Saturday, September 24, 2011

In Defence of Choice

“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'
Isaac Asimov

I have been paid to train other people’s dogs since 1993, and over the years, I have done a lot of thinking, learning and developing.  I started out as a jerk and treat trainer, and I wasn’t very good at it at first.  In fact, I am more than willing to bet that I caused harm to a number of dogs, but along the way, I honed my skills and became better at this.  In fact, over the years, as a jerk and treat trainer, I developed good solid and meaningful relationships with many dogs and helped many people to do that same thing.  I also along the way learned how to help people to help their dogs overcome fears, aggression issues and other behaviour problems, using jerk and treat methods.  I will admit that I didn’t understand learning theory, and my understanding of behaviour was fairly limited, but at that time, I developed skills and helped people to develop skills and in the end, I was a fairly effective trainer.

Through the nineties and in the early two thousands, I like many other trainers went through a wonderful, exciting, fabulous learning curve.  I learned about clicker training, and ethology and learning theory.  I read Donaldson, and Dunbar and Reid and Bailey and Burch and so many others and soaked up information like a sponge.  This process of learning caused me to decide to change my training process to one where I stopped using choke collars as my first tool of choice and move towards using the clicker instead when teaching my students and their dogs about training.  

During that time, one of my students used a choke collar in exactly the way I had taught her to use it.  Her dog lunged forward, and she braced her body against the lunge and the dog dropped back to heel position.  I didn’t see the lunge, but I know what it looked like-I had seen her do this many times in the past and she was good at it.  Unfortunately, the collar failed and the large ring closed around one of the links and closed the collar down to about two thirds of what it ought to be.  It took us fifteen minutes to locate tools and extricate the dog from this deadly snare and we almost lost her.  By the time we got her out, her tongue was protruding and blue.  That was the last class I ever permitted snare collars to be used in at Dogs in the Park.  That was also a formative experience in terms of committing me to more humane methods of training.

In the 1998 I obtained a seven month old German Shepherd who had never been on anything other than cement floors in a cow barn and occasionally on grass.  He had been to the vet, but really hadn’t been into town much.  I lived in town and when this dog came into my life I was working full time in outdoor education and part time as a dog trainer.  I named him Crow, and started my first “clicker only” dog.  Now admittedly, I only had six or seven years under my belt training using a clicker, and although I knew the tool well, I was probably not the best clicker trainer in the whole world.  None the less, with resources like Don’t Shoot The Dog, and Sue Ailsby, Shirley Chong and Clicker Solutions, I wanted to make certain that this dog was never going to experience positive punishment. 

I will admit that this dog was not the easiest dog in the world to make this commitment to, but I was determined to walk a kinder road.  I was already clicker training with all my students dogs.  I was already clicker training the dogs I had “crossed over” with.  I had more practice than the students I work with now who are picking up the clicker for the first time, and I had taught many new students to train their dogs using only a clicker and a handful of treats.

Crow was afraid of floors, trucks, new people, some dogs, and a wide variety of animate and inanimate objects.  I worked with him for about two years, patiently and sometimes not so patiently but carefully never using positive punishment or negative reinforcement, and we got to the point where Crow knew most of the novice routine, the open routine, some agility and basic manners. 

In the summer of 2000, I took three months off of work to try and figure out what I wanted to do next career wise, as the outdoor education field was not sufficiently lucrative to keep going with.  And during that summer, I really began to learn about training.

Every morning, Crow and I would walk with John and Bear to the train station and see him off.  Then Crow, Bear and I would go and have a cup of coffee at a local coffee shop.  They would stay outside on a down stay and I would go in and read the paper, keeping an eye on them, and giving people treats to give them while they stayed.  My dogs had the best down stays of any dogs I had ever met.  The one behaviour Crow and I struggled with and that got in the way of our relationship was leash manners.  

Crow had a decent working heel in the ring, and I could make him stop pulling by “being a tree”.  He got very proficient at charging out to the end of the leash, jerking my arm and then herding around me to my left side and repeating.  I used the clicker and a head halter and we could fudge it as far as the second corner from our house.  The fact was that after two years of clicker training and stopping, he was not very good at walking nicely on leash.  We spent hundreds of hours working on this; gently and carefully, using only R+ and P-.  And I was getting injured.  I pulled my brachiocephalic nerve when a large aggressive dog I was working with on a flat collar tried to take out a jogger.  That meant that I had little feeling in my left hand, and that injury was being exacerbated by Crow pulling as we walked John to the train.  Being pulled on leash this way did nothing to endear Crow to me, but every day, I worked on this.

One day, just as we were leaving to walk with John to the train, Crow spied something and lunged, and yanked my arm yet one more time.  I was hurt, yet again.  And in a fit of frustration, I went back into the house and got out a prong collar.  One lunge and Crow came back to heel position and we walked nicely to the train station.  He tried it once a day for two more days.  Within two weeks we were back on the flat collar.  And I learned something really important.  Commitment to a method is less important to me than clear communication.  That two week period allowed me to teach Crow that he was never ever going to be permitted to lunge on leash, and as a result, our relationship improved enormously.  After using the prong collar, I enjoyed my daily walks with Crow.  Before, I dreaded them.  After, we were able to go places we had not been able to go previously, without risk to me and my arm.  Before, I was limiting where I would walk him.

Could I teach it now, using only a clicker?  Maybe.  Maybe not though.  It took me about four years to get to the point where I talked openly about this with my clicker training friends, because I reliably get one of four responses.  Either I am lazy, undereducated, I like hurting dogs or I have resorted to using pain when I choose to use pain.  Let’s take each in turn.

First, I am lazy.  I would argue that when you take two years to teach a dog to walk on lead and they aren’t getting the message to never ever pull on leash, then the trainer isn’t lazy.  I might be more skilled now, but this is a dog who had not been on leash till he was seven months and then had to be on leash daily for the rest of his life-he was a challenge to work with for sure.  But it wasn’t laziness that made me reach for the prong.  I worked daily, sometimes for several hours a day with this dog. 

Second, I am undereducated.  So I just don’t know better.  Lets consider.  I have passed both the CPDT-KA and the CPDT-KSA, I am a CDBC and I am preparing to sit the CBCC.  I have been to two Clicker Expos, two or three PABAs, seen Pam Reid, read her book, seen Ian Dunbar at least three times, and read all of his books and seen most of his video tapes, I have seen Nick Dodman several times and read all of his work, Kathy Sdao and read some of her work via the net, watched the BowWow girls videos, been to John Rogerson’s weekend intensive, been to several Suzanne Clothier seminars, been to a Sue Ailsby workshop, plus I was one of the principle editors on Barbara Handelmann’s dog behaviour book.  I think I have the education piece covered nicely.

Thirdly, I like hurting dogs.  Give me a break.  That one is just plain rude.  I don’t like causing pain to dogs, but I also don’t like being hurt by large aggressive dogs who do things from time to time that are dangerous to me, and I will use whatever means is needed to follow one of the most basic premises of working with animals that I know; keep everyone safe at all times, including the dog.  If I have to move a large aggressive mastiff from the car to the vet clinic and that dog is likely going to try and eat the receptionist, yes, I get the receptionist out of the way, but I will also choose a tool that equalizes the strength of us-so I will likely choose a prong collar in that case. 

Finally, I have resorted to pain.  Yup, with Crow, I did resort to pain.  I will tell you though, that now I don’t resort.  I choose after careful consideration to use pain if I think it is the most appropriate option.  I am aware that when I choose to use a prong or shock collar I am choosing to use pain.  I am no longer resorting.  I will say that the two years I struggled with leash manners with Crow resulted in a lot of “resorting” that I wish I had not done.  I would sometimes lose my temper and leave him in a huff and go into the house seething at this dog who was just not getting it.  And then I would be remorseful for hours and days afterwards, thinking I wasn’t worthy of this animal, or of teaching dog training or of being part of the training community.  Resorting is never a good choice because we are unclear about our objectives and motives, and it leaves us with guilt and distress.

If you visit the CCPDT website at, you will find there a copy of their humane hierarchy.  While I don’t like everything about it, I would like to point out that the use of positive punishments are on that hierarchy.  This means that a professional organization, vetted and examined by animal behaviourists and veterinary behaviourists recognizes what many in the training community don’t: that sometimes, the use of aversives, including pain is appropriate.  Not always.  Not even often.  But some of the time. 

If you visit the International Association of Animal Behaviour Consultants website, you can learn about LIMA; Least Invasive, Minimally Aversive; the guidelines that we follow when we practice behaviour consulting.  This means that where ever possible, we don’t choose aversives as our first line for training, but that we don’t rule out that they might be beneficial in some cases.

The use of aversives in dog training has been a hot topic this week.  Some people want to approve or prohibit equipment based on some mysterious aversion factor.  Prongs are bad, and halters are good.  Or halters are bad, but flat collars are good.  Clickers are good.  Treats are bad.  The problem is that it isn’t that simple.  This is a subject fraught with shades of grey.  I use head halters a lot and in fact was one of the first trainers in Guelph to have one in the eighties; I had to order mine from Roger Mugford in England.  I was also one of the first people in Guelph to use a clicker; we had to order them at $5 a piece from the states and we spent a lot of time trying to rig them from juice bottle tops.  There is no simple way to quantify good versus bad when it comes to our tools.

Determining if a tool is an aversive is a bit of a trick.  Ultimately, you have to ask the dog if he finds something aversive.  I have had clients with dogs in my classes who find the clicker itself so unpleasant they cannot be in a room full of clicker training.  The handler can use the theory of marking the behaviour, but they cannot use the clicker itself.  I have met more than my share of dogs who find the head halter so aversive they cannot even think, so we cannot rubber stamp that tool either.  I have seen thin skinned dogs develop sores under flat collars and flat harnesses and front attachment harnesses; a sore is certainly aversive. 

When I choose to use a tool that is going to cause discomfort or even pain, I have a responsibility to use it with great consideration and care.  I have decided that relationship is more important to me than is commitment to a tool or a quadrant.  Determining our values is the responsibility of educated professionals.  I have decided that commiting to using only positive reinforcement is not necessarily going to mean that relationships will be better; it often does, but it doesn't always. 

 No one questions when a veterinarian cuts into their dog with a scalpel if that is what they need to do to save their dog’s life.  When I am faced with a dog who is injuring his handler, and I can quickly resolve this with a prong, then I MIGHT choose to use a prong.  Maybe.  As a professional it is my responsibility to choose carefully what tool I use.  Like the medical professional, the training professional should never choose to use a painful procedure when a pain free alternative is viable.  But as a professional I also believe that some of the time, I must choose to use a tool I would prefer not to use.  The more I read about applied behaviour analysis, about how we practice our craft of training, the more I feel that we are arguing the wrong points when it comes to equipment and aversives.  It is not the aversive that should be in question.  It should come down to safety, for the families and the dogs who we serve.  When we are faced with sending a dog home to a family where the dog is going to pull his person out of a wheelchair, there are worse choices than a prong collar.  When we are faced with a farmer who will shoot a dog who has killed a lamb, there are worse choices than a shock collar.  And finally, when we or our clients lose our tempers and resort to scruffing, cuffing or screaming at the dog, and then we spend hours self flagellating, when we could have chosen to use a well thought out aversive, we are wasting valuable training opportunities.  

I have written this primarily because of two conversations this past week.  The first was with a rabidly positive reinforcement trainer who would never use an aversive on a dog but felt no compunction about calling me names and making unfounded accusations about my abilities as a dog trainer as well as my personal habits.  The second was a client of mine; a very talented clicker trainer who is working with an extremely difficult young terrier.  She began reading a memoir of another very talented trainer, and emailed me to tell me she felt she just didn’t measure up-she had expressed anger at her dog after he bolted down the street for the umpteenth time.  This prompted me to come clean to the world.  I support the choice, amongst well trained and educated trainers to CHOOSE to use an aversive.  Whichever aversive they think is appropriate.  I do not support the wholesale use of aversives without thought or without consideration.  But I do support the right of professionals to choose to use whatever tools they feel are the most appropriate to a given situation.  That in part is what separates professionals from amateurs; our education and experience, our background and our understanding.  I am not a positive reinforcement trainer; I am a professional who will choose the best option to keep everyone safe at all times including the dog, and who will work with you to develop the best relationship you can possibly have with your dog.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


I have recently had to revisit the whole issue of correction when a friend and colleague went off to Vet Tech college and was required to attend an obedience class where each student was taught how to use a “correction” collar.  Simply put, they were instructed that if they did not apply a strangulation device on the neck of the dog they were working with to correct his behaviour, they would never be permitted to become Vet Techs.  This course was taught by a Vet Tech, who is mentored by a local compulsion based trainer.  Food treats were also permitted in the class, but any time the dog got out of line, the students were instructed on how to “correct” the dog, using a snare type collar.  Furthermore, the students were told never to use negative reinforcement or punishment; that was bad.  The instructor was unable to define any of the three terms, and was completely unaware of the AVSAB position papers on punishment and dominance, and taught the class that they needed to dominate the dogs they were working with.

This has me thinking about a number of important issues.  The first of which is that this explains why I get such baffled looks from the techs I encounter when I tell them that they need to stop using punishment-they have after all spent time in college where they were taught never to use punishment, only correction.  And what you learn in college must be correct, right?  After all, the facts taught at college are correct, are they not?  In this case, they are not.  

The next thing that this brings to mind is the whole idea of “correction”.  What is “correction”?  Used in the context of dog training it usually means some unpleasant penalty applied to bring the dog back in line, closer to what the trainer would like him to do.  So if the dog lunges forward and you want him to stand by your side, you either yank back on the leash and “correct” the dog back into place, or you brace yourself so that the dog corrects himself back into place.  Won’t sit?  No worries; jerk up on the leash and scoop under the knees and “correct” the dog’s position.  No problem.  How about the down?  Well there you could “correct” the dog’s position by yanking the dog’s collar towards the ground and pulling his legs out from underneath him.

I should add that I am fairly accomplished in this form of training.  I learned to train this way, so I am well familiar with the misconceptions that go along with learning a new way to think about training.  When I was learning this, everything was framed in terms of the dog not doing what I wanted, and I needing to “correct” his behaviour.  I was fairly resistant to the change too; I heard about clicker training and my initial impression was “That can’t work!  How will the dog know that he must do as I say?”  Time passes and I have learned and grown.  By learning and growing, I found some things out.

To start with if my goal is “correction”, then there are lots of ways to achieve this, beginning with using a treat to achieve the correct behaviour.  Much easier on the dog for sure!  Or I could put the dog in a better position to get the right behaviour to begin with so that he doesn’t need to be “corrected”.  And I need to be clear; “correction” implies that the dog knows what I want him to do.  How can you train a dog to do something that he doesn’t already know by correcting wrong behaviours when he doesn’t know the right behaviour to begin with?

Correction is a euphemism for positive punishment and negative reinforcement, plain and simple.  So when my colleague went to vet tech college, armed with information about the science of behaviourism and was told by an instructor that she should not use these accurate words, but instead should “correct” the dog she was working with, a travesty occurred.  The travesty is that the education she went to get is continuing the myth of correction that is holding solid, science based training back by between twenty and forty years.  And that is a pity.   

The implications for this are wide ranging.  When I have a client who goes to the vet in a couple of years, and I have explained correction to her and why she should not use it when training her dog, there is a good chance that her vet tech, a professional with credibility, will contradict my information.  Ultimately, the client loses out because the professionals who are trying to help her don’t have the same information, and it becomes a match of credibility between me and the vet tech.  It doesn’t matter that the vet tech knows about as much about medicine as I do about behaviour; both of us and the client and ultimately the dog all lose.  

My challenge is to find a way to reach out to the veterinary technician college and help them to understand that they should change their curriculum and stop teaching information that is incorrect.  We also need to help vets and vet techs to find people who are well trained and who understand the science of behaviour to help their clients.  Vet techs, vets, trainers and behaviour consultants all need to keep in mind that we each have specialized information.  We need to work together and not against one another.  And ultimately we need to work to ensure that the dogs in our care all get the best most up to date care from the appropriate professional, be it medical or behavioural.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Is My Trainer Certified? (or, the jungle of dog training certification)

The following post is courtesy of one of our staff at Dogs in the Park, Helen Prinold.  Thanks Helen, this is a gem!

There can be lots of letters after your prospective dog trainer’s name:
AAB CTB       CDT.CCS      CDBC              ABCDT        CPDT      CBCC     IAAB     IPDTA-CDT are just a few.  How do you know what they mean and what to look for in a professional?

You may want to look at the list below and what the “letters” mean when you’re trying to decide who to trust to work with you and your dog!

There are a few ways to follow a career path for dog trainers and people who work with dog behaviour.  For a quick overview check out this previous blog post and these posts from the Canadian Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the (U.S. based) Association of Pet Dog Trainers.

So what are the qualifications of folks who are advertising their expertise with “multiple letters”?

Historically, dog behaviour professionals and dog trainers tended to get qualified in one of two ways – they apprenticed with someone who did dog training and behaviour work or they learned dog training in the police force.  Formal degrees and certifications either did exist or weren’t widely advertised.

Currently, you have a mix of trainers who have those “multiple letters” after their names – people who learned from other trainers (worked in animal shelters or competed their dogs in sports), some who have degrees in animal behaviour from universities, others who have taken correspondence programs or short one or two day courses and some – by simply paying a membership fee.  

There is no required or mandatory certification or licence needed to be a professional dog trainer or dog behaviour specialist in Ontario. 

Because multiple certifications are allowed and there is no provincial dog trainer licensing system you must do you homework and “buyer beware”.   

No doubt professionals with the letters on their business cards are likely hoping that the certification will reassure you and imply they are qualified.  And certifications can show you’re dealing with someone who has studied and worked with dogs for many years and has been independently examined on their knowledge and skills.   Also, some of the letters after your potential trainer’s name may simply indicate they are a member of a industry trade association or group of like-minded friends. 

They also might indicate the professional is a vet (DVM) who may (or may not) have had training in dog behaviour.   Regardless of vet behaviour expertise, it’s really important to have your vet as part of your dog care team – to look at the whole of your dog (a holistic or “whole” view that looks at their physical and emotional health as both areas are related and influence each other).

This review of qualifications should help you be aware of the background of your trusted dog professional.


Full Name
Owner of Certification
Certification Requirements
Associate CAAB
Certified Applied Animal Behaviourist
Must have a Master's or Ph.D. degree in a behavioral science with specific courses in animal learning, and ethology (behavior) from a university. Earning a DVM or VMD, with advanced training in animal behaviour also allows certification.
Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists
American College of Veterinary Behaviorists  (professional organization of veterinarians who have achieved board-certification in the specialty of Veterinary Behavior)
Veterinary degree and two additional years of coursework, but especially hands-on training with a board-certified veterinarian
Certified Animal Behavior Consultant (covers all species including dog)

Certified Dog Behaviour Consultant

A minimum of 3 years and 1500 hours in animal behavior consulting; 500 hours minimum of coursework, seminars and mentorship related to the core areas of competency; the ability to communicate clearly through written work and case studies, and demonstrable knowledge of all 6 Core Areas of Competency. Veterinary Behaviorists and ACAABs and CAABs are granted membership with the submission of three (3) applicable case studies

Certified Professional Dog Trainer

Certified Behavior Consultant Canine – Knowledge Assessed
5 years of training experience plus a passing score on a national well-respected exam administered by an independent testing agency (may add – Knowledge Assessed when completed practical work of over 300 hours and exam)
Certified Clinical Behavior Consultant

Must be currently-active practitioners with extensive clinical experience who demonstrate that they possess appropriate skills, knowledge and abilities - including an Honours or higher degree in a relevant subject, appropriate specialist courses, and at least three years of regular clinical experience.
Certified Dog Trainer (may add Advanced)
Written exam including case studies and client/colleague references, practical evaluation via video, being a CDT for one year, having 5 years experience for advanced certification.
Certificate in Training and Counselling
Six-week program on-site in San Francisco
Animal Behaviour College Certified Dog Trainer
 (private school)
Correspondence courses
Canine Communications Studies
Norma Jeanne dog training (private school)
Correspondence courses as of Mar, 2010 must pass IPDTA exam
Certificate or Diploma - CBST, CF, CN, DDC, DT, PDTST, SRW
Certificates in:
- Canine Behavior Sciences and Technology
- Canine Fitness
- Canine Nutrition
- Dog Daycare
- Dog Training
- Professional Dog Training Science and Technology
- Shelter and Rescue Work
Correspondence courses
International Positive Dog Training Association – Certified Dog Trainer
A minimum of 100 hours training experience including at least 50% of the experience as a private dog trainer and/or classroom instructor.
References from each of the following; an animal health care professional, a client and another dog trainer, agree to Code of Conduct
American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen Evaluator
Must be at least 18 years of age.
Have at least 2 years of experience working with owners and their dogs
Have experience working with a variety of breeds and sizes of dogs.  Application evaluated, online test, $50 for two-year certification.
NADOI  Endorsed/Provisional
/E - Certified
/C - Companion
/N - Novice
/O - Open
/U - Utility
/P - Puppy
/T - Tracking
/A - Agility
/L - Lifetime Member
/R - Retired Member
Endorsed member of NADOI
At least five years' experience in dog obedience training, two years as a full-charge instructor, worked with a minimum of 100 dogs, group instructors must have taught at least 104 class hours; private instructors 288 hours, written test which may be supplemented by personal interviews, observation, or a video (DVD or Online) which the applicant may be asked to provide, added certifications require, 52 weeks of instructing experience at the level of the sought-after certification
CAP1, 2, 3, 4
Clicker Trainer - Competency Assessed Program Levels 1 – 4
Kay Laurence – England
In person assessment by previously certified trainer (prices unpublished)
Certified Trick Dog Instructor
Kyra Sundance – author and DVDs - Do More With Your Dog! (private school)
(prices not published)
Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner
Karen Pryor – US originator of clicker training) (private school) and her Karen Pryor Academy
Correspondence online and online certification exam, 10-day in person workshop, about $5000
Victoria Stillwell Positive Dog Trainer
Positively Dog Training – US  (Animal Planet’s “It’s Me or the Dog” TV host) (private school)
Be a practicing positive-methods, dominance-avoiding trainer with insurance and purchase a licence (price unpublished) after a one-hour interview, evaluation
Brad Pattison Certified Training Educators
Brad Pattison – Canada (BC) (TV host of “At the End of My Leash”) Hustle Up School of Dog Training treat and talking-free (private school)
3 days/week for 6 weeks, 30% theory, 70% outdoor practice, privately-administered exam, once a year conference attendance to recertify (prices unpublished)
Professional Dog Trainers Program
Ben Kerson – Canada (BC)
(private school)
7 hours per day, 5 days per week for 12 weeks with evening classes for 4 weeks during the program which run for an additional 2 hours, work with 35 dogs minimum for practical experience (prices unpublished).
Pat Miller Certified Trainer
Pat Miller’s Peaceable Paws (private school)
Several levels of intern/apprenticeship, e.g. Level 1 – 6 days in-house, about $1600
CF1 & CF2
Certified Freestyle Instructor
(non-profit incorporated firm)
Details available by contacting CFF,
Certified Nose Work Instructor
Classroom coursework taught by one or more of the founders, application of key concepts in practice groups and classes, on-going training of a dog in K9 Nose Work through the advanced level, emphasis on positive experience
M.Sc. or Ph.D. –  Companion animals, lab animals, livestock and wildlife(MS)
UBC’s Department of Animal Science courses in animal behaviour and management
See University calendar for individual course tuitions and pre-requisites.
Link to list of American universities and colleges offering certified applies animal behaviour courses:
Note: Canadian’s spell it “behaviour” and American English uses “behavior” for the same word


Member’s Acronym
Full Name

Update February 16, 2013:  I received the following from Shelley Moore regarding the CCS and IPDTA:

IPDTA - Must also pass written exam with a minimum 90% score and successfully complete the practical requirements.

CCS - Business name is no longer Canine Communication Studies - It's been Canine Correspondence Studies since March of 2011.  Must also pass written exam with a minimum 90% score and successfully complete the practical requirements.  IPDTA exam is not required.  Owner's name is Norma Jeanne Laurette (not Norma Jeanne dog training)

If people notice inaccuracies, please understand that the article was carefully researched and accurate to our knowledge at the date of publication, and we are happy to post updates as we learn about changes to certification.  Any inaccuracies are unintentional, and we are more than happy to update as information becomes available and certifications change.