If your dog is exhibiting serious behavior problems, it might be time to hand in the training to professionals. Finding a competent and qualified trainer is the way to go to keep yourself and your dog safe and unharmed. In this episode, Doug Poynter gives tips on how to vet trainers that achieve results properly and ethically. Quick results don’t equate to good training methods. You want a trainer who understands your dog’s condition and way of learning and doesn’t just use harsh punishment that creates negative associations. That is not sustainable, nor is it safe. Find out what criteria you should be using to vet trainers for your beloved furry friends by tuning in!
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Finding A Trainer
In this episode, what we’re going to be talking about is how to find a good trainer. Before I get started with that, I’d like to say this to you. I’m going to give you somewhat of a disclosure here. I specialize in solving behavior problems. If you have a dog that’s got a serious behavior problem, you feel like the dog is aggressive, you feel like the dog is dangerous to you, your family, or other folks, do not try to do this by yourself. Get yourself a competent and qualified trainer, and stay safe. When I do this type of work with dogs, I make sure that I’m safe and that the family or the owners of the dogs are safe as well because getting bitten by a dog is no fun.If you have a dog that has a serious behavior problem, is aggressive and dangerous to you, your family, or other folks., do not try to do this by yourself. Get yourself a competent and qualified trainer and stay safe. Click To Tweet
I’ve been bitten too many times over the years. I don’t want to be bitten anymore. I don’t want you to be unsafe either. Don’t try to do this alone. Find yourself a qualified professional trainer who can help you with this and keep everybody safe. Let’s just get going now. Let’s talk about how you can find an excellent trainer to help you with your dog.
Find A Trainer From A Trusted Association
The first thing I would suggest to you is to try to find someone who’s a member of either the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, the IAABC, or The Association of Professional Dog Trainers, the APDT. These are organizations that are involved with behavioral training. They’ve got courses that those of us who train can take, certifications that we can get, and studying that we can do to make us better at what we do so that we can help you in a more effective way.
One of the things that you want to be seeking is a trainer who’s a student. I’m a student of this. There are none of us who know every answer to every question about dog behavior. Nobody does that or knows that because this is a work in progress. We’re all learning. We all need to be students in this profession. It’s something that we’re dedicated to and should be studying and learning more and more each and every day. These are organizations that support that. They also support the minimal invasive techniques that will do the least amount of harm to dogs. We’re going to talk a little bit more about that later on in this episode. I will have an episode later on down the line that we’ll talk about that more exclusively so that we focus just on that. We want to do the least amount of harm to our dogs.
One of the problems with dog training is dogs are so tractable. They’re so attuned to us. There are some studies that show that dogs would rather be around humans than be around other dogs. Because of that, they’re a gift to us. Do you know what dogs spell backward is? The dogs have been a part of our lives for so long that we can get some results with training that’s not the best just because of how great dogs are. We don’t want to go there. We want to use the training that is the most effective and the least intrusive on the dog and causes no harm to the dog. When you are dealing with someone who’s a member of these organizations, that’s the trainer you’re dealing with. Make sure that you’re looking for that.
Find A Trainer Who Understands How Dogs Learn
You also want to look for someone who has an understanding of how dogs learn. Dogs learn by association. Dogs also can learn by role modeling, but the association is the main way that dogs learn. You want to be involved with a trainer who has a working knowledge of operant conditioning and classical conditioning. We don’t have to get too technical here. You don’t have to have the technical information yourself, but it’s helpful for you to know a bit about this so you can know the questions to ask. Operant conditioning is learning by association with what happens after the behavior. If the dog sits and gets rewarded for sitting, that’s operant conditioning. Classical conditioning is the learned association between two events. One event is typically neutral, and one event elicits an unconditional response.
What does that mean? If you’ve heard of the story of Pavlov’s dogs, Pavlov was testing something having to do with the salivary glands. What he would do is he’d feed his dogs and then ring a bell while they were eating. He’d ring a bell, and they’d eat. I must confess I can’t remember how long this experiment lasted. Something seems to be telling me it was several weeks. After that period of time, without food present, he would ring the bell, and the dogs would drool. Why? Drooling is a physical response to eating. The sound of the bell created an association of food in the dog’s bodies, and they drool. That’s classical conditioning. You want a trainer who understands operant conditioning and classical conditioning.
When you go and do your research and talk to these folks, I want you, at the start, to be dedicated to finding the right person. It may take a little while, and it may take talking to a bunch of folks. If the reason why you’re contacting trainers or trying to find a trainer is because you’ve got a behavior problem with your dog, what I want you to do is describe the problem to the potential trainer and ask them what methods they would use to solve this problem. You can find out a lot when you hear the response to that question, “What method would you use to solve my dog’s separation anxiety? What method would you use to solve my dog’s problem of barking uncontrollably? My dog growls at people and acts like he doesn’t like people. He’s nipped or bitten some folks. What methods would you use to solve those problems?”
Let me say something else. Let me get right down to the brass tacks because here’s what happens in the business that I’m in. There are a lot of people who have a lot of old-school ideas about how to solve problems like this that end up creating more problems later on down the line for the dog because the methods are very harsh. I’ve had to come behind that many times and fix the problems that type of training has created. If you want to know the truth, it chaps me that people are still doing that stuff, but there are plenty of folks out there who are using very harsh methods, like hanging dogs, picking dogs up by the leash and choking them if they act in any way, shape, or form aggressive, zapping them with high levels of electricity with the eCollars, and creating more problems than they solve.
I told a client one time, “If you want to see what this potential trainer is about, ask them what methods they use and ask them if they would use that same type of method on their own child, ‘Would you, as a trainer, if I did to you what you’re going to do to my dog, would you be upset about it?'” If you said that to me, I would say, “Do exactly to me what I’m going to do with your dog because I would love it. Your dog is going to love it as well. It’s effective.” You’ve got to go and do your research on these folks before you spend good money to have somebody help you with your dog. There are a lot of good folks out there, a lot of people who know what they’re doing, and a lot of people who don’t. Buyer, beware if that makes sense.
Avoid Trainers With These Red Flag Responses
When you ask, “What would you do to solve the problem?” If you hear this phrase, I’m going to correct it. I want you to immediately have your antenna go up and beware because that, many times, is synonymous with, “There’s going to be bad stuff that happens to your dog.” I can remember many years ago before I got into this business, when I was training my own dog, I talked to a lady who trained in this area. She told me that, “The way that you kept a dog from being aggressive with another dog with a person is if he shows signs that he’s going to go that way or starts barking, growling, and trying to get at another dog. What you do is you take the leash, pick him up, and hang him in the air until he passes out.” That’s what she said. She said, “It works.” It will stop the behavior, but it doesn’t change the way the dog feels about the animal or the person he’s looking at.
It’s a barbaric method. It’s more than old school. It’s not anything that you want to be involved with. When you hear stuff like, “I’m going to correct it,” find out what that means. Many times, it is synonymous with some old-school bad stuff that you don’t want to be involved with. It can create more problems than it solves. What you want to hear when you ask the question, “What kind of methods do you use to solve these behavior problems?” is you want to hear behavior modification. You want to hear desensitizing and counter conditioning. That’s what you want to hear because those are the effective methods that do no harm to the dog and don’t create any negative associations.When you ask the question, “what kind of methods do you use to solve these behavior problems?” you want to hear behavior modification, desensitizing, and counter conditioning. Those are the effective methods that do no harm to the dog, and don't create… Click To Tweet
These are the folks that you want to do business with because they’re the ones who know what they’re doing typically and are the ones who do the least amount of harm to your dog and create wonderful solutions for you. Having said that, let me also say that just because someone says they do behavior modification doesn’t mean they’re any good at it. I’ll give you two examples. There was a lady that was in my Facebook group. She claimed that she was a behaviorist. In claiming that she was a behaviorist, she said, “One of the problems that dogs face is when people leave the TV on in the house for the dog when they leave,” she said, “Never do that because these noises on the TV can irritate the dog and make the dog’s problem worse.”
She was talking about a dog that she supposedly worked with that had a problem with the sound of cars and horns beeping. The problem is that they would leave the TV on, and there would be some TV show or something with a car beeping, and the dog would go crazy in the house and make it worse and worse. I’m going, “She’s not a behaviorist.” Behaviorists would love to use a TV as a tool. Turn the volume down so that the sound of a horn is so low that it doesn’t bother the dog. Once the dog is okay with it at that level, you crank it up a little bit. It’s desensitizing the dog to the sound of a horn beeping if that’s what the issue was.
Sometimes people say they’re behaviorists or use behavior modification, and they’re not good at it. I saw another example. This lady was well-meaning. She was using behavioral methods, but it wasn’t working simply because she hadn’t set it upright. I was walking with a friend in a park. There was a pathway to walk. Walking on the other side of the pathway was a lady with the dog with two dogs. One of which looked like some type of hound mix. He was clearly scared of everything around him. While he was being fearful, she was throwing him food treats while she could have thrown him food treats until the cows came home. It wasn’t going to change his behavior because all of us that he was scared of were too close to him.
The food wasn’t changing his mind. The food was immaterial. He was just getting fed while he was being scared. His scaredness never stopped because we were too close. The scaredness and the fear that he felt for us was bigger than the pleasantness of the food. She and I talked for a moment. I said, “You may want to take him out someplace where there’s a little bit more room where he can see us, but not be scared, and he gets a food reward, and then you gradually get people closer and closer. This is just too much.” I gave her my information and said, “Give me a call. I’m happy to talk with you about that.” Behavior modification is great, but you got to know what you’re doing to make the behavior modification work.
The next thing that you can do on this is asking for some references. If you like what you hear, ask, “Is there anybody you’ve worked with that I can talk to? If they have a website, do they have a testimonial page?” Take a look at the testimonials and get a good feel for that person. See if there are any ratings for these folks. You can begin to get an idea about whether you want to do business with these folks or not. Another thing I want you to be aware of is when you hear somebody tell you over the telephone after you describe the behavior problem for them, you hear somebody tell you that, “It’s going to take 10 or 15 sessions to get this done.” They don’t know that. There’s no way they can know that without seeing your dog. That’s someone who’s trying to get your money from you. I’ll give you an example.
There are two dogs that I worked with who had similar problems. They wanted to bite people. They both have bitten people before. One dog took me fifteen sessions. I had a package deal I worked with my clients at that time, where they could get a pretty good discount if they bought five sessions from me upfront. Those sessions lasted an hour. We got to the second package of five, and my client purchased those. I said, “Here’s the thing.” I said, “I think we’re going to need more than five. This is what I’m going to propose to you. Let’s turn these 1-hour sessions into 30-minute sessions so that we get 10 more sessions out of this package of 5 you purchased.” She was all for that.
Within those sessions, we got the problem solved. My client told somebody that she referred to me that it was a miracle because of how bad he was. I had another client with a very similar issue. He would run up behind people and bite them when they brought the person into the house. The lady told me prior to me coming to her house, “I’m going to need to buy a package from you because he’s pretty bad.” I said, “If that’s what you want to do, we’ll settle it at the end of the first session.” She said, “Okay.”
I went there to the first session, and I fixed it in 45 minutes. She said, “I don’t need you anymore.” She said, “This one session is good enough.” I went, “Great.” You never know until you see the dog and start working with the dog. Even then, sometimes you don’t know how long this is going to take. If somebody tells you upfront, “This is going to take 15 or 10 sessions,” run because that’s a person who’s trying to grab your money. You don’t know until you see and start working with the dog what it might take.
Beware Of “Quick Results”
The other thing I want you to be aware of that is going to sound like the opposite side of the same coin is quick results, “We’re going to get this done quickly.” We will never be going to get this done quickly. I will tell you that when you hear quick results, that usually means something has been done to your dog that’s not the best, some type of punishment, some harsh method to squash the bad behavior so that you can see a result quickly. There’s only one problem with that. Many times, it creates a negative association. It never changes the dog’s mind about the situation. It just shuts down the behavior. It shuts down the dog many times, sits on the dog, and doesn’t create a pleasant experience for the dog. It doesn’t change the way the dog feels about the situation in a good way.
Many times, it can change it in a bad way. Let me give you an example. I’ll tell you another story. I got a client with a German shepherd. It’s a nice looking and impressive looking dog, a Czechoslovakian bloodline German shepherd that if you got to look at him, you would not think, “I’m going to break into that house and rob it.” There’s no way that you would think that. He was pretty impressive looking. The reason I was hired is because his owner told me that he had developed dog aggression.
He would see another dog, and he would lose it. That’s what she wanted me to help her with. She had done training before. When I went over there and saw him, I said, “I think I’m going to be able to help you with this and be able to show you what you need to do so that when I leave here, you can work this stuff yourself. You’re not going to need me around because you’ve got some experience with training, but I’ve got to show you the training and the timing of the behavior modification. Once you get it, you’re going to be good to go.” She said, “Okay.”
I said, “Before we get started, can you tell me what was going on with him when this began to happen? You told me something in our phone discovery session” By the way, I do discovery sessions at no cost over the telephone. I’ll talk with you about your dog and ask you all the questions that I need to ask, and then I’ll present to you what the plan might be, what that would look like, how much that would cost, and when I’m available, how long the sessions would last, and you can decide whether you want to work with me or not.
I had that discovery session with her. I was asking her all these questions about it. She told me that he never was aggressive with dogs before until she sent him to this organization that kept him on a boarding train for two weeks. I will not mention the name of the organization. I will tell you that it’s an organization that’s a franchise and are famous for getting stuff done quickly. She said the trainer called her after he had been there for 2 or 3 days and said he exhibited some reactivity to another dog in the training facility. She asked the trainer, “What did you do?” The trainer said, “I corrected it.” What that meant is he got zapped with the eCollar. When he came back, he had full-bloom dog aggression.
That’s a lack of knowledge as to how dogs learn. That created a very negative association. I saw another dog that irritated me. It’s normal dog behavior, and I got zapped with something painful. The association is, “I see dogs, I get pain. I don’t like dogs.” That’s what came out. When she got him back, he could sit and come to her. He could walk pretty well on a leash. He could have walked better, but he sat and came to her and would lie down, but he wanted to nail other dogs. It was simply because of what was done to him in the training session. That is something you want to be aware of, getting quick results.
Many times when we were talking about a behavior problem, he didn’t even have a behavior problem. The work to try to get a quick result created that behavior problem. When we have behavior problems in general, sometimes it takes a while. I can’t always guarantee somebody I’m going to be able to be able to fix that problem in one session. I’m not going to tell you it’s going to take me ten if I don’t know your dog. I’m going to do my best to get it done in 2 or 3. At the very least, what I’m going to do is I’m going to show you what you can do so that you don’t need me at some point. That’s why I say I train people and help dogs because I want to make you independent. It’s not going to be helpful to you 3, 4, or 5 years down the line if you’ve got a problem with your dog and have no idea what to do with it because I’m the one who took care of all of it. You don’t even know how to proceed.
My goal is to get you trained so that you can get your dog taken care of. That’s the client that I want to work with. I want people who want a trainer like that. They like to do the work themselves. If you want somebody to do it for you, that’s fine, but I still would ask the questions that we’ve talked about here, “What kind of methods do you use? Would you object if those methods were used on your dog? Would you object if they were used on you?”
There’s a great video out there. I’m not going to say who did it, but it’s a guy who’s teaching eCollar training. He shows some outtakes in his video. Outtakes are funny. They’re entertaining. One of the outtakes is they show him picking up the eCollar. He’s got it set the way he has it for his dog. He picks it up, and by mistake, he touches the little electrodes that conduct the electricity. It hurts him so bad that he drops it and screams. I’m going, “That’s what you were going to put on your dog.” Those are the types of things you want to be careful about when you talk to a trainer to make sure that you’re not going to have bad stuff done to your dog.
Look For Trainers Who Do Marker Training
I don’t know about you, but I’d rather get it done right. I’d rather get it done slow if I have to get it done slow to keep my dog safe and healthy and not hurt my dog. I’m not interested in hurting your dog or having my dog be hurt, either. That’s the trainer you want. You can also ask them, “What kind of training do you do?” What we’ve been talking about before is, “What do you do to solve this behavior problem?” You want to find out in general what training they do. In my opinion, here is what it is that you want to hear, “I do marker training.” That’s what I want to hear. I want to hear a trainer that does marker training because marker training is the highest level of obedience. Dogs are trained with markers. There’s no stress put on the dog. They love it. You can get very precise training results with marker training.Marker training is the highest level of obedience, dogs are trained with markers. Click To Tweet
Even in some of the old school-dominated fields like protection work, where you’ve got a lot of old school trainers. Because we’re doing protection work, they think, “We’ve got to dominate the dog, or we’re going to have problems.” The training can sometimes be very harsh. Even in those areas, marker training has begun to change the landscape and the people who are winning the IPO trials. Even over in France, with some of the Mondioring, Belgium Ring, and French Ring champions, they’re using marker training. I won’t say it’s the newest craze because it’s been around for a while, but it is something that is the most effective for my money. It’s the best for your dog.
Find out what training these folks are doing. If you hear, “I’m doing marker training,” you’ve probably got somebody that you want to work with that’s probably going to do well for your dog, and you’re going to have fun with it as well. If you stay tuned in the next several episodes, I’m going to teach you marker training right here on a show because it is something I can talk you through. If you follow the way I describe it to you, you’ll be able to do it with your dog yourself. Keep an eye out for that. Marker training is a great thing.
I need to talk to you guys about how to find a good trainer because there are a lot of people out there who do what I do not have any regulation on training. You can find some of the most wonderful people with some of the highest skills that you can imagine out there that will help you with your dog. You can find people who can create far more problems for you than they help solve. Do your research. I’m happy to do a discovery session with you if you would like to talk and tell me about your dog. I love to talk with you. It is a privilege to be able to work with folks who want to train their dogs and have their dogs be healthy, happy, and better behaved. Until the next episode. I’m glad to talk with you. Keep on training.
- International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants
- The Association of Professional Dog Trainers