Friday, October 5, 2012

What's wrong with being a Dog Trainer?

My last post seems to have ruffled a few feathers, some of which I expected.  Some, however, caught me from out of left field.  One of the objections was that a certain person was not a "Dog Trainer", but some sort of....something else.

We talked in January about what makes someone a Behaviorist.  It seems that isn't the only term people have questions about-even professionals in the field.  Some seem to want to turn away from their roots and act like those roots are somehow lesser things.

Let's start from the top here: I am a Dog Trainer and pround to be one.

Yes, I have done more.  I am certified in various extra activities, including behavior consulting.  I am a court-recognized expert on canine aggression and atttacks.  I am certified through various venues as an evaluator of dog behavior and have done evaluations on a range of very bad dogs.

But the truth is that I started out as a Dog Trainer.  I have belonged to several dog training organizations, including the APDT and the Professional Retriever Trainers' Association, and I have trained dogs for manners, competition, conformation showing, and specific tasks.  I AM A DOG TRAINER.  That is the concrete foundation underneath all of the other specialized activities.  Those are my roots, and those are the skills I fall back on each and every time, regardless of the case involved.

Now let's look at what makes a Dog Trainer.  A Dog Trainer, certified or not, does a specific set of things.  They teach dogs to perform tasks.  Those tasks may be sit, down, walk on leash, come when called, roll over....the list goes on.  Some tasks are simple, like sit, and some tasks involve an extended series of chained behaviors, like successfully completing an agility run, or a set of tricks for a movie sequence. Either way, the dog is taught tasks.  A Dog Trainer is a teacher.

A Dog Trainer, with or without fancy titles or specific behavior analysis training, modifies unwanted behavior.  The trainer takes a dog with an unwanted behavior (pooping on the floor for instance) and teaches the dog another, more acceptable behavior (asking to go outside).  They train the desired behavior, train the dog to replace the undesired behavior with the desired behavior, and then use reinforcement to fade the old and support the new.

This is ultimately what we do, minus all the frills, no matter who we are or what we claim to be.  We are teachers.  We are trainers.  We choose to work with a specific species, and those are dogs.  We help people with their dog problems-and we save lives, both figuratively and literally.  Shelter surrender and death is still the number one cause of death for pet dogs-and most of those surrenders are for fixable training issues.

One can call themselves a "Communicator", a "Rehabilitator", or any other fancy term they want.  They can whisper, emote, center their energy, focus their spirit...whatever.  There are no established standards for these fancy sounding classifications, and honestly no way to quantify and test their claims, so anyone can call themselves anything they want.  Not my problem or issue.  The only quantifiable, testable process is counting whether the dog a) produces the desired behavior more frequently or on cue and b) reduces the number of occurrences of the undesired behavior.  And if it involves a new task or trick, does the dog produce the desired response to the assigned stimulus.  Period.

But the final process of fixing a dog, helping the dog's owner and family, and helping that valuable human-canine bond flourish is based on basic dog training (coupled with a little bit of people training).

So I will say it again: I AM A DOG TRAINER.  AND I AM PROUD OF IT.

How about you?