Part 1 in a series

There is no single national or state agency for licensing or certifying dog trainers or behavior professionals. Various universities, specialty schools, and other organizations provide programs and certify graduates. In their training, veterinarians have different levels of training pertinent to behavior. Some veterinarians have only rudimentary orientation to dog behavior. Because there is no uniform certification standard, anyone can declare him or herself a dog trainer. Because no standard exists, it’s important to carefully consider the credentials and experience of those you may choose as guides for you and your dog.

Many well-meaning people advertise themselves as dog trainers. Of those, some are members of training clubs. In those clubs, a trainer may come from the ranks of the membership and their credentials may rest on the fact that they have earned a title(s) with their personal dog. Add to those: self declared dog psychologists, former K-9 trainers and self appointed dog disciplinarians, as well as those who believe they have a special relationship with dogs, and the field is diverse.

Make sure you get a qualified trainer for your working dog.In spite of good intentions, some who present themselves as trainers may not have the same foundation for training and behavior work as one gets when they have gone through a certification program with a curriculum based on behavior theory. Others do have vast experience and although not holders of certificates, understand learning theory because of years of practice in real life situations with dogs of all kinds.

Behavior researchers have learned much in recent years. Good trainers use a variety of approaches, but all are based on an understanding of learning theory, especially Operant and Classical Conditioning. This knowledge is then tailored to the personality of the individual dog, the specific problems at hand and the goals of the handler.

With this is a growing appreciation of the value of positive reinforcement in the training process. More people are concerned about their dogs “getting hurt” by trainers. More trainers recognize these concerns and are making sure they emphasize their understanding of Operant Conditioning & Classical Conditioning.

As you look for a trainer, don’t be afraid to ask questions about his or her approach. It’s also a good idea to stop in and watch a training session. This can often provide an entirely different picture than a verbal explanation. If the trainer gets defensive or acts like you have no business asking questions, then you might want to research further.

Authored by: James Akenhead Ed.D.
Photo credit: West Midlands Police / Foter / CC BY-SA

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