Dog training is something that can be done on many different levels. In fact, if you’ve ever lived with a dog, you have probably done some dog training whether you realize it or not. However, the concept of dog training as a profession is relatively new and there is a lot of misconception about the difference between a dog training professional and someone who has trained a dog.
One of the major changes in the dog training community in recent years is the use of science based techniques that have transformed modern dog training into an applied science, where theories and methods can be researched and tested for validity. Traditionally, dog training has been viewed as more of a form of mystical knowledge to be passed on- and if the knowledge that was passed on didn’t help it was common to blame the human or canine student for being somehow flawed. Dogs are pretty good at figuring out social cues, so there are many training methods that work some times with some dogs even though they probably shouldn’t, but operant conditioning based methods can be applied to any human and dog team without stipulating that the person needs to be “assertive” or “dominant” and that the dog not be “stubborn” or “untrainable”. In other words- science is real. (Yes, I know that is apparently a controversial statement.)
As animal training is studied and researched more thoroughly, new information is available all of the time. A key requirement of maintaining professional certification is meeting continuing education requirements to stay updated about animal learning, behavior, and cognition. A trainer who has worked with dogs for many years may have a lot of hands-on experience, but if they are still using the same methods and techniques they started with decades ago, they are probably missing out on a lot of important data.
Hands-on experience is another thing to consider. While there is a lot about dog training and learning theory that needs to be comprehended on a cognitive level, to have consistent results in training, there is also a lot about the profession that can only be experienced hand-on. An amateur trainer may have experience with a few dogs of a few breeds, but a professional should have a much broader knowledge base. Professional certification requires at least 300 hours of hands on training time, which would be difficult to achieve just by dabbling in dog training for an hour per week.
Because dogs are so forgiving and accepting of human behavior, many training techniques have evolved over time that are very hard on the dog, both physically and emotionally. A certified professional trainer will have made an ethical commitment to utilizing the Least Invasive, Minimally Aversive technique required to achieve the desired result. As research is now showing that punishment based training can have long term negative side effects on a dog’s behavior, this seems more important than ever. Force based training techniques can often present the illusion of a quick fix, but the long term effect of reward based methods is a stronger relationship with a more mentally stable dog.
To learn more about the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers, visit www.ccpdt.org.