Questions You Should Ask A Dog Trainer – Especially If They’ve Given Themselves A Fancy Title

Questions To Ask Anyone Offering You Dog Training Advice

This Includes Veterinarians, Vet Techs And Rescue Volunteers

amateur vs professional

This is part of a ‘Food For Thought Series regarding the unregulated world of dog breeding and training’. More, but not exclusively for people thinking of getting a puppy or dog so they can avoid some of the more common ‘before the purchase’ mistakes. It’s also for those that have a dog and are wondering why things may not be working out.

  1. Series Introduction To: Bad Companion Puppy and Dog Training Advice (Pseudo-Science) Is Now More Common Than Good Companion Puppy and Dog Training Advice (Science)
  2. But At Least We Can Rely On Professionals Like Veterinarians and Vet Techs?​
  3. You Say You Researched The Breed, The Breeder, The Training Or The Trainer…
  4. Questions To Ask The Breeder Or A Rescue Before Deciding This Is Where You Want To Get A Dog
  5. Questions You Should Ask A Dog Trainer – Especially If They’ve Given Themselves A Fancy Title

Table of Contents

Let me begin my saying, companion puppy and dog training is an entirely unregulated industry, and should be perceived for good reason by the public with caveat emptor in mind at all times.

In spite of the average (no science background) companion dog trainer’s claims that it is, it is not a science-driven industry.

Historically, dog training has been driven by enthusiasts/hobbyists that ‘love’ dogs rather than legitimately applicable science and its required critical thought filter. As a result, what companion puppy and companion dog owners encounter, is guidance that evolved without the benefit of critical thought, and is now highly influenced by cognitive bias and logical fallacy.

An unfortunate byproduct of the lack of regulation, let alone educational requirements, dog trainers can and do give themselves various titles and credentials that often should act more as a warning rather than an indicator of legitimacy.

Grandiose titles abound in the industry, yet, dog trainers that describe themselves in fancied terms are far more likely, in fact almost guaranteed, to be unable to distinguish between pseudo-science ideologies and applicable science. At best they ‘parrot’, and don’t truly comprehend, and as a result, very few dogs learn from them much more than a trick version, of what should be a life skill.

Dog Training 'Titles'

Rarely Mean What They Are Intended To 'Imply' They Mean

Introduction To Dog Trainer Titles

Companion dog trainers that ‘walk the walk’, are unlikely to fake the talk (the title). I’ve found that ironically the more inexperienced the ‘trainer’, or the more insecure they are as to their abilities, knowledge base, and in many cases, simply as a person, the greater the likelihood they will give themselves a compensatory unearned or essentially meaningless ‘title’.

For example, whenever you encounter a dog trainer that claims to be a ‘certified’ trainer, a dog ‘behaviorist’/’behavioralist’, or a dog psychologist, have a look at their ‘proof’ and as elaborated upon below, you’ll find the title doesn’t exist in a truly professional sense because, as you will soon learn, there is no such thing or the title does ‘exist’, but has been ‘created’ and issued by a pseudo-science ideological group with no more weight and industry influence than someone certified as a ‘Flat-Earther’ by the ‘Flat-Earth Association of North America’ (FEANM).

Dog trainers that describe themselves in fancied terms are far more likely, in fact almost guaranteed, to be unable to distinguish between pseudo-science ideologies and applicable science. At best they ‘parrot’, and don’t truly comprehend.

Have a look below at the various misleading titles you’re likely to encounter in your search for companion dog training. Especially, if they are planning on asking for payment for that advice. You’ll note that I’ve even included the title of ‘Dog Trainer’, as even that rarely translates as it should. 

"I am a 'Dog Trainer'"

Categorize As: MORE OFTEN THAN NOT MISLEADING

This can mean (more often than not – does mean) someone that considers loving dogs and getting them to sit for a treat enough to call themselves a dog trainer. It can also mean someone that has had some fun training their own dog for an obedience or agility ‘performance’/competition. Essentially treat (as opposed to applause) motivated theatrical productions where ‘trained’ means ‘performing’ after countless dress-rehearsals in only highly similar environments. An approach that cannot be replicated in a companion dog owner’s world. Ironically, “I am a dog trainer” seldom means someone who works full-time, helping companion dog owners train their dogs for real-world life skills without the need for treats as a constant motivator or alternatively, a fear of punishment.

"I am a 'Certified' Dog Trainer"

Categorize As: ALMOST ALWAYS VERY MISLEADING

Nothing prevents anyone from forming an ‘association’ and calling themselves ‘certified’ dog trainers as there are no government-enforced industry regulations.

Typically upon investigation, you will find that a group of mostly part-time dog trainers, more often than not that have confused the methodology for teaching tricks, with that of teaching life -skills, and have come to believe their ‘way’ is the only ‘way’, and all else (in spite of the science to the contrary), is inhumane, has formed an ideological club/group with an official-sounding name and attached the word ‘Association’.

As a result, generally speaking, ‘Certified Dog Trainer’ should be given no more weight than someone that is a member or  ‘certified’ as a ‘Flat-Earther’ by the ‘Flat-Earth Association of North America’ (FEANM). One might argue, it is a red flag enough to look elsewhere for companion dog training guidance.

The day may come where companion dog training becomes a legitimate profession, governed by legitimate non-ideological, science-based educational requirements with authentic associations to oversee and maintain an industry standard. However, at this point, it’s still more amateur dog trainers ‘playing house’ rather than keeping house.

"I am a:

  • ‘Dog Behavior Specialist’

  • ‘Animal Behavior Specialist’

  • ‘Dog-Behaviorist’

  • ‘Dog Behavioralist’

  • ‘Dog-Psychologist'”​

Categorize As: ALWAYS EXTREMELY MISLEADING

In seminar introductions, media interviews, etc. I’ve been called, all of the above. Early in my career, in order to distance myself from the pseudo-science so prevalent in the companion dog training world, I even had the audacity to unwisely promote myself as one or the other.

The reality that companion dog owners should be aware of is that there are no official, enforceable requirements to give oneself any of the above authenticity awarding but, in essence,  fabricated titles.

Dog trainers that describe themselves in these terms are far more likely (in fact, almost guaranteed) to be inexperienced part-time ‘trainers’ that embrace one of two common pseudo-science ideologies.

The more common of the two ideologies will use some variation of terminology such as ‘All Positive/Purely Positive/Force-Free/Never Say No/R+…’, treat, treat, treat. Useful for teaching tricks, but not used anywhere on the planet by any species to teach life-skills.

The second ideology, less common, but becoming more common, is the ‘Might Is Right,’ Alpha, Pack Leader, Dominant (Yank and Crank) ideology embraced by equally ill-informed, under-educated companion dog trainers.

"I am an 'Animal Behaviorist"

Categorize As: POTENTIALLY MISLEADING

This is a legitimate title and no small thing to acquire. However, it seems it is a title used by more people that haven’t earned the right to use it vs those that often do use it, yet haven’t earned the right.

One must have completed a post-graduate education in which they received a Masters or a Ph.D. in a behavioral science, or DVM or VMD degree with a behavioral residency.

Overall, however, when used in the context of companion dog training it’s still potentially misleading considering the number of animals that fall under the umbrella of ‘Animal Behaviorist’, (Canidae (Wolf, Coyote, Fox, Domesticated Dog), Feline, Equine, Bovine, Cetacean, Psittacidae, and 200+ other socially-oriented mammalian species). Each, it should be noted, with their own uniquely evolutionarily influenced behavioral characteristics.

It seems an extremely broad ‘Jack Of All Trades, Master of None’ designation. Even human psychologists and psychiatrists working with a single species found in order to be effective they have to specialize in categories based on age and an enormous range of behavioral problems.

Ask Your Prospective 'Dog Trainer' These Questions Before Accepting Dog Training Guidance

  1. Dog Trainer: Are you part-time, or are you full-time? If part-time, why not full-time? (It’s difficult to earn a living as an amateur anything.)
  2. Veterinarians and Vet Techs: How much of your formal education focused on canine behavior obedience and behavior problems? (On average 3 hours total – multi-species.)
  3. Dog Trainers: What are your credentials? (Check to see if those credentials are provided by an association that is ideologically-oriented as opposed to offering a broad spectrum of behavior modification science. You will find that in most cases the answer falls in the former category. (See number 4.)
  4. Dog Trainers, Veterinarians and Vet Techs:  Is your advice/approach based on either of the unsafe ideological approaches of ‘All Positive/Purely Positive/Force-Free/Never Say No/R+…’, treat, treat, treat, or ‘Might Is Right’, Alpha, Pack Leader, Dominant (Yank and Crank)? (Alternatively, do they understand and use a behavior modification approach based on science applicable to the task of real-world life-skills (evolutionary psychology and biology, sociobiology, anthropology, ethology, etc.?)
  5. Dog Trainers, Veterinarians and Vet Techs:  How much hands-on companion dog obedience (not competition, companion dog) experience and, or experience with the behavior problem, do you have? (When they started loving or owning a dog does not count.)
  6. Dog Trainers, Veterinarians and Vet Techs:  What do you offer as support between our meetings if I’m having problems? (Especially critically important with puppies and dogs with behavior problems.)
  7. Dog Trainers, Veterinarians and Vet Techs:  On average, how long do you take to reply to phone messages, emails, texts, etc.?
  8. Anyone Posing As A Professional: Do they refer to their clients as ‘Pet-Parents’ and dogs as ‘Fur-Babies’? This sort of anthropomorphic language is not typically a good sign. How a dog owner refers to themselves and their pet is their business, but if a ‘professional’ uses this language, it is more often than not a red-flag. (DOG TRAINERS! Words Matter – Question The Use of Fur Baby and Pet Parent)

The Entire Series...

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