The “Dumbing” of American Dog Owners
(through Marketing and EDP) Part 1
How To Pick A Trainer
I’ve been writing this article in my head for the past couple of years. So I will try to put it to paper, but will probably make many changes over time.
First off, let me clear up a misconception about me. I don’t “hate” or even dislike those trainers who claim to have “instant” qualifications. You know the type of trainer who says they have had 16 (not 15 or 20) years experience. But it cannot be proven….. So dog owners now have to investigate and see if the person they are hiring really have the experience they claim to.
Pretty sad isn’t it – when lies become so common placed? BUT my friends, there are more of us who try our very best to be as honest as a human can. It doesn’t make us richer, but we sleep better, I’m sure.
I meet people from all over the world from day to day. I met a “trainer” a year or so ago, who claimed to have over ten years of professional (because anyone can claim to be a professional) experience as a dog trainer. I knew this woman had lived a totally different life than what she claimed – so I gently nudged her on ethics and the need to set good examples for the American public. This chick blew her gasket at me and continued her lies. I let her know how I knew the truth and ended the conversation saying I was so disappointed. I had been excited to hear of a trainer in that particular area, but was devastated to see this person felt the need to lie. I therefore, could not recommend her to dog owners. The good news is that she was also found out by several others, and eventually stopped.
The other new thing is for new dog trainers to specialize in aggression or behavior problems. I couldn’t even begin to tell you all of the horror stories I have heard over the years. People who have two years or less experience as a dog trainer and now claim to be an expert on aggression and behavior problems.
As a dog owner, it is important that you learn to read behind the lines. I am not cutting most dog owners any slack. This is a sad world when creative marketing can mean direct lies – but the American public is the only one who can change that.
That said, here are questions dog owners must ask before committing to a trainer:
1) What school did you go to – in order to become a dog trainer?
2) If you did not go to school (not always the best or most prudent way) – who did you intern under or where did you get your education? (The old “I’ve always loved dogs and everyone said I was the Pied Piper, or nowadays, the Dog Whisperer, or dogs. So it was only natural I became a dog trainer” - said with a smile and wide blinking eyes. Don’t get me wrong, most of us had a “way” with animals, but there is more to becoming a dog trainer than that.
3) What tests did you take to become a certified dog trainer? The American public needs to know that different organizations require hugely varied testing steps. The largest dog trainers’ organization testing process requires a few hundred dollars and a multiple choice test – and that constitutes certification. Yes, once certified, the trainer must continue education and is required to have so many credits a year, through their sponsored weekend workshops, etc. That is very very sad. A multiple choice test can make me a dog trainer……..
4) Does the trainer have business insurance? I got a call from a dog owner just recently where the private in home trainer, told her that she didn’t need business insurance, as the dog owner’s homeowners insurance would suffice??????
One of these “aggression experts” posted a video clip on a large video network type of computer place – showing the client dog biting her, and asking for help from other trainers, as to what financial considerations she should get from the dog owner! This chick has no professional training or expertise as a beginning dog owner – but is now training aggressive dogs?! Scary, isn’t? Scary that anyone would leave their dog with her or give her money, without really checking into her expertise.
5) What method does the trainer use? In the dog training world – we are in a very sad state of affairs. Supposedly if we are to believe everything we read, there are only two methods of training – purely positive (more on that later) or adversive (punishment). Are American dog owners really that stupid (excuse me for using such a harsh word) that we believe there are only two methods to train an intelligent animal? How about all that space in the middle –
Purely Positive Adversive
Look at that huge space in the middle. (No – it isn’t the empty space between your ears, as your mother might have said when you were young). Plenty of room there for other training methods, as have been used for a million (ok, so that is an exaggeration) years. We have trained our children for heaven’s sake, using plenty of space in the middle –such as:
1) Common Sense
2) Repetitions (hundreds, thousands, whatever it takes for that particular dog)
3) Body Language (this is a difficult one for most dog owners. If I have a shy fearful dog, why do I feel the need to nurture or coo to it excessively, telling it “It’s okay”? Why – because then it will need me more? No, I need to build confidence in this dog. That is what the dog needs – not me – the dog!) Good proper posture. It isn’t about being the “Alpha” or whatever terminology is popular at this moment – but about showing the dog the owner is confident and worthy of teaching it. If the owner bends over the dog constantly, it could be perceived by the dog as either a threatening position or that the owner knows nothing. Be confident, loose, and casual – when teaching your dog.
4) Correct Timing and Use of Praise – Yes, we praise puppies when they are small and we are teaching them so much. They are like little “Gumbies” – and they soak up so much. But as the dog becomes an adolescent, we need to ask more of the dog before we praise. If not, the dog hears “Good boy” all the time and uses it as a release – not encouraging it to learn or do more. Once again, we need the help more than the dog!!! (J)
5) Correct Timing and Use of Corrections – Ok, here is that big nasty wordk – Correction. Does it mean punishment- good grief, a big resounding NO!!!! The correction should fit the “crime” – so to speak.
Now I am going to interject another bit of information that floats around this head of mine. For some reason, the clients that start out not wanting any correction – no no no – actually ask me many more times when can they correct the dog – than those who do not start off seeming as purely positive or trying to show me how much they love their dog? You know the type of dog owner who feels the need to tell you a thousand times, how much their dog means to them and perhaps how they saved it from a life of abuse or worse perhaps? (PS – I’m still looking for that mountain in North Carolina where all the rescued hounds or hound crosses, are abandoned. Have been looking for it for over 20 years. Keep hearing about it – but haven’t found it yet…..)
6) Humor. This is really needed in training a dog. Does your trainer have humor or are they uncomfortably stiff with you and your dog? Is there a bit of twinkle in their eyes, which perhaps shows you a spark of life? There are way too many dog trainers that are so full of themselves that they forgot to remember one of the most important rules of business etiquette – good manners and a sense of humor.
I remember a trainer years ago, who wasn’t a bad trainer. He kept improving his skills – which was certainly taken as a credit to him. However, his people skills were awful (as I say this laughing to myself). I will never forget the first female dog owner who came to me and complained. If a female dog owner used too much sweet endearing to their dog or they talked in a little girl voice- he would say “Ok- knock off the 800 sex voice to your dog!” At that point, the intelligent strong women left him and hired a new dog trainer. The women who were lacking in confidence (I was one of them so I do understand) stayed and took his insults. I loved the guy; he brought me so much business!
7) Appropriate Tones of Voice. Do you know that you can train your dog without running around yelling “Good boy” every two seconds? Or did you know that you can train your dog without yelling at it – “NO!!!” I have to admit, I like even tones for most of my training. Then if I feel the need to make a distinct change of tone – it really gets the dog’s attention easier and quicker.
8) Physical Tools- Ok, here is where it can get realllllllly nasty. What tools is the dog trainer going to use to train your dog? I personally like the trainer who says they will use whatever tools it takes to train your dog humanely, but effectively- and get the job done! There is more to life than a clicker or an electronic collar. Guess what folks, I use both. But I use many other physical tools as well. A trainer, who uses only one of these to speak of, isn’t going to be the well balanced or educated trainer who I want for my dog.
I polled a number of trainers once and ask them what tools they use when training dogs. What I got from the majority of trainers was – physical tools. Very few stated the type of items I just taught you before the physical tools section. I use the others first and always. My physical tools may change, but the others are always mandatory.
First and foremost, a trainer must not only love working with dogs and people, having an understanding of both, - but must also have respect for both.
You cannot train that which you do not respect.