How Do I Know Who to Trust for Dog Advice?

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These days, the internet is usually our first (and sometimes only) source for answers to our questions. A Google search for “how to housetrain a puppy” yields about 504,000 results. We are certainly not lacking for information! The tricky part is figuring out who and what to trust.

No one has to prove their competency on a subject before sharing their opinion on the internet. For some questions, taking the wrong advice is nothing more than an inconvenience, but when it comes to dog training and behavior, applying the wrong technique can have really bad consequences.

Becoming a dog trainer in the United States is not all that different than sharing an opinion on the internet: anyone can call themselves a professional and start dispensing advice.

Unfortunately, this leaves owners stuck with needing to know something about training before they know something about training. It’s up to them to determine the individual’s competency. This can be a daunting task when the reason you’re asking this question in the first place is because you’re not a professional and you need help.

Fear not! Here’s a step-by-step guide to finding a qualified individual to provide you with solutions.

(If you’re more of a DIYer, look for blog posts, podcasts and YouTube videos featuring the prominent trainers listed below).

The Prelim

1) Search your zip code on the Pet Professional Guild website. Members of PPG are committed to training techniques that do not involve pain, force, or fear.

2) If you can’t find a trainer through PPG, the next stop is the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. Trainers listed on this site have passed a test that covers learning theory, ethology, husbandry and more.
*Although CPDT trainers agree to observe the Least Intrusive, Minimally Aversive protocol while training, the CCPDT Code of Ethics does not strictly prohibit the use of painful tools such as electronic collars. Hiring a trainer who has their CPDT is good, but hiring a trainer who has their CPDT and is a member of PPG is ideal.

3) Once you’ve located a name, check out their website. Look for information about their experience and training philosophy as well as any continuing education topics. Look for these phrases:

  • positive reinforcement

  • operant conditioning

  • relationship

  • reward-based

  • fear-free

  • force-free

  • Least Intrusive Minimally Aversive (LIMA)

  • clicker training

If the trainer mentions other prominent trainers as mentors, teachers, or inspiration, that’s even better! Pat Miller, Ken Ramirez, Chirag Patel, Karen Pryor, Suzanne Clothier, Susan Garrett, Patricia McConnell, Hannah Brannigan and Dr. Ian Dunbar are all great names to see.

These phrases are red flags:

  • balanced

  • dominance

  • pack member

  • Pack Leader

  • calm assertive

  • alpha

  • boundaries

4) Lastly, look at photos on the website. Images showing choke/training chain collars, prong collars or electronic collars on dogs should immediately disqualify the trainer from the search. These tools use pain and fear to teach and are not necessary.

The Interview

Sometimes the preliminary research gives you enough information to know the trainer is qualified to help you and your dog, but sometimes you need to dig a little more via email, phone call, or Consultation. Here are some questions to ask:

1) What happens if my dog does something wrong?
A qualified trainer will talk about setting the dog up for success to minimize your dog’s failures.
An unqualified individual will talk about physical corrections, verbal scolding/reminders, or other punishments.

2) Which learning theory quadrants do you use for training?
A qualified trainer predominantly uses positive reinforcement and negative punishment.
An unqualified individual is either unfamiliar with learning theory, OR uses primarily positive punishment.
If the trainer you’re talking with cannot use the scientific names for how they train, that’s a red flag.

3) Do you provide guarantees for training sessions?
Qualified trainers know that it is unethical to give behavior guarantees (it is forbidden for CPDT trainers)
Unqualified individuals may promise that your dog will be able to do X, Y, Z behaviors within so many sessions or weeks.