Following on with the Enlisting a Trainer theme the million dollar question is the one that seeks to identify and define what a qualified dog trainer is? Unfortunately, in an industry that is currently unregulated there is no current industry leading definition that is nationally recognised or accepted as being the leading qualification for the dog training profession. Moves are currently being made by Lantra to raise skills and standards throughout the UK to provide National Occupational Standards for dog trainers. However, at this time it is possible to set up as a dog trainer without qualification, accreditation, or portfolio. It is important to point out that a dog trainer is not by default a dog behaviourist, at The Way of the Dog Ltd we consider that the two are entirely different areas of the industry requiring different knowledge and experience.
So where as responsible dog owners do we go for training? As a starting point The Way of the Dog Ltd recommends that you seek to work with individuals who are members of recognised associations such as;
These are just some of the associations and organisations in the UK, this list is not exhaustive and is placed in no particular order.
Whilst such associations or organisations recognise the abilities and skills of trainers they do not guarantee the capability, knowledge, and experience of an individual. Similarly, they do not necessarily recognise or promote individuals that may or may not be more qualified than others, nor do they guarantee results or ethical practice. They do however give you a point of contact if you find yourself dissatisfied with the service that you receive from your chosen trainer who fails to acknowledge your discontent. It is important to recognise that there are trainers who possess great skills and professional qualifications that chose not to be linked with any associations or organisations.
Professional and formal dog training qualifications generally comes from recognised professions such as Police Constabularies, Armed Forces, HM Customs & Excise. HM Prison Service, Search & Rescue, Guide Dogs, or the various service or medical detection dogs, to name but a few. Trainers who have gained formal qualification through such professional services should be reliable, but again there is no absolute guarantee. Some of the associations previously referred to such as the BIPDT offer practical training packages and examinations for potential instructors.
Further consideration should also be given to working with those that have gained formal teaching qualifications or possess recognised qualifications in instructional techniques. Neither guarantees that the dog trainer is a subject matter expert in his or her chosen field, yet dog owners can expect lessons and sessions that are structured and appropriately managed and delivered using good teaching practice. Those that do not possess such teaching qualifications should not be regarded as unprofessional or incapable of delivering excellent sessions there existence is merely an additional consideration when seeking best professional practice.
The recommendation of others perhaps still remains a strong endorsement of ones qualification, but be careful as we all have different expectations and standards. One person’s view of appropriate professional practice is another person’s dissatisfaction. In summary take your time when choosing a trainer ask questions about qualifications and background and if unsure conduct further research. A professional trainer will always be willing to offer up details of his or her background and experience and will be more than happy for you to conduct research. A traumatic experience at the hands of an incompetent trainer can lead to untold emotional damage for your dog and incalculable financial expense to rectify. Please contact The Way of the Dog Ltd should you have any questions about this article.
In this blog we will focus on one-to-one training versus group training. Both possess strengths and weaknesses; however at The Way of the Dog we feel that they are both very different approaches to training. Many new dog owners enrol in group training from the outset because they are led to believe that this is the best and only way to socialise their dog, this is not the case and we will discuss socialisation in a separate blog.
We hold the view that one-to-one training supports a new dog owner to learn in private and at their own pace allowing them to become accustomed to unfamiliar training methods before moving into a group dynamic at the appropriate stage of training. It supports uninterrupted training free from distraction and the desire to interact with other dogs, therefore enhancing the possibility of progression for both dog and handler.
Whilst group training can be very beneficial in teaching your dog how to behave when in the presence of other dogs, at The Way of the Dog we do not consider that it is the best way to commence your training. Socialisation with other dogs is key to a dog’s successful development and whilst a group session can support this it is essential that this is managed carefully. Many dogs are distracted in the group environment which is obvious considering the fact that the owner is unlikely to have much control at this stage. When taking part in training of any kind for the first time many dog owners feel embarrassed, disorientated, hopeless, and uncoordinated. When in a group environment these feelings are often intensified and may lead to group training becoming non-productive and in some cases damaging.
If you want to get the best from a group class we recommend that you take part in a class that has a ratio of 6 dogs, 6 handlers, and a fully qualified dog training instructor. This approach supports a healthy and manageable student to instructor relationship and will allow you to get the very best from the session. You should expect during a 60 minute lesson; a proportion of individual attention, enough space to work in, and the ability to speak to and hear comments from the instructor. It should be a stress free environment where dogs are carefully managed and prevented from being confrontational with other dogs. In certain situations confrontation may be difficult to avoid, however it should be a rarity rather than the class norm. Anything other than that described above then you should really consider the value and the quality of the training that you are receiving.
So the choice is yours to make, should it be one-to-one training or should it be group training? What you should perhaps ask yourself before making a choice is; “What do I want to achieve from my training?” “Will my chosen route allow me to achieve this?”
What is Socialisation?
In a previous blog we discussed ‘How do you choose a trainer’ giving you things to consider when searching for a potential candidate to work with you and your dog. Like many of today’s skills and services there are those that are enthusiasts, amateurs, or professionals, capable of offering different levels of service and proficiency. To support you in identifying who-is-who The Way of the Dog will run a series of blogs to help you make informed choices about enlisting the services of reputable dog trainers.
One of the most important decisions to be made when taking ownership of a new puppy, or when re-homing a dog, is how, when, and where you will begin the dogs training. Scientific evidence supports the fact that initial dog training should begin early and certainly during the first 6 months of a dog’s life as this will help shape the future long term behaviour of the dog. Unfortunately, a large proportion of dog owners leave it to chance and often far beyond the 6 month period when the dog has become difficult before they seek assistance. It is no coincidence many young dogs, who receive no formal training during the early months, are later abandoned, handed over to dog rescues, or are passed from home-to-home, during the period 6 months to 2 years.
Training a dog that is older than 6 months should not be a problem for a competent and qualified dog trainer. It just means that it is likely to be more difficult, possibly more expensive, and certainly more time consuming for the dog owner during the initial stages of training.
So what should we consider before enlisting the services of a dog trainer? During the coming weeks we will discuss specific aspects that may help you decide how to choose the right trainer for your needs. Here are a few topics that we will discuss:
- ‘One-to-one training versus group training.’
- ‘What constitutes a qualified dog training instructor?’
- ‘Should training be conducted indoors or outdoors?’
- ‘How much should dog training cost, price versus quality?’
If there are specific questions that you would like to raise relating to the sourcing of dog training please feel free to leave a comment and The Way of the Dog will consider including in future blogs.
Earlier this year I arrived home and found a note attached to my door. The note was a plea for help and a request to contact the owner of a one year old Welsh Terrier called ‘Bailey’. I immediately contacted the owner and arranged a meeting.
I met a lovely lady who was very distressed and at her wits end, ‘Bailey’ had been punishing her and inflicting nasty bites. What surprised me was the fact that I knew this little dog and had no idea of the double life it was leading. I had encountered her whilst out with my own dogs. The dog that I had observed was a pleasant and confident dog, albeit one that was noticeably very independent. However, I had no idea what was occurring behind the scenes.
Following an initial consultation with the owner it soon became apparent that this was a situation whereby a dog was controlling the environment and more significantly the owner through physical force and aggression. The owner had reached a crossroads and had no idea which way to turn. This was further complicated by the actions of the dog walker and also guidance provided by a local trainer.
The dog walker held the view that all dogs should know their place and be put there physically. Sadly, this is also still the view of many that operate in the dog industry; however there is a vast difference between calm effective leadership and physically forcing a dog into submission. This position was further exasperated by the actions of a local dog trainer, who provided advice, guidance, and instruction that resulted in an escalation of the dog’s aggressive temperament.
A clear lack of knowledge, experience, and professional training, resulted in extremely poor advice being given. The individual instructed the owner to tackle her dog’s display of aggression with a rolled up newspaper and charged her for the privilege of such outrageous advice. Using physical punishment to deal with a dog already learning to be aggressive is quite simply a recipe for disaster. Meeting aggression with aggression generally leads to one party getting injured and the intensification of behavioural problems.
This was a straight forward case of people misunderstanding how dogs learn and failing to recognise breed traits, if you fight a terrier there is a strong chance that it will fight back. After all they are game dogs that were bred to tackle, badgers, otters, foxes, and other creatures once considered vermin.
‘Bailey’ had simply learnt to defend herself against anything that she considered unpleasant. However, she had also become accustomed to redirecting her pent up aggression on her loving owner. She was being the dog that she was bred to be, fearless, bold, and game, but she was expressing her anger in the wrong direction and with significant consequences. When she became intolerant or bored she became feisty and attacked her owner. This was demonstrated through several unpleasant encounters that resulted in superficial injuries. The position was untenable, the relationship damaged beyond repair, and urgent action required.
The owner truly cared for ‘Bailey’, but sadly she was unable to meet the needs or control the demands of her terrier and it soon became apparent that a new home was the only likely successful outcome for this young dog. A new home would be a chance to start afresh with strong owners who understood the needs of the dog and more importantly could meet them.
Before attempting to find a new home the people who bred ‘Bailey’; were contacted. They formulated the opinion that the owner was too soft and should take a firm stance with ‘Bailey’. This opinion they formed without any observation or assessment. They also criticised the owner for seeking external support from The Way of the Dog, but then stated that they would euthanize ‘Bailey’ if she returned to her breeding home. The owner was heartbroken; she knew that she had to find a new home or continue to suffer the punishment from ‘Bailey’. She could not support the breeder’s views or their suggestions of euthanasia. She had tried her hardest to engage with ‘Bailey’, but the damage was done.
Notwithstanding all the unnecessary sadness, this case has ended well. I can happily report that some months on ‘Bailey’ lives in a new home with new owners and other dogs to provide her with guidance. The early days have not been without incident but she has slowly learnt to trust again and is progressing very well indeed. Her new owners manage her carefully reducing any opportunity for her to practice being aggressive.
They have taken ‘Bailey’ very much to their hearts and have provided a stable home and environment in which she can now flourish. Each week that passes is a step in the right direction and the new owners are committed to meeting ‘Bailey’s’ needs and maintaining a safe and structured environment. ‘Bailey’s’ former owner is delighted that ‘Bailey’ is now happy and safe.
From the many cases that I have dealt with the case of ‘Bailey’ epitomises the extent to which routinely treating a dog with physical force and punishment can lead to real and serious damage for both dog and owner. It also highlights the extent to which damage can be caused by enlisting the services of poor trainers.
The Dog Training industry is a rapidly growing trade with many turning from dog lover to dog trainer in a very short space of time without formal or industry recognised qualification. The current situation is that the industry is largely unregulated and as a result many different trainers or training providers offer a range of different classes or courses that are in some cases misleading promoting a false sense of ability and understanding. Until such time as the industry is regulated there will be many who will continue to claim that it is not necessary to receive professional training before positioning oneself as a professional trainer or behaviourist.
The situation is further confused by the myriad of different qualifications, post nominal letters, or affiliation to associations and organisations. Badges of honour or association with elitist groups do not ensure quality, ability, or professional standards. The truth is that some organisations are open to anyone who can pay the entrance fee or meet specified criteria seldom related to the promotion of professional and ethical dog training standards. Some make claims that are quite simply impossible to achieve, but nonetheless they continue to tap into your emotions and suggest otherwise.
So how do I choose someone I hear you asking? Simply put, you need to take your time and ask those that you are considering working with difficult questions about who they are and where they have come from? Never part with your money until you know exactly who it is that you have enlisted. Adopt a similar approach to that relied upon when seeking tradesmen to work on your home or perhaps coaches or tutors working with your children.
Only recently was it necessary for me to clean up the mess left behind following the exasperating service delivered by an amateur trainer claiming professional status. Clearly possessing no knowledge of how dogs learn or taking into consideration individual breed characteristics the unskilled individual armed the unsuspecting owner with a weapon to thwart aggressive approaches. Cans and cartons filled with stones, water pistols, rolled up newspapers, aerosol cans, these are the types of tools that may very well suppress a behaviour but do not get to the heart of the matter. Suppressing a behaviour has the potential to lead to other behavioural problems developing. A rolled up newspaper to thwart an energetic and mischievous terrier is likely to lead to one thing, and one thing only, the escalation of aggression. The aggression may not necessarily be immediate, but it will return with a vengeance at some point.
I often muse over the following questions; How can one claim professional status if not working or training dogs full time? How can one claim to be a professional trainer without receiving professional tuition from an appropriate source? Clearly there will always be exceptions to the rule, with truly gifted people. Like the golfer who has never had any formal training yet can play golf once a year and beat everyone on the course. This does happen, but the reality is that these people are few and far between and can rarely explain the talent that they possess. We all strive for the unconscious competence, yet this seldom comes without years of practice and exposure.
For the vast majority of dog owners dogs are our pride and joy, our valued companions. The Way of the Dog believes that dog owners should tread very carefully when seeking out people to work with their faithful companions. Do your homework, take your time, and check credentials.
Share your tips or experiences on how to select a trainer here and help others to make the right decision about their dogs future.
More to follow on this subject.