Your new dog ambushed your elderly neighbor with such a wild display of leaping and barking that it almost knocked the poor gal off the porch. Then he destroyed your living room rug. So now what? Google “dog trainer”? Or maybe “dog behaviorist?”
If you do, a heap of websites will pop up, describing all kinds of services and experience dealing with all kinds of canine behavior problems. Some even have nice pictures of professionals with various letters and certifications after their names. So how does one sift through the options to just find the help needed to keep life copacetic with their pooch?
Many owners are surprised to discover that dog training / behavior is an unregulated field. No formal education is needed before someone can call herself or himself a dog trainer, expert, behaviorist, or any variation of these terms. And there are, unfortunately in my opinion, seemingly countless “certificates” and “certifications” that trainers can acquire from unregulated schools and programs offering curriculum that may or may not be based on sound science and best practices.
The good news is that there are a few national and international organizations working to make the field more credible. These organizations have stringent, high standards for certification dependent on a professional’s demonstration of knowledge and practices based on sound, established behavioral science. They have specific requirements of dog professionals, test candidates’ knowledge of canine science and learning. They also provide continuing education to keep dog professionals current on the latest research in canine behavior (requiring such continuing education to maintain credentials for certified members). The bad news is that these legitimate certifications (i.e. CPDT, CDBC) are voluntary and, given the investment into the education required for them, very few dog professionals actually acquire them.
Another thing to consider in your quest to solve your dog’s problems is the kind of professional you need. Most folks think a dog trainer will solve all of their problems, when they often need a deeper level of intervention to effectively solve those problems. Hiring a dog trainer might suffice to teach a dog some new skills or crack basic everyday troubles, but many dog owners need much more in the way of problem intervention.
As in any relationship, problems are often far more complicated than rewards and punishments – often having roots and reasons in the environment, genetics, and health of one or both parties. Those circumstances can be game-changers, catalysts, and facilitators. If the source of a behavior problem is not discovered, then the solution will most surely fail to address the real issues. When we are past the point of superficial skills and rules we need a different level of professional help. That level of professional help should have an educational background in integrated canine science, adept critical thinking, problem-solving skills with both dogs and humans, and the proven experience and creativity to apply the right solutions to effectively create change.
Truthfully, the “dog training” mold might be ill-fitted for many 21st century dogs. With most of us facing at least some level of complexity in our dog’s behavior challenges, given our hectic lives and largely indoor lifestyles, the whole concept of simply “teaching” them to be “good” is a little misleading. While some dogs can do great with a just a little formal instruction about the basics, most will at some point require a more in-depth assessment of the reasons behind and solutions for the issues that arise – from overly dramatic behavior on the leash to anxiety about the vet. What many people need is a kind of mixed-species family therapist to guide them through all the obstacles they face and the goals they have for their dog.
If you need professional help that goes beyond a dog trainer teaching “sit” and “stay,” consider a professional specializing in more complicated or serious canine problems. A certified dog behavior consultant (CDBC) might very well be what you need to be Googling to equip yourself with the insights into all the details that make your dog tick.
Kim Brophey, (Applied Ethologist, CDBC, CPDT-KA), is the owner of Asheville’s only dog behavior private practice -The Dog Door Behavior Center – in Asheville and is an internationally awarded, leading dog behavior consultant. She can be contacted at 828-656-830 or dogdoorbehaviorcenter.com.
Note: The International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC) provides a consultant locator on their webpage at iaabc.org, as well as educational resources such as articles and courses for professionals and dog owners alike.