Monday, December 26, 2011

Hiring a Trainer

Here are some questions that any halfway decent trainer will be able to address (without making up stuff). I highly suggest asking them before he ever meets any of your dogs:

1. What is the difference between classical and operant conditioning? How do you implement these in your training.

2. What are the 4 quadrants of operant conditioning?

3. When do you use P+ in your training (this is a trick question. He should never ever use P+ on a traumatized dog like Maggie).
4. When do you use leash corrections (another trick question. Leash corrections are psychologically, and possibly physically damaging)

5.  Tell me about Ian Dunbar and how your training philosophy agrees with or differs from his.
Same question about Karen Pryor and Bob Baily.  These 3 are really big and he should know about them well.
He should also know Patricia McConnell, Turid Rugaas and Jean Donaldson.

7. Tell me about your continuing education.  What seminars have you attended. He MUST have some type of continuing education or you should NOT use him. This needs to be in addition to any initial training he has had (like petsmart, ABC, Triple Crown, etc..)

9. Who is/are your training mentor(s).  Note: this should be someone he has worked with in person or at least by webcam or something. Watching an edited and sensationalized television program does NOT count as mentoring.

10. Tell me about the following people. How their philosophy applies to human learning, how their philosophy applies to canine learning; and how you use their techniques or why you choose not to use their techniques
Skinner
Premack
Pavlov

11. What is a reward marker? And how do you use one in your training?

12.  What's the difference between using a clicker and saying "good boy" or "good girl"

13. What is a functional reward?

14. What is a primary reinforcer? What is a secondary reinforcer?

Some other stuff I would do before he ever meets any of my dogs:
View Techniques

1. Ask to visit his facility or view a training session. Watch how she trains dogs - especially one who is untrained.  View not only his methods, but watch the dog closely. Just because the dog appears to be behaving, doesn't mean the trainer is being good. Some people mistake "shut-down" (learned helplessness) for "calmness'. Loook for calming signals that the dog might be displaying during training - wide eyes, darting eyes, weight on back legs, grimacing (looks like a smile), tight tail, low tight quick wags, tucked tail, trembling, yawning, lip licking, whining, crying, crouching, etc..

2. Does she set dogs up for failure?  i.e. if a dog is known to growl at other dogs, then that dog should not be forced to meet close up with other dogs. Not in the beginning anyway.  If a dog is known to be food aggressive, then the trainer should be doing any to make the dog aggress. Basicaly trainers should always work below threshold.

I'm not nearly as strict when I'm choosing a training for a group class. I can sit in a corner and do my own thing when a trainer ask for something i don't agree with. But if you are going to trust this guy to touch your dog, then you have to be extra extra careful. 

And I would not leave my dog at a place to get trained.  I know that there have been some positive things said about Pet Galaxay and I'm sure they are great; but in general pet parents have to be super extra leary about any type of board and train situation because you never know what's going on when you are not there to watch.

Buzzwords. Hearing a trainer mention these words usually turns me off because these terms are usually used incorrectly.  Not saying that a trainer who uses these words is a bad trainer. Just saying that if you hear this terminology, you should look a little deeper into his/her "experience" level:
Pack Leader
Dominance (this is a big one that is used way too much and mostly used wrongly)
Corrections
Master the Walk

Veto Power
Grisha Stewart says that when working with dogs, trainers should tell clients up front that they have "veto power."  If a client is uncomfortable doing something (or letting something be done), then the trainer should not do it or should ask that it be done. I've seen exactly the opposite on many occasions.  A client says something as simple as "I don't wan my dog to have that treat" and the trainer gives out the treat anyway. Beware of any trainer who doesn't give complete veto power to pet parents.
And if a trainer tries to pressure you to do something, don't go along just because he/she is the "expert." Dogs have actually been killed this way.

Associations
Ask what professional organizations he/she belongs to and check them out.  Make sure they exist and see what they espouse.  This is a big one: http://www.apdt.com/. They are a positive based organization. Not saying that anyone who is a member is good and not saying that anyone who is a not a member is bad - but it's a good place to start. Founded by Ian Dunbar who has been a mentor to many.

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