Many of you may not know that being a dog trainer or dog behaviourist in the UK is not regulated. Effectively that means that you could set up a website or print a few business cards and be the next dog trainer or behaviour “expert” in your area, without ever owning a dog. Scary isn’t it? It’s happening everywhere today and many of the techniques used by these so called experts to “train” are extremely harmful for your dog. Many believe that shouting, hitting, electrocuting or jerking a dog’s collar is acceptable as they conform to a belief that you must treat your dog harshly in order to gain respect. Teaching any animal (including humans) with fear or force is not acceptable in today’s society – not that it ever was.
Yet it remains prevalent everywhere, even amongst trainers who promote themselves as positive reinforcement trainers. I find it very disheartening to meet with distraught pet owners who have been given such poor advice much of which will make their pets a great deal worse. Hitting a dog who barks because they are anxious isn’t going to make them less anxious – it doesn’t take a behaviourist to work that out – yet many recommend just that.
Over the years I have witnessed dogs being shouted at and “scruffed” in classes, sprayed with compressed air canisters or water bottles, yanked around by the lead and collar and shouted at for not understanding what was actually in hindsight, very poor instruction. The same is true of behavioural issues – I’ve met many owners whose dogs exhibit separation problems and who have been told to just leave them in their crate until the dog gets over it – that simply doesn’t happen and will almost certainly make the problem worse. Hitting or electrocuting a dog for barking and lunging at another dog may stop the behaviour, but it is unlikely to stop the fear which is often causing the barking and lunging in the first place – the fall out of punishment can be a whole lot worse in the long run.
The good news is that the industry is becoming more and more regulated, albeit slowly. And thankfully, there are many qualified and experienced trainers and behaviourists out there today that work hard to train with compassion, science and sense. With this in mind, I decided that I wanted to be like them and help dogs, rather than punish them into submission.
So I researched the many options for study and decided to undertake a Bachelor of Science in Canine Behaviour and Training with Bishop Burton College and the University of Hull. It was one of the most interesting and enlightening things I have ever done in my life. It challenged me academically as well as challenging many of my beliefs – but moreover it provided me with an extensive knowledge of animal behaviour and a large circle of friends and professionals who appreciate and promote animal welfare and science. Understanding what motivates certain behaviours, such as the genetic and biological influences, as well as how learning impacts on behaviour are just a few of the pre-requisites for work as a behaviourist.
I graduated from 5 years of study with first class honours and use almost every aspect of that learning in my daily interaction with dogs and their owners. Since, I have joined the International Association of Animal Behaviour Consultants as a Certified Dog Behaviour Consultant and now enjoy an even greater network of professionals and friends who have the same goals of helping animals at both ends of the lead in a kind and compassionate way.
And so to the point ……
Do your research when considering the services of a dog trainer or behaviourist. Ask them about their qualifications and about the techniques they will use. Simply being a member of a dog training organisation does not imply that the individual has sufficient background knowledge or skill to assess and address behaviour problems, although it can be a good indicator that they have proved the ability to train a dog in a compassionate way. If in doubt, walk away because you are your best friend’s ambassador!