Finding the right trainer for your dog... and you!

June 26, 2019

There's no shortage of animal behaviour specialists. But how can you tell if they're competent? Here are 6 points to consider.

The right training 
In Canada anyone can call himself or herself an animal behaviour expert and market services to the public. “There’s no law or regulation underpinning canine education,” deplores Nicole Fenwick, manager of research and standards for scientific programs at the SPCA in British Columbia. “That’s the reason we created AnimalKind, a program which accredits dog trainers.” A trainer is more likely to provide quality services if they’ve participated in this sort of program. Other “quality indicators” include a trainer’s membership in a professional organization—such as the Canadian Association of Professional Pet Dog Trainers, the Regroupement québécois des intervenants en éducation canine, and De main et de maître—and a trainer’s participation in recognized education from associations including the Association des techniciens en santé animale du Québec.

The right technique
Positive reinforcement consists of rewarding an animal for good behaviour rather than reprimanding it for undesired behaviours. According to this method, it’s best to ignore bad behaviour. With this gentle approach, a dog is more likely to correctly align its behaviour and acquire good new skills. Emphasis is placed on pleasure: training should be enjoyable—for you and your dog.

The wrong technique
Aryel Lafleur is an expert in canine education at De main et de maître. Clients frequently seek out her services after they’ve experienced bad training situations. “It’s not rare for me to see people who’ve been bitten during training sessions or whose dogs fought with other animals. Choke collars, physical punishment and shouting may in the short term appear effective in changing dog behaviour. “For a trainer who’s in a hurry to show results, it might be tempting to use these methods,” warns Helen Prinold, president of the Canadian Association of Professional Pet Dog Trainers. “However, they’re actually likely to aggravate problem behaviour by making an animal more aggressive.”

Following evolving science
Whatever their experience, a dog educator should always be aware of the latest advances in training. Discoveries in the sphere of canine education evolve rapidly and require trainers to update their protocols. Alice Fisher, training director and founder of DOGSmart Training in Vancouver, is enthusiastic about the research by Patricia McConnell and Ian Dunbar who have made important strides in understanding how animals’ brains function. “New knowledge allows us to better understand and communicate with animals. We now know, for instance, that giving an animal something pleasant—like food—is the best way to encourage repeat good behaviour.”

Group sessions vs private
For an adult dog who is acutely sensitive to the presence of other dogs, home-training may prove beneficial. This type of dog may not be able to learn—and resolve problem behaviour—in a group setting. However, a group dynamic can be advantageous for a puppy who’s learning the basic principles of obedience. For training, it’s best to place your dog in a real-world setting—complete with distractions and other dogs and people with whom he or she will need to learn how to interact.

Getting along 
When you meet a potential trainer it’s important to inquire about their philosophy, experience and training. But it’s equally essential to ask yourself if you’ll get along. “A canine educator should not only be gifted with animals, he or she also needs to be even better with people!” explains Aryel Lafleur. “He or she needs to have the patience and creativity to adapt to each master’s needs.” After a few training sessions, if you’re not comfortable with your trainer’s approach, and if your gut tells you something’s not quite right, follow your intuition and move on. That “one-in-a-million” trainer may be just around the corner!


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