What education and/or training do you have that relates to your work?
In addition to passing an independent, psychometrically sound and science-based exam to demonstrate my knowledge in instruction skills, animal husbandry, ethology, learning theory, equipment, and business practices & ethics, I am required to obtain a minimum of 36 continuing education units per re-certification period to maintain my accreditation. I attend a variety of behavior and training seminars and conferences, and maintain an ever growing library of behavioral science and training books and periodicals. I have a large network of health and behavior professionals to confer with, and am a member of the Southern California Dog Trainers Forum, the Association of Professional Dog Trainers, and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants.
How did you get started doing this type of work?
I've loved everything about dogs from the day I was born. As such, it was perfectly natural that I would gravitate toward working with them. I've worked with dogs my entire adult life in a variety of different capacities, but after I took my first dog through a training course, I was "bitten by the training bug." That which started out as a hobby, eventually became a career path.
What types of customers have you worked with?
I am most commonly called upon to work with people whose dogs are exhibiting problem behaviors. People usually hire a professional when their dog has behavior problems that they do not know how to solve. But I also often get hired by people who have gotten a new dog, and who want to start out right and avoid common behavior problems.
Describe a recent project you are fond of. How long did it take?
I recently worked with a client who had all but given up on being able to keep her dog because of a biting issue. The biting was fear based, and unfortunately she had worked with a trainer who had tried to fix the problem by using force. Unfortunately, this had actually made the problem much worse, and she was told by him that the dog was a lost cause. She called me after one of my clients pushed her to, and although still a work in progress, she no longer is afraid that the dog will hurt someone. Between behavior modification and intelligent management, his aggression has severely diminished, and he is becoming more confident with each passing day.
What advice would you give a customer looking to hire a provider in your area of work?
I believe that the three most important things to consider when hiring a dog trainer are:
1) Establish and understand the type of training methods they use. ---You should always look for a trainer who will utilize sound, modern training methods, based on the science of learning theory. There are too many dog trainers out there who still believe in the "top dog, dominance-based, alpha behavior myth." AND IT IS A MYTH. Our scientific understanding of dogs, dog training, and behavior, have advanced light years beyond this simple and inaccurate concept. Those trainers whose knowledge base and educational scope goes beyond that of which they can learn watching television, or that of the self-taught, self-appointed expert, know this.
2) Does the trainer you are thinking of hiring have ample experience dealing with the type of training you are looking for, and are they adequately qualified to help you with your specific training problem or goals? ---This is especially important if you are trying to work on a problem behavior. There is a real difference between working with behavior problems, and teaching basic obedience. There are many trainers who are qualified to teach basic obedience skills, but whose knowledge of actual behavior work is limited. If you are dealing with a more complex issue (such as aggression or separation anxiety, etc.) you should look for a trainer with ample experience and knowledge of these issues.
3) Be careful about getting locked into a long term contract when hiring a trainer. ---Many trainers have prepay package options which allow you to buy a block of training sessions at a discounted price. But some trainers will only agree to work with you if you agree to purchase a package of sessions up front. The decision about whether to commit to a group of training sessions should be made after you have had at least one lesson. You may need to work with someone before deciding that they are or aren't the right trainer for you.
What questions should customers think through before talking to professionals about their project?
Most people don't know that anyone can "hang up their shingle" and call themselves a dog trainer. That is why it is important to look for someone who has taken the time to achieve professional status through accreditation. Unfortunately, even that can be deceiving. There are many people who claim to be "accredited" when they are not. Still others will carry some kind of certificate from the store they worked at, or the vocational school they went to, which might have mean they took a two or three week course. Consumers should look for and expect to see some accreditation earned by the dog training professional that they hire, and then verify the source of those credentials.
True certifications should be earned through a rigorous testing process. They should also be easy to verify through the organization providing the certification, and the process for that certification should be described and explained on that organizations website.