In the past few weeks, just as summer is drawing to a close and people are boarding their pets for last minute vacations, there have been a few news stories across the country of dogs ending up injured at the hands of so called “trainers.” See: Here, Here, or Here if you want to see just a few of these cases. Warning: you may need tissues! These instances are horrible acts perpetrated by horrible people. Unfortunately, it’s often difficult for owners to know what kind of person you are trusting your dog with.
Here at Perfect Pooch, we are extremely saddened by these events since they reflect poorly on all dog care facilities. Today I am going to talk about the few key questions you should be asking your trainer and giving you the answers for our program. By asking a lot of questions, you are getting to know the people you are essentially giving informed consent to. Every facility has waivers and contracts, so it is important to understand what exactly you are signing off on.
Jean Donaldson, a world renowned trainer, recommends asking any trainer you hire the following 3 questions:
1. What exactly will happen to my dog when she gets it right?
In our program, if your pooch gets something right, they win! They get treats, toys, belly rubs, and generally anything else that makes them happy. Some dogs are less interested in being pet by us while some are picky eaters. We try to pick the dog’s favorite reward for their very best behavior and use secondary rewards just for trying. By rewarding efforts along the way, we hope to motivate the pup and have them enjoy the process. First and foremost, we want them to want to try.
2. What exactly will happen to her when she gets it wrong?
We generally do not reward wrong responses unless it shows effort or an attempt at something that was previously difficult for the dog. For example, if your dog was avoiding the bed altogether and seemed a little nervous about it, we might reward the attempt of sniffing the bed initially. Is this really the behavior we want in the end? Did the dog really get it right? Not really. However, we may reward baby steps and attempts. What about if the pup really gets it wrong? For example, jumps up or nips a hand when asked to sit? We simply do not reward and may even walk away and remove all chance of a reward for a few seconds: no treats, no toys, no belly rubs. We do not physically punish or hurt any dog. Ever. We may even end a training session. Most dogs really, really want the chance to earn a reward, so ending a session ends the chance to win.
3. Are there any less invasive alternatives to what you propose?
We aim to use the least aversive and least invasive methods possible. We want training to be fun, both for us and for the dog. I do not enjoy working with unhappy dogs, so making the pooch want to work and have fun working is a big part of the game. Some dogs really need to learn how to learn and how to succeed. By using motivational methods and rewarding good behavior, we hope the dog strives to continue offering good behavior and we help owners work on relationship building strategies to continue the fun at home! The field of dog training is always growing and improving and we hope to grow and improve right along with it. If new even less invasive alternatives are discovered, we will use them!
I would definitely ask any program these three questions and I would ask even more! Ask away! Most trainers are excited to talk about their facility and their methods. Anything that seems like they are being evasive or don’t want to answer any questions, is something I would be concerned about. I might ask:
– What should I expect when my dog comes home?
– Other than the trainers, who else will be handling and caring for my dog?
– What happens if my dog becomes stressed or ill?
– How much training will my dog receive?
These are all questions your trainer should be able to answer readily. Some of the answers may vary based on the dog and the facility, and there is no definite right or wrong answer. You just need to make sure you feel comfortable with the answers you are getting. There are bad people in the world, and unfortunately, some of them are dog trainers. There are also awesome and fantastic people who truly want to help you and your dog. By asking lots of questions, and asking the right questions, you can be sure you are getting the experience that you want for you and your dog.
Head Trainer- Perfect Pooch
BA, CPDT-KA, AKC CGC Evaluator