5 Myths about Dog Trainers & Behaviourists

1.       We’re all the same. 

We’re not.  The industry is still unregulated and to be sure you are using a qualified trainer, look for membership of an organisation which assesses their members.  Groups like The IMDT and The APDT for example.  For behaviourists you are also looking for academic qualifications and / or membership of groups like the APBC, UKRCB, CCAB or ABTC.  Steer clear of potential pseudo-science and membership bodies with smart logos but that don’t assess their members.    

2.       We work with dogs because we don’t like people

It’s simply not true that you will have to put up with a trainer that is lovely to your pup but then shouts at you.  There may be some trainers out there that lack people skills but probably no more than any industry.  In reality dog training is all about training the owners to train their dogs – it doesn’t matter If Lassie does a wonderful loose lead for me, what’s important if Lassie loose leads for his owner.  And if a trainer can’t help you understand what is needed, then training will fail before it’s started.  So find a trainer that motivates you as much as they understand how to motivate your dog. 

3.       The trainer’s dogs are perfectly behaved in every situation

Some are, some aren’t.  We, like everyone else, own pets with their own temperaments, genetics, health issues and past experiences.  And depending on a trainer’s specific preferences and interests, some will do a lot of work on a particular behaviour where others won’t.  I, for example, want one of my dogs to undertake lovely controlled retrieves but he would be a beginner if we started doing agility.  My other dog arrived as a foster who was very nervous of men and some noises – success and our priority is her ongoing training around becoming more relaxed in worrying situations.

4.       Trainers train your dog for you

Board and train holidays sound like an ideal solution to many family’s hectic lifestyle, but can someone else actually train your dog for you?  Well yes and no.  Firstly some background… Here are some of the steps our dog goes through when learning a new behaviour: Lure or capture a behaviour > reinforce > repetition > variable reinforcement > generalisation.  It’s the term “generalisation” that is important here – this is where a dog learns a behaviour and performs it in many different contexts.  It’s common to hear someone say that their dog will walk in heel in some places not others, or that they will listen to some family members but not others.  These problems are usually caused by the dog not generalising the behaviour under increasing distractions, because we haven’t trained them to.  Generalisation, also called proofing, means we must always train in different scenarios, with different distractions and with different people.  So with regards this myth, to truly get a trained dog, that performs the desired behaviours for you too, you also have to train them yourself.

5.       Trainers have magical communication skills

We don’t.  A professional trainer has simply got a thorough grasp of learning theory and behaviour coupled with years of practice and excellent timing.  And the more you train and learn about animal behaviour, the more you will get that same success. 

So keep practising and remember that each time our pet learns something new, so do we.