Friday, 21 January 2022
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How to properly screen dog trainers

So, you’re looking for a dog trainer. Most people¬†searching for trainers turn to the Internet, which¬†yields hundreds of¬†candidates making all sorts of¬†claims of how they use¬†positive methods¬†or can solve your pet’s behavioral challenges. The worst offenders are those who convince owners they don’t need to be present during the training process.


But, do they really possess the knowledge they claim to have? Do they¬†even know what¬†positive training¬†really means? I’ve¬†found¬†tons of punishment-based trainers claiming¬†they use positive reinforcement methods when in fact they’re abusing dogs.

I have no problem with clients searching for trainers online. However, I have a big problem when training hacks try dazzling potential clients with lots of false promises and bull. Let’s face it, if the client knew lots about dog training they wouldn’t be searching for a trainer in the first place.

Potential trainers know this. They also know that many prospective clients are desperate for help. Their use of training lingo (such as leadership, alpha, dominance)¬†may be¬†quite¬†believable. Such¬†language¬†can¬†be convincing enough to make them sound¬†as if they really know what they’re talking about. This compelling verbiage can serve as an excellent hook to¬†reel in unsuspecting owners.¬†Ultimately, the client and pet end up suffering the consequences of poor training.

If you’re searching for a positive-based trainer,¬†the individual must possess¬†knowledge of basic science-based learning theory. Below is a list of criteria-based questions I suggest¬†you ask potential candidates in order to test their knowledge.¬†Such information can help arm you with the answers ahead of time¬†so that when you’re¬†screening¬†trainers you’ll know if that¬†individual is truly educated or just handing you a line of bull.

Are you certified? 
Certified trainers will have any of the following designations. Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC); Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT); Diplomat of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (DACVB); Animal Behavior College (ABC); Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner (KPA CTP); Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB).

With whom are you certified?
CDBC: International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants.
CPDT: Certification Council of Professional Dog Trainers.
DACVB: (Diplomat of) American College of Veterinary Behaviorists.
KPA-CTP: Karen Pryor Academy (clicker training).
CAAB: This individual has a PhD in ethology and applied animal behavior from an accredited University.

Can you explain the definition of positive reinforcement (R+)?
Adding something desirable (food, toys, fun, attention) to increase the frequency of a behavior. For example, you prompt a dog to sit and it complies. The dog is then given a treat. The pet is more likely to repeat that behavior in the future.

Can you explain the definition of negative reinforcement (R-)?
Removing an aversive (uncomfortable) stimulus to increase the frequency of a particular behavior. For example, a dog¬†pulls on leash. The trainer fits it with a choke collar. The dog has difficulty breathing¬†when it’s pulling because it is being choked.¬†When it¬†walks calmly next to¬†its owner¬†the choking¬†sensation is removed. The dog is more likely to walk¬†calmly next to its owner¬†in the future¬†to avoid that sensation.

Can you explain the definition of positive punishment (P+)?
Adding something aversive (uncomfortable) that reduces the frequency of a particular behavior. For example, a dog jumps on kitchen counters to steal food. The trainer fits the pet with a shock collar. When the dog approaches or jumps on the counter it is shocked. The dog avoids the counter in the future in order to avoid shock.

Can you explain the definition of negative punishment (P-)? 
Removing something desirable (food, toys, fun, attention) in order to increase the frequency of a particular behavior. For example, we prompt the dog to sit. It jumps on us instead. It does not receive the treat we are holding.

Can you explain the definition of operant conditioning?
Using consequences (positive or negative) to increase or decrease the frequency of a particular behavior.

Can you explain the definition of classical conditioning?
This occurs when¬†a neutral (conditioned) stimulus (sound, sight, sensation)¬†is paired with, or precedes a unconditioned stimulus (usually food that causes salivation or another reflexive response). For example, Pavlov’s dogs heard a bell before being fed.¬†The sound of the bell began to take on great¬†significance because it always preceded food. This caused the dogs to salivate¬†when hearing¬†a bell even in the absence of food.¬†

And there you have it! Now you’re ready to interview (and test) the knowledge of¬†any potential dog trainer.¬†This may¬†increase the likelihood that the individual¬†you’re¬†speaking with has the education and credentials to train your dog in the most positive and humane ways possible. Of course, always be sure to ask them for three references:¬†1)¬†a veterinarian,¬†2) present or former client, 3) a trainer/colleague.

Karen Fazio, CDBC is the owner of The Dog Super Nanny professional dog training and is the Director of Behavior at Oakhurst Veterinary Hospital in Monmouth County, NJ. She may be reached at 732-533-9376 or


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