The Wrong Trainer
By Jamie Sharma
Choosing the dog trainer best for you and your dog can be a difficult process. In an industry so wildly unregulated, finding the wrong trainer seems to be easier and sadly more common.
What makes a trainer the “wrong trainer”, of course, can be debated. The argument could begin with methods, education, experience, then beliefs and so on but let’s set those aside for now. We can agree the wrong trainer consists of many things. More importantly the wrong trainer can do a lot of damage.
One of these things that happens to be towards the top of my list is bullying and blaming dog parents. I have yet to meet a client who purposefully does the wrong thing with their dog, so why attack the dog parent? I find this remarkably ironic with trainers who claim to be positive trainers. These trainers use positive methods with the dog but adverse methods with their human counterparts. That’s about as useful as water on a grease fire! No one enjoys hearing what they’ve been doing is incorrect or worse, hurting their dog. It takes courage in the first place to ask for help. That help should be understanding, supportive and offer ways to succeed.
Dog “training” goes beyond teaching a dog to do things, most of which come so unnatural to the dog in the first place. For so many years dog training has been all about the “well trained”, “obedient” and “polite” dog. The dog that doesn’t bark, pull on a leash, ever potty in the house and doesn’t jump on people. You know what that sounds like?…a stuffed animal.
From the 1930’s to 1950’s, your doctor would recommend you take up cigarette smoking for your health. Today, a doctor would likely lose their license for such a suggestion. Dog training should be no different. A question I get asked often is, “If prong collars are so bad, why do people still use them?” The prong collar was invented in the 1800’s and like smoking, has decreased in popularity dramatically and for similar reasons, health. So, the short answer to that question is simple, a lack in continued education. But this isn’t being written to argue about a collar.
The wrong trainer, by my own definition, is one who believes they are in fact, a dog expert. Don’t get me wrong there are many brilliant minds with an extensive education but those brilliant minds are typically humble enough to know there is always more to learn.
Let’s talk standards. Not the Poodle kind. We need to shift away from “standards” that not only don’t serve our greatest good but don’t belong to us to begin with. This most of all includes our dogs. The standards of todays world on the average human for their “pet” dog is grotesquely outdated. Like us, they are doing the best they can, every day. Our dogs spend their entire lives studying us, getting to know us on levels deeper than some of us know our selves. It’s time we try harder to do the same.
Dog training is yet again making another big shift and with a big thanks to years of research by so many brilliant minds. Some to name a few are Kim Brophey, Alexandra Horowitz, Andrew Hale and Victoria Stilwell. The first and most well known shift is from adverse/dominate methods stemming from the “Alpha Theory” to positive reinforcement. Today, we are seeing more consideration and research bringing a dog’s emotional experience into play. This new shift is gaining in momentum and popularity in the dog behavior world. Largely because the outcome is not only a happier human and dog but a better understood dog. This shift will cause a massive positive change in society standards and canine behavior for our canine companions for years to come.
So, while choosing the right trainer can definitely be difficult. It is important that you work with a trainer that you are comfortable with who is not just certified but is eager to continue learning.
Work with a trainer who uses reward-based positive training methods for you AND your dog. Most importantly, be patient with yourself and your dog, you’re both learning the language of another species.