Science & Dog Trainers: better do your research.

I've been a certified, professional dog trainer for over 8 years now, and I can count on my hands the number of times that I have been questioned by potential clients about my education, and training methods.

Most of us wouldn't hire a babysitter for our children without first doing some digging into their experience, training, and credibility as a childcare provider. Why isn't this happening for our dogs?

The dog training industry is completely unregulated, meaning that dog trainers and the likes are not directed by rules or laws. There are no requirements in order for oneself to call themselves a dog trainer; no education, testing, or certification necessary.

Do you like dogs? You can call yourself a dog trainer and open your business tomorrow.

The lack of regulation has left it so that training techniques involving pain, intimidation and fear are completely legal, and widely used today. This means that choking, hitting or kicking, pinching or screaming, and even using electric shock is entirely acceptable when it comes to training dogs.

Here are a few questions I urge you to ask before hiring anybody to work with your dog, training or otherwise:

  1. How are you going to accomplish behavior change with my dog? What techniques will you be using to accomplish this behavior change? What does this look like?

  2. What education do you have to back these training techniques? Animal Behavior and Applied Behavior Analysis is a science. Science is backed by studies, so if you are being sold something as a 'fact,' take the time to check those facts. Ask for the studies, you might be surprised.

  3. What equipment will you be using on my dog? Why have you chosen this piece of equipment? How does this equipment work to cause behavior change?

  4. How do they address behavior like jumping up? Or lunging and snapping at other dogs? Are they promoting behavior change, or suppression? This is important to know, as there is a huge difference between the two.

  5. What happens when the dog gets it wrong? Because, the dog is going to get it wrong at one time or another. You made it through "Intro to Trigonometry" without making a single error? I didn't think so.

After having all of your questions answered, how do you feel about this knowledge?

  • Are you comfortable with the techniques being employed?

  • Does the science support the trainers claims?

  • Are you comfortable with the equipment being used, and how it is being used?

  • Are you OK with the consequence(s) that result from your dog making a mistake?

Or do you have a nagging feeling in your gut? Does something just not sit right? Were your questions evaded or did the trainer 'beat around the bush?' Does the science not add up to what the trainer is claiming?

If you have that feeling, that uncertainty, I implore you not to ignore it. Perhaps you just need more information, or need more questions answered. Or perhaps this feeling is a red flag, urging you to walk away for the sake of your dog and his welfare.

As a result of this unregulated industry and the wide array of 'acceptable' training methods being used, the onus now falls on you, the dog owner.

It's up to you to learn about the person you are trusting with your dog's body and mind. It's up to you to ask the questions and gather the information to ensure your dog is kept safe during the training process.

It's up to you to dig into the letters behind a trainer's name, and fact check the methods and science they are selling to you.

This is the unfortunate truth of our unregulated industry. There is zero consumer protection, and guess who suffers as a result? The dogs.

There is zero consumer protection, and guess who suffers as a result? The dogs.

Happy Clicking,


Vanessa Charbonneau, is the author of Dog Care for Puppies: A guide to Feeding, Playing, Grooming and Behavior. She owns Sit Pretty Pet Services, employing force-free training techniques to work with companion dogs and their owners. Charbonneau lives in Prince George, BC with her husband, two daughters, and one dog.

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