Stages of puppy development

A friend of mine recently expressed some exasperation that her 10 month-old puppy suddenly seemed to forget everything he had learned and was actively resisting training.  I asked her what she was like when she was an adolescent.  My friend’s dog is somewhere in the adolescent or juvenile stage, and is being a brat.  Its just a good thing he’s cute.

Like us, dogs go through stages of emotional and physical development, and their behavior changes during those phases.  Here’s an excellent brief on the subject, courtesy of the Arizona Humane Society.

Developmental-Stages-of-a-Dog

Choosing the Right Dog Trainer

In previous articles, I discussed the differences between dog trainers and behaviorists, and provided some insight into the various qualifications and professional organizations that are part of those professions.  Today, we’ll talk about how to pick the right person.

To keep it simple, I’ll limit this post to picking the right trainer:  What to look for and how to find one who meets your needs.  Picking a behaviorist will have somewhat different criteria and I’ll discuss that in my next post.  Note:  This assumes that we get back to a more normal society in the coming months and can have in-person interactions more freely than we can at present.  In the interim, there are a number of trainers who are providing very effective remote consulting, or one-on-one social-distanced training, during the pandemic.  But, for our purposes today, lets hope for the future.

So.  The first thing to do is ask around.  In this business there is nothing as beneficial as word-of-mouth advertising.  If one of your friends has a well-behaved and socialized dog, and had a good experience with a trainer, that’s definitely a plus.  Not only do you get to see the dog’s interactions and behavior, but you and your friend will probably have some shared values about training methods and similar lifestyles.

Next, look at the trainers’ advertisements and see what qualifications they have.  For example, if they have a CPDT-KA or CPDT-KSA certification, that means they have documented experience, have demonstrated skills and knowledge and –  very importantly – are engaged in continuous education1.    That said, when you see some letters after a trainer’s name, take the time to look that up and see what that certification actually means, what that certifying agency is.  They’re not all the same.  By the same token, when you see “member of ________” , take some time to look that up.  Some professional organizations have stringent membership requirements in terms of qualifications and experience.  Others, not so much.

After that, look at what they offer in terms of training styles.  A trainer who is a member of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers, or holds most certifications, will adhere to the Least Intrusive, Minimally Aversive (LIMA) philosophy of training and behavior work.  I’ll get into the details of this in a later post, but for our purposes today it means that the trainer adheres to professional standards that avoid any punishment-based training measures.  If you see an advertisement of a trainer who promotes the use of punishment methods, such as e-collars2, I would consider that to be a red flag.  Not only are aversive training methods contrary to ethical standards, but they have also been found to be damaging to dogs’ welfare and are less effective than positive training methods3.  Similarly, I would advise looking carefully at a trainer who describes his program as “balanced”.  This can often mean that this person is more prone to implement punishment as a training measure, instead of as a last resort.

If your trainer uses phrases such as “pack”, “authority”,  “Alpha” or other terms related to a dominance hierarchy, this can mean that he is using outdated and discredited training methods4.  This points out the advantage of hiring trainers who are maintaining a certification and are required to keep current on developments in the field.

Trainers will offer a variety of environments for you and your dog.  They may offer anything from group classes, structured playtime for socialization, individual one-on-one training, or board-and-train programs.  They may have a facility for conducting classes, or they may come to your house to offer individualized programs.  Each of these approaches have advantages for dog owners.

If your dog is new in your house, regardless of his/her age, I recommend taking part in a group training session.  This is a good social and bonding event for you and your dog, and also gives you a chance to learn about how well he is socialized with other dogs in a controlled and safe environment.   Again, read reviews and get recommendations before picking a program.

One-on-one programs are particularly useful for specific training in your home environment, such as loose-leash walking, greeting strangers, or other activities that don’t require a social setting but are centered on you interacting directly with your dog.

Board and train facilities, or doggy-daycare facilities that provide training can be very favorable for working people who don’t have a lot of spare time.  However, these programs must include the dogs’ owners in the training.  Your dog isn’t a car that can be dropped off at a mechanic.  A good facility such as this will involve the owner in training and provide work to do at home.

Lastly, interview the trainers that you are considering and tour their facilities.   They should provide their rates up front, along with details of their training program; and information about their business license, insurance and bonding.  Find out if they are affiliated with any shelters or rescues and ask for references.

Every person and every pet have individual needs and personalities.  One size does not fit all. But this will hopefully help in identifying the kind of trainer you need.

Next up:  What to look for in a canine behaviorist.

1  How to become a certified dog trainer – CCPDT

China, Mills & Cooper (2020), Efficacy of Dog Training With and Without Remote Electronic Collars vs. a Focus on Positive Reinforcement.  Frontiers in Veterinary Science 7 (2020).  doi:  10.3389/fvets.2020.00508

3  Fernandes, Olssen & Vierira de Castro (2017), Do Aversive-based Training Methods Actually Compromise Dog Welfare?:  A Literature Review.  Applied Animal Behavior Science 196 (2017).  1 – 12, doi: 10.1016/j.applanim 2017.07.001

4  The Dominance Controversy – Dr. Sophia Yin

Trainer or Behaviorist?

In an earlier post, I talked at length about the certifications to look for in a dog trainer or behaviorist.  If you took the time to read it, you might be wondering what’s the difference between them.  After all, they do the same thing, right?  Well, not really.  They represent two different disciplines that you might need in living with your dog.

So, you are sharing your home with a pretty intelligent non-human who has social and emotional needs, and communicates non-verbally.  And he is turning into a terrible roommate.  One of you needs help, but what kind of help?  As in all things, that depends.

First, keep in mind that anyone can put up a website, print some business cards and call himself a dog trainer or behaviorist – or dog whisperer, dog guru, dog spiritual healer, dog communicator, or any other title.  This is an unregulated industry, with its share of quacks and frauds.  In the first article in this series, What Do All Those Letters and Certifications Mean? I discussed the various organizations that certify and vet members of these professions.  In the next article, I’ll address what to look for in picking the right person to help you with your dog, but at this point, we’ll discuss what these professionals do.

What is a dog trainer?

Putting it simply, a trainer is someone who teaches you and your pet the skills needed to function well in your home and in society.  This includes manners, pet etiquette and behaviors that are needed to safety and a happy life.  These can range from basic skills such as sitting and lying down on command, coming when called, walking nicely on a leash, traffic safety, etc., to advanced skill levels such as protection training, sports and other activities.

Types of dog training.

The training can take many forms, ranging from multi-dog classes for teaching basic skills to owners and their pets, moderated play sessions for socialization (generally for puppies), advanced group classes, private sessions at owners’ homes, or board-and-train sessions in which the dog lives at the trainers’ location for a time.  In my next article I’ll go into these approaches in depth and discuss how to pick a trainer, but for the time being, it suffices to say that trainers have a number of tools at their disposal, and a number of different business philosophies and approaches.  One size does not fit all.

What is a canine behaviorist?

A behaviorist is someone who can address a problem behavior that your dog has developed.  A “problem behavior” being defined that something that the dog does too often, or not often enough.1   For example, if your dog has anxieties about certain situations – such as being left alone in the house, or your dog barks excessively at the neighbors, or is overly protective of his food bowl, these are problems that the behaviorist can help with reducing.

Behaviorist Methodology

Where a dog trainer uses repetition and encouragement to educate dogs and owners in how to perform certain actions; a behaviorist will work with the owners to observe what the dog does, determine what events or triggers cause it to happen, and develop an intervention to reduce or modify the problem behavior.  The key elements of this are to closely observe what happens before, during and after the behavior occurs; and develop an intervention based on behavioral science and professional ethics.

I hope this helped to clarify when you should seek a trainer or behaviorist.  We’ll get into the mechanics of training and behavior modification in a later article, along with what you should look for when searching for a reputable and effective professional to help you with your dog.

What to Look for in a Dog Trainer. What do all those letters and certifications mean?

You’ve taken your puppy home and are looking for a trainer. Or your adorable puppy has grown up and turned into a teenager.  Or the dog you’ve taken home from a shelter or rescue has developed anxieties and behavior problems.  So, you’ve begun a search for someone who can help you.  And you’ve found and entire internet full of trainers, and are overwhelmed with options.  What now?   What’s right for you and your dog?  This is a series of articles to help you pick the right trainer and training program.

First off:  Every article has an alphabet soup of certifications and qualifications.  What do they all mean, and how do you wade through all that?

Things to keep in mind:  In the United States, this is an unregulated field.  Every single person who advertises himself as a dog trainer can also certify other people as trainers, without any qualifications or standards and print out a fancy certificate.  This isn’t to say that the person who has gone through a course of training or internship under that program doesn’t know what he or she is doing and isn’t an excellent trainer.  But often it means exactly that.   As Victoria Stillwell says:

“Just as almost anyone can refer to themselves as a professional dog trainer, almost any entity can currently state that it ‘certifies’ its members or graduates to be a certain level of dog training  professional. While this classification can sometimes be as valuable as the paper used to designate the certification, the dog-owning public continues to place varying degrees of importance on the label of being ‘certified.’

 The truth is that the value of any dog trainer certification depends upon the criteria and assessment processes in place by the entity granting the certification to the trainer as well as the guiding principles and reputation of the certifying entity.1″

This is a list of the more commonly found reputable professional dog training and behavior consulting certifications.  Each of these certifications requires documented experience (ranging from hundreds of hours to years) in canine training and behavior, education and/or rigorous testing, and attestation of that person’s qualifications by professional peers.  Each of these organizations require their certificants to abide by a code of ethics, best practices and professional standards.  The individuals holding these certifications are also required to maintain their expertise through continual education in the field.  I encourage you to look at the links provided below to determine the best fit for you and your pet.

DACVB – Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists.2

CAAB:  Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (granted by the Animal Behavior Society).3

ACAAB:  Associate Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (Animal Behavior Society).

CPDT-KA:  Certified Pet Dog Trainer – Knowledge Assessed (Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers.4

CPDT-KSA:  Certified Pet Dog Trainer – Knowledge and Skills Assessed (Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers.

CBCC-KA:  Certified Behavior Consultant Canine – Knowledge Assessed (Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers.

CDBC:  Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants).5

IAABC-ADT:  Accredited Dog Trainer (International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants).

KPA-CTP:  Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Program6

A more complete list of animal-related certifications, and the criteria for those certifications, can be found here:  www.whole-dog-journal.com/lifestyle/human-focus/professional-dog-training-titles/

When looking at advertisements for trainers or behaviorists, pay attention to the fine print.  Does the trainer provide a set of credentials?  If so, you can search that certifying organization’s web site to determine whether that trainer is in fact certified and in good standing.  Also, does the trainer say that he’s a member of an organization, such as the IAABC or APDT without providing further information?  If so, look further.  Membership in these organizations is a great thing:  It provides access to training, current research and other benefits.  But there are also various levels of membership, including the general public.

If a trainer lists course that he or she has taken, take a look that the courses and see if they are listed as providing Continuing Education Units (CEUs) for maintaining certification.  This will provide you with a basis of determining the value of that course of training.  Also,  if a trainer describes himself as having attended a formal training program such as those conducted by Victoria Stillwell7, Pat Miller8, Karen Pryor6 or the Animal Behavior College9, look to see if he has successfully completed that training and has been credentialed by it.

Next in this series:  Do I need a trainer or a behaviorist?

Upcoming:  What is an ethical dog trainer?  What to look for in a trainer/behaviorist, and what to avoid.

 

References

  1. What Is Certification? | Victoria Stilwell Academy for Dog Training & Behavior (vsdogtrainingacademy.com)
  2. American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (dacvb.org)
  3. Animal Behavior Society
  4. Certification for professional dog trainers and behavior consultants (ccpdt.org)
  5. International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (iaabc.org)
  6. Become A Professional Dog Trainer Courses – Certification Program (karenpryoracademy.com)
  7. HOME | Victoria Stilwell Academy for Dog Training & Behavior (vsdogtrainingacademy.com)
  8. Peaceable Paws Intern Academies – Peaceable Paws

Animal Behavior College | Where Animal Lovers Pursue Animal Careers