.

In this case the ONLY change (apart from the passing of time – about half an hour – so not significant I’d say) was the presence of this other dog.

What you DO about it is entirely different issue of course and a subject for another day 🙂

Misunderstandings

Can you remember the first time you used a cash machine to get money out of a hole in the wall? I can’t. I’ve no recollection of how or when I acquired the skill. But I know that if I want to get cash out, I have to perform a sequence of pretty complex behaviours to get it. I have to drive to a machine, with a specific card (and only that card will do), be able to read the instructions, recall a number from memory, tap it in and then wait for the money to appear.

I have also learned what doesn’t work to get money out of it. Just standing staring at the machine hopefully doesn’t have the money magically appear. Trying other bank cards doesn’t work. Entering random numbers doesn’t either. Hitting the machine in frustration when I can’t remember the number will also fail. Short of getting some kind of heavy vehicle to ramraid the cash dispenser the ONLY way of getting what I want (cash), is to come up with the behaviours I have learned. Worse, if I continue to ‘guess’ and make too many mistakes, the machine removes all possibility I might get my money by eating my card!

What lessons can we take from this to help our dog training? Loads.

For starters, if I don’t understand how to work a cash dispensing machine, I cannot get any money. It’s not possible. It doesn’t matter how much money is available, or how much I want it or how motivated I am. If I don’t understand how to perform those specific behaviours I will not get the “reward” since the banks have (understandably) made it virtually impossible to get money out if you get the sequence of behaviours wrong.  So if I don’t understand the task, or know how to carry out that sequence of behaviours, how can I manipulate the machine into giving me money? I can’t.  Likewise, it doesn’t matter one iota how much our dogs want the hotdogs, game of tuggie or ball that we are offering them, if they don’t understand the task we expect of them, how can they possibly carry it out unless they are plain lucky, and hit on the idea of what works by sheer chance? And if they do, will they remember what they did, or understand what the cues were to success?

Wren cannot understand ‘fetch’ means bring that toy to me unless or until she is taught it.
That she might hit on the idea of bringing it to me by sheer chance can mean it would be quick and easy to teach, but it wouldn’t mean she understood what the word ‘fetch’ means until I have done a load of training and teaching. 

One message to take from this is that sometimes we completely overestimate how well our dogs understand what we want of them. OK, so the tasks we ask of them may appear simple to us, but that’s because we know what we want the dog to do and because, well, we are humans, not dogs. We function and perceive things differently. But nonetheless, we too frequently, expect them to understand tasks when we haven’t taken the time and trouble to train them so they can understand. So when your dog doesn’t do as you ask, ask yourself – does he really understand? Or is he, like us sometimes, staring helplessly at a cash machine, trying to work out precisely which sequence of buttons to press to get the desired outcome? Or is he guessing and trying random versions that might work?