What makes a dog trainer?
Have you recently brought home a puppy or recently welcomed a rescue dog into your family? Either way, you’ll want to give your new pet the very best chance of a healthy, happy life. Alternatively, you might be thinking about a longer-standing canine member of the family, who isn’t as well-behaved or responsive as you’d like, or whose training seems to have plateaued. Whatever your circumstances, if you’re reading this, the chances are that you’re considering looking for a dog trainer or behaviourist.
Who is a dog trainer or behaviourist?
The answer to this question is fundamental to your search. A dog trainer is not someone who owns dogs. It is not necessarily someone who works with dogs. And it is not an automatic distinction accorded to anyone who chooses to tag their name or business with the words “dog trainer” or “dog behaviourist”. What you need to take away from this list of negatives is that there are no rules or regulations governing who may call themselves a dog trainer or behaviourist. Worse than this, there are also many methods of training or behaviour modification that can be harmful to a dog’s well-being and even exacerbate existing behavioural difficulties.
This poses a conundrum for the well-meaning owner: how can you be sure you are choosing a professional and knowledgeable dog trainer or behaviourist?
What to look for when choosing a dog trainer or behaviourist?
Dog training is entirely unregulated at a statutory level. This means pet parents must take qualifications and accreditations with a pinch of salt. Even apparently “qualified” trainers may derive their qualifications from online courses accredited only by themselves. Of course, an owner may strike lucky and find a skilful trainer, who uses appropriate training methods and has a real understanding of the many pitfalls into which even experienced owners can fall. However, training a dog is too important a matter to be left to chance: at best, a rowdy or ill-disciplined dog can be a thankless nuisance to have around, and at worst it may even be dangerous. As an owner, you can save yourself considerable potential future heartache by choosing the right trainer.
As a first step, examine a trainer’s purported qualifications. Those that are worth more than the paper they are written on will be accredited by an organisation that belongs to the Animal Behaviour and Training Council (ABTC).
The ABTC is a charitable body that represents animal trainers and animal behaviourists. Its Council members include the British Small Animal Veterinary Association, the Police Dog Working Group, Guide Dogs, the RSPCA, Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, the Dogs Trust and the Association of Pet Dog Trainers UK. ABTC’s primary focus is the safeguarding of the psychological wellbeing of animals undergoing training or behaviour therapy. It does so by setting and maintaining the standards of knowledge and practical skills needed to be an animal trainer or behaviourist. These standards are high – but many apparently qualified dog trainers and behaviourists do not adhere to them. You should not consider a trainer or behaviourist whose name does not appear on the ABTC’s list of accredited animal trainers.
My journey to qualifying as a dog trainer
To put things into perspective, here is a little about my journey to qualifying as a dog trainer.
Taking the decision to forge a professional career as a dog trainer was the easy part. Far harder was ensuring I went about it in the right way. After a great deal of reading and research, I enrolled on a six-month course run by the Association of Pet Dog Trainers UK (APDT UK). Their course was accredited and adhered to modern, force-free, rewards-based training. This last was very important to me, after having witnessed some of the unacceptably harsh training techniques used by some trainers.
APDT UK’s training was delivered in a mixture of formats. Some was residential, some was lecture-based and, of course, there was plenty of hands-on experience with dogs. The rest of the course was spent at home, writing many essays. In order to qualify, I had to receive a “pass” on all of those essays, as well as succeeding in a practical assessment.
The course gave me the tools and confidence necessary to start Watch my Chops Dog Training. However, like most people, I wanted to continue my learning process. Consequently, I enrolled with the Karen Pryor Academy and completed a six-month course for already qualified dog trainers. Even getting a place involved passing a phone interview to prove I had what it takes to complete the course. Make no mistake: the road to becoming a Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner is an arduous one, leaving little time for anything else. Assessments, both theory and practical, are an integral part of the course, and the culmination is an intensive two-day exam period.
I am proud to report that I gained my certification with distinction, and both my qualifications can be found on our website. Certainly, becoming a Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner is a real honour but sitting on your laurels after qualification is not permitted. Remaining a member and retaining accreditation is contingent upon participating in a process of Continual Professional Development (CPD).
I say all this not to blow my own trumpet but in an effort to set out just how much hard work, time, money and effort goes in to becoming a dog trainer – and to explain why I am so passionate about keeping the standards at Watch My Chops Dog Training at the highest possible level.