Establishing and maintaining relationships with qualified trainers (Proceedings)


Establishing and maintaining relationships with qualified trainers (Proceedings)

Behavior questions and concerns are pervasive among veterinary clientele. Clients should always be offered the option of seeing a veterinary behaviorist; however, in many cases a veterinary behaviorist may not be locally available; the client may refuse such a referral; or the pet's problem may be amenable to simple alterations in the client's training process (or lack thereof!). Trainers provide a valuable service in these situations. Additionally many veterinary behaviorists work with local trainers to maximize the client's success and financial efficiency. In a number of cases, a competent trainer can assist a client in implementing the behavior modification steps that are prescribed by a veterinary behaviorist. Veterinarians should not refer to trainers without thorough investigation of those persons. Not all trainers are created equally! While there are extremely competent trainers in the US, there are also many that are poorly trained and downright abusive.

Veterinarians need to choose their trainer referrals carefully. Referring to a non-veterinary paraprofessional such as a chiropractor, acupuncturist, or trainer, may put the veterinarian at risk of legal repercussion if that referral results in "treatments" which are harmful or fatal to the animal. Additionally, referrals resulting in bad outcomes damage the veterinarian-client relationship and the veterinarian's reputation in the community.

While this lecture will focus primarily on dog trainers, the information applies equally to those people that work with and train cats, horses, parrots, or any other species. The most educated and competent trainers will be able to work across species boundaries.


There is no national standardized certification for dog trainers or "behaviorists"; therefore, any person can market him/herself as a professional trainer or behavior expert. There are several organizations that provide their own certifications including the International Association of Canine Professionals (IACP), the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT), the Karen Pryor Academy (KPA), PetsMart, National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors (NADOI) and the Animal Behavior College. Other organizations certify individuals as "behaviorists" including the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC), and the Association of Animal Behavior Professionals (AABP) among others.

The quality of these certifications varies with the organization. In most cases, certification is based on classroom work and book knowledge. On-hands expertise is generally not examined or evaluated with any validity.

Initial evaluation

Trainers should demonstrate professionalism, expertise and capable communication skills with people. The image the trainer projects to the client directly reflects back on you as the referring veterinarian. Trainers minimally should demonstrate:
     • knowledge of dog behavior (or with whatever species they work) – not wolf behavior
     • knowledge of the scientific principles of learning (operant and respondent learning)
     • an adherence to an ethical hierarchy

Preliminary information may be gathered by reviewing the trainer's website, resume and brochures. This should be followed by a personal interview and direct observation of the trainer's classes or training sessions. Certain red flag statements can make early discriminations easier.

Red flag statements

     1. Food is bribery and should not be used. Food training makes you submissive to the dog.
     2. This statement demonstrates that the trainer has little or no knowledge of the scientific principles of learning. While using food is not always necessary, a trainer that totally eschews the use of food wastes the most universally powerful reinforcer available to a trainer.
     3. Guaranteeing results or outcomes.
     4. Animals are sentient thinking beings functioning under the influence of environmental cues. Behavior is never 100% predictable. Additionally success of training often depends on the owner's ability to control the environment and implement appropriate training at home. The trainer cannot control this. Guaranteeing specific outcomes infers a lack of knowledge of behavior or an unethical trainer.
     5. Corrections are necessary in training because the dog has to be told when it's wrong.
     6. While the use of corrections is not always inappropriate and sometimes perhaps warranted, this statement is often used to justify rather harsh and domineering training techniques. This philosophy also disrespects the animal as feeling being and places a higher standard of behavior on an animal than on a human. We understand that humans, even highly educated (trained) ones sometimes make mistakes, yet we expect our animals to be perfect automatons. Animals can understand the concept of incorrect responses by a mere lack of expected reinforcement.
     7. Dogs should work just for praise (because they should want to please us).
     8. Again, this statement reveals a profound lack of knowledge regarding learning principles and motivational systems.
     9. Dogs are pack animals. You have to be the "alpha" in order to train the dog.
     10. Knowledge of learning principles makes dominance theory irrelevant to animal training. Current studies of feral and village dogs clearly demonstrate that dogs do not live in structured packs. Even if they did so, this has little relevance to artificial domestic home situations. Behavior is a product of the environment in which the dog behaves – change the environment and you change the behavior.