Who Should Treat Behavior Problems in Dogs & Cats?

Thanks to those to of you who have commented on this issue. It is such an important one, and I value the conversation we are having. For what it’s worth, here’s what I think:

First off, I think that the most important factors related to who is qualified to treat a behavioral problem is their KNOWLEDGE and ABILITY, not their degrees or credentials. I am not dismissing the value of credentials, believe me, I busted my tail for my Ph.D. and I am very proud of it. I have tremendous respect for others with advanced credentials, and describe some of the vets that I work with as walking on water. I also add CAAB after my name with pride, just as I have tremendous respect for DVMs who are Board Certified in Behavior. But that said, who do you want helping you rehab a rescue dog who growls at visitors? Any dog trainer? Any vet? Any CAAB?  No.. you want someone who understands canine ethology, as well as operant and classical conditioning, who can read communicative signals from dogs extremely well. You want someone with experience working with dogs with behavioral problems, who can refer to a vet when necessary, and someone you can relate to (and who can relate to you), who does a good job being your coach, teacher and cheerleader all at the same time. What qualifies someone to do that? Knowledge and ability, yes? But knowledge of what, and ability to do what? Here’s some thoughts–not inclusive probably, but good enough to continue our conversation. I’ve restricted it to dogs here primarily for the sake of simplicity, but also because they are more commonly presented for behavioral problems:

MINIMAL KNOWLEDGE TO WORK WITH CANINE BEHAVIORAL PROBLEMS:

1. Canine ethology, including the influence of genetics on behavior, developmental influences (in utero, neonatal, early social development), normal social structures of dogs in different contexts, communicative signals (these need to be known in depth, such that a 10 millisecond and 2 millimeter change of a dog’s lips is clearly noticeable and meaningful to the observer), play behavior, predatory behavior, agonistic behavior. I’m sure I’ll add more to this list as I continue to think about this.  You?

2. In-depth knowledge of operant conditioning (including + and – reinforcement and punishment, when they are best used or avoided); in depth knowledge of classical conditioning, counter classical conditioning and desensitizing (and the difference between and when to use each one over the other).

3. Experience applying #’s 1 and 2 to behavior problems in dogs, ideally by first learning basic training and handling, and over time assisting with a knowledgeable, skilled and experienced mentor on simple behavioral problems, working up to more serious ones.

4. An in-depth understanding of what behavioral problems are often caused by or correlated with medical problems, including a good working knowledge of structure and function, basic physiology and what behavioral problems always require an appointment with a veterinarian.

5. An in-depth understanding of the most common diagnosis of behavioral problems, what behaviors are ‘symptomatic’ of these problems, and best practices to solve them. This includes knowing what these labels  mean, how useful the labels actually are (not always) and how to help the client understand what we can and can’t know about what is motivating their dog.

MINIMAL ABILITY TO WORK WITH BEHAVIORAL PROBLEMS

1. Anyone who wants to work with dogs with behavioral problems, in my opinion, should be a good trainer, with the ability to read a dog and know what he or she is ready for (or not), knows how to use their actions, including movement and voice, to influence a dog’s behavior, can read visual signals extremely well and is able to interpret them correctly (ie, dog tongue flicks when asked to lie down). No one should ever give a client instructions about what to teach their dog, without being able to demonstrate how to do it successfully to the same dog, in the same context as the clients.

2. Consultants absolutely must have fantastic social skills with people, and be able to create a welcome and supportive environment for the client. Specialists who are great with dogs but not with people are not suited to do behavior consulting, period. There is no equivalent of surgery in behavioral treatment and rehab, in which the specialist never has to interact with the ‘patient.’ You’re either really, really good with people, or you’re in the wrong field. (Could I make it more clear how strongly I feel about this?!) The most common complaint, after 22 years, that I hear from clients is that the trainer/behaviorist/veterinarian was rude/busy/disconnected/shaming etc etc etc. I do not know this for a fact, but I believe that part of the bit of good I’ve been able to do in the world is because I like people as much as I like dogs, and I want to help them both.

3. The ability to take all the knowledge listed above and customize it for each case. Cook book solutions don’t work very often, and I’ve seen client after client who came to me after being given some handouts and some generic advice about this or that, which didn’t end up being very helpful. Being a behavioral consultant means knowing how to successfully influence the behavior of two species, and that means knowing how to present information in away that clients can use and adopt.

4. The ability to say, without hesitation, “I don’t know” and “I was wrong.” I have no respect for any professional who doesn’t know what he or she doesn’t know, and always love it when a doctor or vet says “I don’t know.” Music to my ears, and critical to being a true professional.

5. The ability to stay connected with a network of knowledgeable people, including trainers, behaviorist and veterinarians. It takes a village, that’s all I can say. I am incredibly lucky to be a community with some kick ass western vets, highly qualified Chinese Medicine vets, some great trainers, canine massage therapists, etc etc etc. I am grateful every day for being in contact with other CAABs, for connections with some fantastic Veterinary Behaviorists and for the opportunity to keep learning more every day of every week.

As I said earlier, I’m sure I’ll think of several more things to add later, but I need to get back to working on my new Play Play Play Seminar that I’m doing in California next week (write a comment if you’re coming!). I want to end by supporting what many said in their comments about the value of a team of people helping dogs and the people who love them. I agree whole-heartedly that all three fields, vet medicine, behaviorists and trainers need to do more work together to advance the field. I do not think every animal with a behavior problem needs to see a veterinarian, any more than every one who needs marriage counseling needs to get a full physical from their general practitioner. Neither do I believe–and I suspect there will be many who disagree-that GP vets should expand their knowledge base to become skilled in treating behavioral problems. Good grief, it is hard enough for them to stay up with advances in medicine. What I do think is that they should learn enough to understand the complexity of behavior, to know what they know and don’t know, and how, when and who to refer to. Board Certified Veterinary Behaviorists and CAABs are a fantastic resource for GP vets, and they would do well to work with them more often. Veterinary Behaviorists especially have so much to teach standard practice vets about psychopharmacology and behavioral medicine. Trainers and behaviorists need to reciprocate by understanding that some behavioral problems are directly or indirectly caused by medical problems, and work as closely as possible with those in veterinary medicine.

My last point is that, ever the optimist, I think it’s great that our field is progressing to the point where we are having conversations like this! I would LOVE to hear your comments about what I’ve written.. additions, deletions, objections, agreements, etc…. Don’t hesitate to join in, I think this is an important conversation.

Meanwhile, back at the farm, here’s from a walk Will, Lassie and I took Monday evening, at a friend’s beautiful farm just down the road from mine:

And here’s another one from the same walk, which might just be one of my favorite photos of Willie of all time (so far!):

Comments

  1. Kait B. Roe says

    He is so beautiful, how is his shoulder doing? it was his shoulder right?

    I can’t even begin to jump into this discussion other than to say this: Vets get a lot of money from me. And I give it willingly for medications, check ups and sometimes special meidcal treatments. I will not give my vets (whom I respect and appreciate) one penny for training. They didn’t learn it in school; neither did they spend their career learning about behavior in animals. No one in my vets office could tell me how to fix a behavioral problem, nor would they try. My very good vets, as you described above, know when to say “I don’t know”

  2. Keisha says

    Wow, that’s a great picture of Willie! I agree with everything you said. I think that working as a team is what’s best for the dogs, and that should be what’s really important. I would never want to take my dog to my vet for a behavioral problem. They barely spend five minutes in the room with me. I’ll never forget my dog being diagnosed with cancer, and the vet staying in the room just long enough to tell us, and leaving. People who have great vets who take time to talk them are lucky, but not all of us have that. I can’t imagine them trying to fix a complex behavioral problem, nor do I see how they can say that nobody else is allowed to help solve behavioral problems.
    That’s what makes me sick to my stomach about it. If trainers and behaviorists can rehabilitate dogs, which we’ve clearly seen, why would they say they are not allowed? It’s surely not because they are putting the well being of the dogs first, and that is what confuses me most.

  3. says

    Interesting–I had Devlin, my rat terrier, in his Open Obedience class tonight. There were only three of us and the instructor, so we finished everything we were going to go through and we let the pups play on the training floor for awhile. There was Devlin, Toby the Airedale, Franklin the older Mini Schnauzer (who’s earned his RAE), and Whiskey, the instructor’s Mini Schnauzer puppy. Toby got a little rambunctious and Devlin was snarling at him. When I started to catch Devlin to break up the interaction, the instructor said, “No, let him alone. He’s telling Toby to back off, and Toby needs to hear that.”

    And sure enough, Toby, who weighs easily twice what Devlin does, began to respect his space and give him a little more deference.

    Well, heck, I clearly didn’t see the dog dynamics as quickly as my instructor Pat Sutton did. She’s a founding member of APDT and has been training dogs for years and years–and that moment shines a light on why I continue to take classes from her. I learn something new every class. She doesn’t have advanced degrees and anything greater than her NADOI credentials, but she sure does understand dogs!

    And kudos to Deb, Toby’s owner, because she wanted to thoroughly socialize him because one of her previous Airedales couldn’t be trusted around other dogs. It’s been delightful to watch him learn the Open and Utility exercises.

  4. Ignacio says

    I agree 100% with you. Particularly with the point about being able to provide customized solutions since every dog and every case are different. There is this tendency to provide “cookie cutter” solutions that only apply to a few lucky ones.

    BTW, that second picture is great. He looks so happy running around the field :-)

  5. Nicola says

    I must say I totally agree with “it takes a village”. My only comment on credientials is that while they improve the chances of getting someone good, they do no guarantee it. And sometimes, like with pychiatrists & psychologists, a personality clash or simply a bad day can make trouble. The first visit I had with a vet. behaviour specialist a car crash (I wasn’t involved) meant traffic had me running late, I had a panic attack and I walking into their (small) office to find the specialist I had booked to see had two students running the consultation – and I get claustrophobic on a good day! I tense up just thinking about it, and it has affected the training I am doing with the dog despite my best efforts. The only good thing was that I had no trouble with the dog not showing the problem behaviour – with me that tense, her anxiety was sky high!

    I grant you that is an extreme case, there are so many variables that it makes sense to have as many things as possible going for you when trying to deal with behaviour problems. Including “GP” vets having enough knowledge to know where to refer owners – not every dog needs a vet. animal behaviourist – some only need a supportive dog trainer & a little more owner understanding.

  6. says

    Hi! I will be seeing you at your California seminar, and very much looking forward to it. I am hoping to learn a lot to help me in training my two Shelties. They are celebrating their first birthday this week, and they still have some problem behaviors that we are trying to work out.

  7. says

    P.S. We have excellent veterinarians that we rely on for medical care. None of them has pretended to be behavior experts, nor have we asked them to be.

  8. says

    Really good post! If you dont mind i’d like to translate it to spanish and publish it in my blog. I’m waiting for your response.

    Thanks and regards from spain!

  9. Jane says

    No one else has mentioned whether their vets own dogs and how their behavior is. I love dog behavior but am not in any way certified to train them. But my dogs are hands down better behaved than my vet’s dogs!!

  10. Anna says

    I guess I am “lucky” as the vet that I use has a nutrionist and a behaviorist who work closely with him and even come to his office for appointments with those who need their assistance. He also has several trainers he works with and recommends for those who need them. He knows the physical issues and knows who can be trusted to deal with the other issues… together they make animal lives better.

    On your point of behavorist/trainers needing to be personable I found this out for myself with my first corgi. The lady knows how to positively train dogs, hosts seminars with well known experts in the dog fields and shows in obedience and agility herself. However, she has no real people skills as she quickly becomes frustrated with people and show it by calling her clients “idiots” to their face and in class. Her methods work well for large dogs but having a corgi not all the luring methods were easy for me to use but I was “stupid” for not being able to use them “properly”. I stayed there for a year because of the one teacher at her school was showing me alot but any time the owner came into the room I got nervious and my dog went completely away… at least she introduced me to Patricia’s books and others that have helped me more than I ever imagined.

  11. Wendy says

    Nice post – thanks.
    3 cheers for those both with, and without, degrees who have taken the time to really understand the animals they work with and share it with others.
    Wish I could join you in California, but I will have to settle LOL for herding sheep in the hills of Tennessee all weekend. Taking Temple Grandin’s new book with me. Would *love* to hear some of your comments on that in a future blog post

  12. Mary Beth says

    Wonderful post Trisha! There are DVM PHD animal behaviorists that are very intelligent without a lick of people skills and without a lick of common sense. They have phenomenal skills…but not as a dog trainer. It takes so much more than just credentials, yet the credentials should be respected for all the work it takes to earn them and all the skills the credential holders get along the way to earning them.
    This question has a long way to go before its fully answered, but I love the direction you took with your answer!

  13. Liz F. says

    Great post as a resource for anyone looking for a behaviorist, and a really comprehensive start to answering a big question…

    I might add one seemingly obvious but important thing: passion. We have all met people who are just spent with their current job and could care less about it, not a quality I would want in a behaviorist.

    Merriam Websters defines passion as 1. an intense, driving, or overmastering feeling or conviction 2. a strong liking or desire for or devotion to some activity, object, or concept; among other things.

    I think that passion is also important because it helps us overcome our setbacks as a means to a larger end. If a person has enough passion, then they have the drive to actively work at areas of knowledge or skills they lack and improve on things that don’t come naturally (ie people skills in some). I might add this in the “ability” category because the influence of one’s passion waxes and wanes, and to be able to ‘summon’ passion is no easy task. Note: passion alone definitely does not qualify someone to treat behavioral problems in dogs, and relies on all of the great points raised so far.

    In regards to my vets, I am one of the lucky few, it sounds. My vets focus on medicine and recommend the work of !Patricia McConnell! for behavioral issues. The three vets I’ve seen at the clinic are all big fans of Trisha, follow her advice themselves, and do wonderful things with my dogs because of the knowledge they’ve gained from her. They don’t ever, ever push my dogs and make sure to end each visit on a good note. One vet in particular, Kim Connelly Uttech, beamed with pride as she recalled caring for one of Trisha’s dogs herself when she lived in Madison, WI., was so-o knowledgeable, and had the gentlest touch with my dog.
    I sincerely wish all dog owners could have this experience with their dogs.

    The picture of Willie is awesome-goosebumps!

  14. Shalea Rhodes says

    I think there’s one more critical thing that I would look for if I were looking for someone to help me with a behavior problem: I would want to be able to feel, on some sort of undefined level, that I could trust the person and that they truly understood me and my dog (or cat). Knowledge and skills are definitely a big part of that, but there’s also “chemistry.”

  15. Maggi Burtt says

    I am lucky enough to have a vet that will discuss issues with my dog openly and who is pretty well versed in dog behaviour. He also is one who will say ‘I don’t know’> I’m a bit biased as I used to work for him..lol.

    The trainer I have as a mentor uses all of her assistants’ various skills (I’m the doggy communication person of the group and work a lot with the shy or fearful dogs)and we all are given license to suggest different methods of training specific behaviours within the positive reinforcement paradigm. This works well for our clients as they are all individuals with different individual dogs.

    This was a great post.

  16. says

    It took me a while after my earlier post to remember that not long after I got Devlin (a rat terrier), I discovered I couldn’t leave him in his crate because he became so upset he’d bite at the wire cage (breaking one wire off, bending the rest until they touched), stress-poop in the crate, and generally be miserable. I sought help from my veterinarian. I really like the lady, but she wasn’t a lot of help in that area, suggesting first that he had separation anxiety, and later, barrier frustration, and tried a medical approach.

    It wasn’t as big a problem for me as it might have been for others, since I was able to take him to work–and I now work at home. He has also shown himself to be trustworthy in the house if I must leave for errands. But we still have crate problems at Rally trials and when it’s time to walk the course, I have to either leave him barking in the car until he’s totally frazzled (even if he has a beef stick to chew on) or impose on a bystander to hold his leash so he can watch me from outside the course. Perhaps one day his “long down” will be solid enough to make that short separation a little easier for him.

    We have made one small bit of progress–I’m taking both dogs (Bridget is another, younger rat terrier) to obedience class on Wednesday nights and one must wait in the car (in the shade or after sundown) while the other is in class. They’re in basically the same crate I use in the house but because it IS in the car, that apparently makes it more or less OK for them. That’s not to say there’s not some barking, but usually because someone has walked past.

  17. JJDukesMom says

    I resonate a lot with the point about being able to work well with humans. My first obedience instructor seemed to really know her stuff in terms of the latest information about training dogs positively. But the instructor’s manner always rubbed me wrong, and I know I wasn’t the only one. I felt like I was being treated as a kid. Class was no fun. She said was to do, but didn’t explain WHY. Dogs were not allowed within 20 feet of each other, making it impossible to talk with other people in the class. We were not even allowed to talk in the parking lot if our dogs were with us. (Because “her insurance was still in effect.” Yet, these were well socialized, friendly dogs.) I left class sessions feeling stressed out and at one point, I noticed my dog was also stressed out after class. I think Duke was both reacting to my emotions, but also the strange environment.

    I quit even though there were more classes for us to go to. Later I found an instructor that both knew her stuff AND who was fun and didn’t make me feel bad. Duke loved those classes. Such a relief!

  18. Ann says

    Question. Will a good behaviorist evaluate a dog, and have ongoing contact with the owner by phone or email? The best behaviorist is over 3 hours drive away, 6 hours round trip. Our 11 month old Boxer has growled at children in the last week. My husband yelled, and jerked him into the other room when our 4-year old grandson spent the weekend. He was wild, but adored children before that. This is a serious problem. Would working with somebody local (not that great) be best in this instance. At least they could spend more hands on time with him. I’m really stumped, and scared. Wonderful pup, but from a Schutzhund line with tremendous strength and high drive.

  19. Trisha says

    To Ann: My heart goes out to you, it is so hard when a beloved dog growls at an equally beloved child. It’s hard for me to advise you, not knowing the resources you have available, but one good course of action might be to call the behaviorist and see if you could start with a phone consultation. Of course, an in-person (and ‘in-dog”) consult is by far the best thing to do, but I understand that might be impossible for you. What I can tell you is that lots of dogs are uncomfortable around young children, and sometimes growling is a dog’s way of telling you that he is over his head.

    Without question the dog and child needed to be separated, but correcting the dog for growling might teach him that 1) he was right: kids ARE dangerous and 2) to skip the warning growl (which he got punished for) and go right to the bite. Ironically, I’ve been managing my Willie with Jim’s terminally adorable grand daughter for the last few days. He is not a dog I consider trustable around young children for a variety of reasons, and I have kept them separate except for certain situations that I consider to be 110% safe. Willie isn’t used to young children, and part of what he needs is the right kind of carefully managed exposure, but I’m not sure he will ever be a dog who could be around kids when they are being wild and crazy. That kind of managment is another option for you to consider: sending your Boxer to a boarding kennel when the grandson comes, if it won’t happen too often, or keeping the dog and child separate in the same house if you can manage that with grace. Whatever you do, you’ve inspired me… I’m going to write a blog today about kids and dogs. And the best of luck to you, I know this is tough. Don’t despair, no one got hurt and there are lots of things you can do to help things go better the next time.

  20. Ann says

    Thanks for the words of encouragement Trisha. There was a growl at the 4-year old behind a gate to our bedroom, and sadly the next evening he growled, barked and then jumped toward the face of a 7 year old little girl. My grandson is very hyper (lots of running and screaming), but Gus had gotten along with him until my husband’s sharp corrections.

    We happen to live in the Racine area, and know of a good place in Black Earth. A great place as you know. A consult is a super idea, and I have had experience desensitizing our last Boxer. We’ll keep him far away from children until hopefully we can deal with his fear.

  21. Betsy Calkins says

    Yes I definitely agree on the necessity of excellent social skills, but have you noticed that those who lack social skills don’t seem to know it?!

  22. says

    I just found this site and yay! I have 2 great danes, and they’ve always sort of clashed in personality. But I wanted to comment because they both have medical problems–Kenai in particular has his whole personality change depending on how he’s doing physically.

    Kenai is naturally a very calm and confident dog. But when he’s not doing well, he becomes intractably fearful of everything. He’s never shown any aggression, just fearfulness, that doesn’t improve with reconditioning. Then he will regain his weight and his confidence comes with it.

    Just adding this 1) medical conditions really do dramatically affect a dog’s behavoir, 2) only one trainer stuck with us, being flexible in her methods and determined not to give up. I can’t say enough about flexibility in a trainer! What works for 99 dogs might not work for #100, so a person who is tenacious enough to figure out what does work–that’s a gem of a trainer!

  23. says

    to Ann, who lives 3 hours from nearest behaviorist :
    since it’s essential that a behavior advisor be able to SEE the body language of the dog and of humans with whom dog is interacting, I’d suggest you use videotape or video burnt to CD or DVD or web camera to SHOW your behaviorist what is happening. web camera is great if you both have fast broadband connection. and the behaviorist may want to show you how to do something too.
    even for those able to go meet the behaviorist in person, since your dog might not exibit the problem behavior at that particular time and place, try to get it onto video before the appointment. of course if you are going to deliberately trigger an incident, you have to plan how to do it safely. that may well mean a good muzzle, even though a muzzle will obscure vision of the dog’s lips, including that so significant commisure. and while it is not good to let a dog repeatedly practice undesirable behavior, letting him do it just once or twice so you can get it on video is probably not going to make the problem that much worse — especially since most problems have been going on a while already.

    Dr McConnell, it’s good to see that you give a vote of confidence to those of us who had to learn a lot of behavior skills by “flying by the seat of our pants”. when I started training my own dogs for tracking, herding, protection, and a few more things, some of what I needed to know just was not yet available in books and clinics so I had to use my own brain at times. when I started doing dog rescue and thus was often faced with behavior issues, some of what I needed to know was not yet available in books and videos etc, so I had to use my own brain at times. later on I saw that some of the things I’d figured out appeared in other people’s books or talks, because they had come up with similar answers. I’ve now attended a lot of training clinics and many seminars and symposia and I am a voracious reader. still have to use my own brain to figure out why something I see is working or not working or to see how one writer’s views may or may not fit with some other evidence.
    and yes, methods have to be customized. customized to the dog and to the abilities of the people dealing with that dog. years ago my horse dressage teacher would say that the technique he would have a student try depended as much on what that rider could do as on what the horse would respond to.

  24. Kestrel says

    Hi! I just wanted to let you guys know about a great new book that has just been published: A Dog Lover’s Guide to Canine Massage, by Jody Chiquoine (RN, MSN, FNP, CCRT) and Linda Jackson (Lic.Ac, MacOM, MEd), and published by Satya House Publications. This is a useful workbook designed for all dog lovers, as well as professionals, and dogs of all ages, sizes, and conditions. It is fully illustrated with photographs and diagrams, and book provides a really good, solid foundation in massage technique. I tried it on my 9-year-old standard poodle, Crispin, and he absolutely loved it! It got him so relaxed.

    A Dog Lover

  25. says

    Thank you for a thought-provoking post, as always. As a general veterinarian who currently sees only behavior consultations, I agree with you that most general veterinarians should not feel they need to add behavior medicine to their repertoire. But I do believe that many more vets need to better understand normal vs abnormal behaviors, signs of discomfort and anxiety, ways to reduce stress within the hospital and not insist on “treating them as quickly as possible and get it over with, no matter how they’re behaving!”, which I have seen so many of my colleagues do. More vets need to understand that cats are not small dogs in any way, shape, or form–which I think they realize from a medical standpoint but certainly not from a behavior aspect. I feel that vets should at least have a basic understanding of DS/CC versus flooding, and why aversive techniques of any kind should be shunned. I also believe that there need to be more learning opportunities in behavior for veterinary hospital support staff…the techs, receptionists, and kennel workers who are often plucked off the street, trained on the job, and expected to work with scared and sick animals with very little experience or knowledge other than that they have some pets at home. I believe that general vets need to take the time to actually visit and observe the training facilities in their area so they can make educated recommendations to clients when asked about such services.
    Thank you again for bringing such an interesting topic to your blog!

  26. says

    “Neither do I believe–and I suspect there will be many who disagree-that GP vets should expand their knowledge base to become skilled in treating behavioral problems. Good grief, it is hard enough for them to stay up with advances in medicine. What I do think is that they should learn enough to understand the complexity of behavior, to know what they know and don’t know, and how, when and who to refer to. ”

    YES!!!
    But there are still too many of them, who don’t have the slightest idea about behaviour, give dog owners VERY bad advice, and of course don’t refer to good trainers, because they think they know it all, including “You have to be the boss just alpha roll him!!”…

  27. says

    Amen and amen, Patricia! I wish I could get that information across to the professionals in this area (Dubuque, Iowa, just south of you). Coming from a medical background, I totally get this, but the concept of the treatment team seems foreign to some in the veterinary and training fields, at least in this area.

  28. Karen says

    I would like to mention Dr. Sophia Yin, a veterinarian behaviorist, who has an excellent DVD called “Low Stress Handling of Dogs and Cats.” I wish more vet’s would take the time to learn techniques that help reduce the animals stress levels in the clinic.

  29. k9mythbuster says

    “No one should ever give a client instructions about what to teach their dog, without being able to demonstrate how to do it successfully to the same dog, in the same context as the clients.”

    In most cases I would agree with this statement. However, like everything, there are exceptions.

    I am one of the few reward-based trainers in my area that will work with bite cases. I have had several clients with dogs that I could not safely approach, and so demonstrating with their dog was simply not an option. We trained with protected contact – me on one side of an ex-pen, the client and dog on the other side – as I coached them through the training process. When possible, I demonstrated with my own dog on the other side of the pen, so they could see the mechanics of what I was describing.

    Once they reached a certain level of proficiency, we were able to work in less controlled conditions without protected contact, but I was still not able to handle the dogs. In these cases, the owners were highly dedicated and compliant with my instructions and made great progress with their dogs.

    One of the dogs, had been badly abused by a local “trainer,” that inflicted multiple punctures with a prong collar when the dog was only 5 months old. The trigger for the dog’s bites was not reaching toward him, but pulling the hands away. So, his history with strangers handling his leash and the inevitability that I would have to, at some point, pull my hands back, made it unsafe for me to handle him. We did, however, have lots of fun with target training and other fun, non-contact games together :)

    So, I would argue that there are times when it is not possible or recommended that the trainer demonstrate with the owner’s dog, but that shouldn’t necessarily rule out the person as a qualified professional.

  30. Nicola says

    Great discussion – in Australia, the vets have stonewalled any professional standards for animal behaviorists because they believe you can’t know if a problem is medical unless you have a vet degree. Very frustrating – both because anyone with any level or lack of skill and knowledge, can set themselves up as an animal behaviourist, and because it is just so wrong. I can tell the difference between a training issue, a “see the vet to rule out medical issues” and a “this one needs medications & is beyond me – do not pass go, straight to a behavioural vet”. It means the field is full of cranks, and adds to client’s distrust of the whole scene.

    One of the most frustrating things to me as a trainer is a client who tries what you suggest, then doesn’t call you back/turn up for the next appointment because it didn’t work. I make it very clear to my clients that there is no textbook solution, that, particularly if we are dealing with a behaviour problem, rather than a training one, we have to find the right fit between client, dog and trainer for success.

    “No one should ever give a client instructions about what to teach their dog, without being able to demonstrate how to do it successfully to the same dog, in the same context as the clients.”

    In Australia, the Delta Society, who is the only organisation to do a certificate IV in dog training using reward based training, require their instructors NEVER to touch a client’s dog under any circumstances. The explanation was that it can intimidate the client, frighten the dog or, if the dog doesn’t perform, undermine the instructor’s credibility. I don’t agree with their concerns – I find them all easily managed, but it goes to show the difference of opinions out there.

    Trisha, glad to see Willie running free again – I take it the muscle has healed?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>