By Gaby Dufresne-Cyr, CBT
This might come as a surprise for some readers outside the dog profession; therefore, I urge you to brace yourselves for what I am about to say. Dog training is an unrecognised profession with no educational standards or governing body in Quebec, Canada. If you did not know this, please rest assured, you are not alone. With the advent of TV reality shows, this fact places people, trainers and clients alike, in a precarious position. Let us explore why.
Applied animal behaviour is a recognised profession which requires a university degree; furthermore, behaviourists are usually members of a specific professional organisation. In other words, behaviourists are bound by a code of ethics and ave a governing body, depending on their country of origin.
In Quebec, dog trainers are not required to have any educational training. Basically, this means people can read a book or watch a television show and call themselves dog trainers. Although some self-taught trainers use a positive approach to dog training and continue their education via conferences and seminars, some trainers are simply put, bad to the bone.
I call punishment based and forceful dog trainers "backyard" trainers. These backyard trainers have little or no basic understanding of animal behaviour modification; consequently, they create more problems than they solve. Why? Because their training approach focuses on outdated ideas and theories like dominance and pack structure.
Dog Trainer Professionals
Professional dog trainers recognise the need for structured, formal, educational programs and go out of their way to acquire such an education. The training they receive is often given by behaviourists which explains why they have a basic to advanced understanding of animal behaviour and modification protocols. Professional people do not hesitate to refer cases which exceed their qualifications. Professional dog trainers network and strive to keep in touch and discuss training practices, methods, and techniques.
Dog Training Clients
Clients should ask for references from other clients or turn towards sources such as dog parks, veterinarians, videos of trainers, and contact the training school where their potential trainer has taken classes. Social networks are also an excellent source of information. Clients can look at potential trainers' posts, comments, associations, affiliations or liked pages.
Clients can read up on training techniques and interview trainers. Clients should ask questions such as name the four quadrants of conditioning, what is a variable schedule of reinforcement, and what is the difference between positive and negative punishment. Trainers' answers should come without hesitation and match the information previously gathered for the interview. Clients do not need to understand the definitions, they are simply verifying qualifications and knowledge.
The Road Ahead
When the time comes to sort between professional and backyard trainers, I recommend clients trust the information they gathered and their instinct. Finally, clients should hire the person which best fits their expectations and needs. Remember, if it's too good to be true, it normally is!