Thursday, April 30, 2020

What kind of dog pro do I need & how do I find one?

Finding the right type of dog professional can be a daunting task. There are so many "titles" that dog professionals use. Sadly, some are made up, some come with a little education while others come with a vast amount of education and certification. It's a huge range!

Why is this? Sadly, it's difficult to know who is who and what each person does because the dog training industry is not regulated and there are no governing bodies to qualify a person in the dog training and behavior industry. There are no degrees or formal education for a dog trainer. Anyone can become a dog trainer. There are many "schools" out there with their own type of "certification", heck I even attended one way back in 1999. However, this still isn't a green light that one should immediately say, "Oh then he must be a qualified trainer..." Sadly that may or may not hold true. The best way to find a good trainer is by referral and your own observation and interview process. I'll give you more info on this later ...

Professionals in the pet-behavior field fall into a few different categories (according to myself):
  1. Dog Trainers
  2. Certified Professional Dog Trainers (CPDTs)
  3. Behavior Consultants (CDBCs)
  4. Board Certified Veterinary Behaviorist (DACVBs)
  5. Associate Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists (ACAABs) & Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists (CAABs)
1. Dog Trainers.
This could be anyone, and by anyone I mean anyone. So, this is the most loose category that there is. However, there are lots of trainers that are actually quite qualified in their skillset, continuing education and training abilities. But there is a huge hole where anyone could walk up to you and say "hey, I'm a dog trainer need some training for your dog?" and they could have read one book and trained 2 dogs and decided to make a career of it. So, this category can be hard to navigate through when hiring a professional.

Most box-store trainers go through a program provided by said box-store but it's minimal and doesn't give near the amount of education and training that should be required to train people and their dogs. However, some box-store trainers are totally fine for basic training classes and minimal problem behaviors if you're not looking for anything fancy or too formal. Ask the trainer about their background and where they learned to become a dog trainer. Many trainers started out as box-store trainers only to advance their training career to learn and educate themselves more and become even more skilled and knowledgable! 

There are also trainers out there that do not get any type of certification as listed in our next category but do attend seminars, join organizations that provide education and conferences (such as the Association of Professional Dog Trainers [APDT], The Pet Professional Guild [PPG] and Karen Pryor Clicker Training [which offers the ever wonderful Clicker Expo and many fabulous online resources] in order to further their skills and education. Many trainers are still wonderful trainers even without certification, although it's definitely recommended that one does aim to achieve certification at some point. 

2. Certified Professional Dog Trainers (CPDTs).
Not all dog trainers have any formal education, but some do further their education, as mentioned in the last paragraph above. Many are self-taught and self-educated, which may be a red flag if they do not further their education and skillsets on an on-going basis. So, the key here is how they are furthering their skills and education in their field. However, it's definitely preferable to hire someone who has chosen to educate themselves through some type of academy, program or by becoming certified through the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers to earn their CPDT-KA status and/or their CPDT-KSA title. To learn more about these certifications for trainers, and even find a list of certified trainers, visit the CCPDT website.

Some trainers-to-be choose to go through an academy that provides individuals with the proper education and training to become a trainer. Here are some recommended training academies that provide quality training, education and how to apply these skills when training dogs and coaching people to train their dogs. Each of these academies has their own type of "certification" that the individual will receive upon testing, meeting certain criteria, and completion of their program. Each of these websites also provides a list of trainers that have graduated from their program so you may look for one in your area.
3. Certified Dog Behavior Consultants (CDBCs).
Many dog trainers also cross over into learning about behavior. It's pretty difficult to not know behavior to some degree if you want to be any good at training on any level, but especially if you are going to deal with more problematic behaviors in dogs. As with dog trainers, anyone can call themselves a behavior consultant and some even have titles that aren't even real titles, such as "behavioralist". So, do be wary of those!  

A behavior consultant will have a solid understanding of how to apply dog training skills, read and understand body language and design an appropriate behavior modification program to help dogs with various behavior challenges. A behavior consultant will also be able to know when it's appropriate to call in a Veterinary Behaviorist in the event a case may warrant the use of medication for the dog to be successful with the laid out behavior modification process.

One of the best organizations to find a qualified behavior consultant for your pet dog is the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC). It has a very extensive and wonderful certification program for individuals that have been training animals (they have certifications for dog, cat, horse and parrot consultants) and meet certain criteria in order to be able to be certified through their organization. The IAABC also has extensive criteria they must meet in order to show that they are able to properly consult and help pet owners with their behavior problems. The program is one of the best ones out there for becoming a CDBC (Certified Dog Behavior Consultant). You can read more about their requirements for certification and find a professional on their website here.

4. Board Certified Veterinary Behaviorists (DACVBs)
An individual who holds this title is a licensed veterinarian who has completed a residency or training program in the discipline of veterinary behavioral medicine after they have completed their studies to become a licensed veterinarian. As part of this program they have studied topics including: sociobiology, psychology of learning, behavioral genetics, behavioral physiology,
psychopharmacology, ethology and behavioral endocrinology. In other words, they have to go through a lot of schooling to earn this title!

Veterinary Behaviorists (VBs) have the medical and behavioral knowledge to evaluate cases to determine if there is a medical component to explain an animal's behavior. VBs work with individual pet owners, other animal professionals, and facilities that care for animals in order to manage behavior problems and improve the well-being of animals. They evaluate and layout treatment plans for behavior modification and choose which medication would be best suited to help the specific animal in order to help with the behavior modification treatment plan they have designed.

All standards and procedures of Veterinary Behaviorists are approved by the American Board of Veterinary Specialties (ABVS) which is an organization within the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). Professional conduct standards are set by both the AVMA and the ABVS, as are requirements for training programs. Specialists in veterinary behavioral medicine are also held accountable to local and state laws of veterinary practice.

5. Associate Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists (ACAABs) & Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists (CAABs)
An individual who has one of these titles must obtain it through the Animal Behavior Society. This is the leading professional organization in North America for the study of animal behavior. These individuals have an educational background where they have earned a Bachelor of Arts and/or a Bachelor of Science degree in either biology or psychology and then gone on to earn a postgraduate doctoral degree (PhD) in Animal Behavior. These animal professionals may work in various professional fields that may or may not pertain to dog or companion animal training. They are the most highly educated professionals in this list, as their education goes far beyond dogs and training. Some fields they may be in may include: psychology, biology, zoology and/or animal science. Some Animal Behaviorists may also be licensed veterinarians who have had additional training in applied animal behavior outside of their veterinary studies and coursework.

It should be noted that these individuals are versed in animal behavior that includes a large variety of animals including companion animals as well as exotic animals and wildlife. Some Animal Behaviorists do have dedicated practices/businesses that are targeted to help companion animals with behavior challenges beyond the scope of some trainers. However, some are not equipped to work with dog owners and their dog's behavior challenges. So you'll want to "interview" one of these professionals to determine their scope of expertise and ability to help dog owners.

The requirements to become either an Associate Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist or a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist are quite rigorous. You may learn more about these requirements and the qualifications of these individuals on the Animal Behavior Society's website

So, how do you know which one is right for your situation?

Knowing which of these professionals is best for your dog and your goals is equally as confusing! How does one know?!  

If you have a puppy or dog that you just want to learn a few manners and skills a qualified trainer would be sufficient for this. A trainer should at least have continuing education on their schedule throughout the year in some way –– ask what they are doing to further their skills and education on an on-going basis. They should at least be a member of an educational organization for trainers (see last paragraph in #1 above) if they aren't certified or going through a training academy of some type. It is preferred that they have completed an academy or program with some type of certification at the very least. Again, if they aren't certified they should be able to provide you with their on-going continuing education and what they are doing to keep up with their training skills.

If your dog exhibits aggression, anxiety and/or fear-based behaviors it would be best to find a qualified Behavior Consultant or Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist. Although it should be noted that some certified trainers can and do work with these types of cases and can do so successfully, you'd just need to know what questions to ask when hiring one.  

You would need a Veterinary Behaviorist if medication would be warranted to help in your dog's situation. A qualified trainer, Behavior Consultant and/or Applied Animal Behaviorist would be able to tell you if they feel that you need to seek the advice of a Veterinary Behaviorist (VB). The VB would work together with your trainer, applied behaviorist and/or consultant for the best outcome for your dog. 

You want to always find a professional that adheres to current science-based training and doesn't follow training methods that are out-dated. This includes a trainer that's training methods do not rely on the use of punishments when trying to change behavior or the old-school ideals of pack theory and dominance-based training. 
(You can read more about dominance and how it's been wildly misconstrued and misinterpreted here.)

Ask the professional that you are interviewing the following:
  1. What are your qualifications and where did you get your education from? 
    (You're looking for the qualifications & info that I provided in the above information, i.e., uses science-based methods & not outdated training or punishments to change behavior.)
  2. How long have you trained dogs? How long have you trained humans to train their dogs?
    (Look for someone who has at least trained people & their dogs for a few years. This isn't a deal breaker & some green [new] trainers are good at this but it's going to depend on what your goals are or your dog's challenges encompass. For dogs with behavior needs find someone that's definitely been doing this for a minimum of 5 years, preferably longer. Ask them what their history & background is with your dog's specific behavior challenge.)
  3. What methods of training do you utilize? Do you use choke chains, prong collars or electronic collars in your training? (You're looking for someone that does not use these tools! Look for a professional that is based on relationship building & utilizing rewards & does not rely on aversive tools. When training tools are needed stick to those who don't use leash corrections & corrective collars & equipment.)
  4. How do you handle it when a dog makes a mistake? What about when they do something right?
    (Look for someone that concentrates on teaching dogs what to do & how to make good choices vs corrections & telling the dog what not to do. Also look for professionals that are reward-based & not afraid to adequately reward a dog using food & toys & what motivates dogs. They should also be very happy to tell the dog when it does something correct, makes the correct choice & appropriately rewards it for doing so. No professional should sound hesitant to stick with or use rewards or bash the use of those that do use rewards.)
  5. What are your thoughts on dominance in dogs?
    (Stay away from professionals that follow the outdated dominance & pack theory with companion dogs. For more details on this read here.)
  6. Do you have references I could speak with or email?
    (No professional should deny you speaking with current and/or past clients or even another professional in the field that could vouch for them. They should happily give you references.)
  7. Can I come observe a class you teach?
    (Professionals should always allow you to watch them train by observing first. You may not be seeking out a group class, so private lessons are likely not going to allow this due to privacy issues, however a group class should always allow for observation before joining.)
  8. Do you offer guarantees?
    (Stay away from those that do! Read more about the code of ethics for members of the APDT [Association of Professional Dog Trainers] that discusses why they cannot & do not offer guarantees in training here. These reasons are why any dog professional should not offer guarantees.)
Always remember that even with credentials and educational backgrounds there can be bad apples in every bunch. So, personal and professional referrals can go a long way for this reason. Use good judgment and some good gut instincts as well! Be thorough in your interview process. Any professional worth their weight in gold will be glad to provide as much information as possible about their background as well as provide references when you ask. A good professional will also know when to say "I'm not the right fit for you, please contact XYZ professional instead" and offer a referral to a more qualified professional for your needs.

Copyright© 2020. All rights reserved. 
Stacy Greer, CPDT-KA
Sunshine Dog Training & Behavior 
servicing Dallas/Ft Worth, Texas

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