The Dog Training and Behaviour Industry


How do I know if I’m getting the right advice?

The dog training and behaviour industry has grown exponentially over recent decades as more and more families welcome dogs into their homes and hearts as a much loved family member and an integral part of daily life. Our pet dogs have had to adapt to our modern and busy lifestyles, and in many instances pet dog owners are needing to seek the services of dog training and behaviour consultants for advice and support with the myriad of issues that can come with
this modern way of life. These might include separation anxiety issues, destructive behaviours, hyperactivity in the home, polite greeting of guests, how to introduce your puppy to a new baby
and so forth.

Older more traditional methods of dog training focussed on the out-dated philosophies of dogs needing to become a submissive member within a pack of humans. With that, brought physically aversive and punitive methods of training including techniques such as alpha rolling dogs onto their backs, scruffing dogs on the back of the neck, grabbing muzzles, and using ‘training’ equipment such as correction chains, prong collars and even more concerningly,
shock collars.

Thankfully, the industry is ever so slowly starting to move away from the more traditional methods of training focussed on these forceful and strict obedience mentalities, and embrace the more recent science informing ethical and gentle rewards-based training philosophies. Research is now supporting that not only are these methods more humane, but the behavioural outcomes of using rewards focussed methods of training also far outweigh the outdated ‘dominance’ philosophies used in the past.

We would never compromise when it comes to our dog’s physical health, and will always seek the advice of a qualified veterinarian. Thankfully, it is a lot easier to know you are getting the best physical health care for your dog due to the requirements practicing veterinarians have of completing an accredited tertiary education and practical training. Unfortunately our dog’s psychological health, behaviour management and training, isn’t given the same level of importance through regulation as of yet. This therefore leaves dog owners with the unenviable task of trying to identify what it means to get professional behavioural and training advice for their dogs and what to look for.

I am often faced with the realities of working within an unaccredited industry when understandably frustrated owners come to me after receiving inconsistent and conflicting advice, and often negative behavioural outcomes from poor out dated advice. Sadly, currently there are no requirements to be qualified before selling your services as a dog trainer, however there are a number of accredited courses available to gain certification as a dog trainer and behaviour consultant.

“So what is a dog trainer versus a behaviourist versus a vet behaviourist and how can you tell the difference?”

Some dog trainers out there may have no formal qualifications, however have gained their knowledge through personal experience and mentoring under other professional trainers. They may be well read in dog training and behaviour, and even trained their own dogs to high levels of obedience training, and have a keen interest in dog training and behaviour. They may even be professionals in other areas including vet nursing, shelter workers, animal management officers, volunteer instructors at dog obedience clubs and so forth.

Qualified dog trainers will have received a dog training qualification from one of the accredited dog training organisations such as the National Dog Trainers Federation (NDTF), Gentle Dog Trainers Association or Delta Society. To have attained a qualification under one of these accredited training organisations, course work and practical course components will have had to be successfully completed and a certificate of attainment will be received upon completion.

Behaviourists include those which should have tertiary level qualifications, ideally at honours level, in an area such as zoology, psychology, or relevant behavioural sciences. These consultants will also regularly attend professional workshops and other professional development to keep up to date in relevant scientific advancements in the field.

Veterinary behaviourists are like the ‘psychiatrist’ of the pet world. Vet behaviourists are not only qualified veterinarians, but will have completed higher level postgraduate education and training specialising in the field of animal behaviour. Therefore they will be able to diagnose any potential physical contributions to the behavioural issues you are concerned about, and also prescribe medication which may assist with your dog’s treatment alongside a comprehensive behaviour modification program.

When looking for professional advice on your dog’s behaviour, don’t hesitate to do your research and even ask questions of those trainers you enquire with. This way you can ensure you’re receiving the best advice, and advice which fits with how you want to communicate with and train your dog.

What questions should I ask a potential dog trainer/behaviourist? I have put together a few questions which might be helpful:

Have you attained any formal qualifications in dog training and behaviour?
Have you trained under supervision of more experienced dog trainers before starting an independent dog training business?
How much experience have you had in working with dogs with problems similar to what my dog has?
What sort of varied dog training experience have you had in the past?
What philosophies do you have in training?
Do you use food rewards in training?
What will you do if my dog gets a behaviour right?
What will you do if my dog gets a behaviour wrong?
Do you use or advocate the use of correction chains, prong collars or electric collars when training dogs?
How do you stay up to date in dog training methodologies and science? Do you go to conferences/workshops?
Will you work alongside my veterinarian or other professionals if we need to take more of a collaborative approach and seek further support?
If the techniques we begin using don’t appear to be working for my dog or I’m not comfortable with them, do you have a number of different strategies to recommend using instead?

A good trainer should be more than happy to answer these questions and any others you may have in order to determine whether they are going to be a good fit for you and your dog.