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Thursday, March 6, 2014

Hiring a Trainer - Vocabulary

When interviewing a private trainer or behaviorist, take note of the words he/she uses during your conversation. Also take note of what is on the trainer's website.

The following is a list of some words that would give me pause. Not because they are bad or wrong words but because these words are often misused or overused or they just don’t mesh with scientifically based positive reinforcement.
I’m not saying you should never hire a trainer who uses the below words, but hearing the words is cause for a deeper investigation into the trainer’s experience level.

No – (when talking to a dog or when showing a dog parent how to train)
Leash Corrections
How to use the leash
Pack Leader
Dominance (this is a big one that is used way too much and mostly used wrongly)
Red Zone
Master the Walk
Or any use of the word "master" including (but not limited to) in the title of their name or website
Show them who’s the boss
Challenge (as in a human challenging a dog)
It’s up to the dog
He/she will have to get over it (when speaking about a dog)
It's the dog's choice
The dog knows..
Pull up on the leash
This dog or this breed is untrainable
Any negative term when talking to or about the dog (i.e. “brat” or something to that effect)
Any term that labels the dog instead of describing behaviors i.e. “this dog is weird” or neurotic, or crazy, etc..
Unacceptable or not acceptable - when speaking any dog behavior
Don't let him/her get away with that
Coddle or Coddling
One size fits all or one size doesn't fit all
Learn to cope (when speaking about a dog)
Anything about wolves
-as in you need to be firm
-As in, you aren't yanking him hard enought
Using your foot
Remote collars
Check chains
When used correctly
-When discussing choke chains, shock collars, prong collars, etc..
Explaining how something doesn't hurt
Negative comments about treats
 - treats get in the way
 - treat make dogs fat
 - if you give treats the dog will expect them
 - The dog will look for treats instead of looking to the owner
 - etc..
Dogs have strong necks (or things about the dogs' anatomy to justify using fore, pain or discomfort)
Pressure behind the ears is calming
Snap a dog out of it
Gentle or gently. (as in gentle pressure or gently tug, etc..)

Rude (when speaking of dog behavior)
Impolite (when speaking of dog behavior)
Any type of guarantee
Any type of timeline (i.e. I can house train your dog in 6 days)
Pure positive
Positive only (when complaining about positive trainers)
Baby (as a verb - such as babying a dog)
Talking in the extremes or in black and white or "either or"
-- Example - if we don't shock this dog, it's going to wind up dead at the pound
Attributing human failings to dogs
-- spite
-- revenge
-- taking over
-- want to be in charge
-- etc..

 "There is more than one way to train a dog"
As a pet parent who lives with 4 dogs who all have different personalities, I can say with certainty that this a true statement.  But when Puddin and I hear or see this terminology, it is often from someone who is criticizing force-free, positive reinforcement based training... someone who feels that other methods should be used or considered – methods like pain, fear, startle and intimidation.
There are several positive ways to train and several negative ways to train. Our dogs would be a lot happier if we found the right positive way that works for them.

"Force the dog to face his/her fears."
This can often backfire and make a dog much worse.  We should introduce dogs to scary things gradually. Desensitization and counter conditioning is the way to go.

Dogs do need exercise for their physical and mental well-being. And exercise can curb certain behavior issues (like destructiveness, hyperactivity, etc..).  But for dogs who have serious behavioral issues – like “aggression,” we have to be careful when we encounter trainers who consider exercise as a cure or fix.
If pet parents hand their dog over to a trainer who takes fluffy for a 5 mile run in the summer, she might be too exhausted to charge or attack a human or other dog right after the run.  But what happens in real life when the dog can’t get that type of exercise several times a day?  Or what happens with dogs who aren’t physically able to exercise that hard?  Exercise should be used in conjunction with things like desensitization and counter conditioning, creating a calm environment, management etc..

The are probably some really good trainers who are self-taught so I'm not saying rule these people out completely. But a trainer who might have taught him or self the wrong way can cause irreparable damage to our beloved pets (mentally and physically). If someone says he or she is self taught, insure that part of their personal education includes learning theory. Ask questions.

"I've been around dogs all my life.."
This in an of itself is not a good reason to pay someone and trust someone with our pets

"Whispering or Whisperer"
Or calling oneself the "dog whisper of [his/her city]
Nothing wrong with this term per say. But pet parents need to make sure that the "trainer" didn't get his or her education from watching television.

"Calm-assertive" and "Balanced"
Are also terms that might alert us to the fact that the trainer intends to copy things he or she has seen on an edited television program.

"Mama Dog"
Anytime someone says that they are doing something to simulate what a mama dog would do, be cautious

Yes, this sounds like it's a good word. And it is. But I often hear it used by trainer who say that the dog must learn to "trust" them while they are forcing the dog into scary situations. Which makes a dog NOT trust the handler.

Often the people who complain the most about anthropomorphizing are the ones who do it the most (applying human failings to dogs)

I should also list a few words or phrases that pet parents would WANT to hear when talking to a trainer:

More on hiring a trainer here

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