What about Animal Training Credentials?

So, it is time for another rant–sparked by stupidity in my local region.

In my area there are a number of people who claim to be animal trainers.

There is also another wild animal trainer who works in the movie and television industry. He is the only other trainer in the area that I respect.

Regarding the others, well I can’t recommend any of them.

When I began my career there was only one program for becoming animal behaviorist or animal trainer. To get in you had to have experience—and compete with others with experience to get into one of the few spots open to new students.

At that time experience was considered before credentials. Then the tide began to change until today many people look for credentials first.

My degrees and certifications were from the only private schools available for such training at the time. I got into the college where the degree was considered the gold standard for animal behavior and training at the time.

Today there are more options people can choose from but sorting through them can be tricky. (I’ll be getting into those in the future.)

There are also a few professional organizations that set the standards for membership.

A few of those organizations have members who adhere to certain levels of proficiency and education—at least in the domestic pet realm. Those are the groups whose members I know will have the experience and training needed for most pet owners.

Personally, I refer to professionals I know out of my area because there is no one I am comfortable referring to locally.

So, I often use the databases of organizations to find professionals to refer those who need hands-on assistance but who live in outside my service area.

The thing is, I know most of the professionals listed in the databases. Since I am only selectively accepting clients, the referral quality is important.

Two of the local “trainers” claim to be certified but they are not listed in any database I respect and they use questionable and archaic methods of training.

Anyone can hang a shingle out and call themselves an animal trainer. This is a disservice and it is not a minor problem because it can be hazardous.

One of the local “trainers” just got bit by a dog that I know. This made me shake my head because the dog that bit her is very amiable and non-aggressive.

I can only wonder what the “trainer” was doing to force an animal to bite her in order to get her to stop whatever she was doing.

Another of that “trainer’s” former clients called me in to work with her dogs.

When I arrived the largest animal would not come near me. However, we trained anyway and on the third session the animal came over to greet me—I had won her trust.

You see, she was broken by the former “trainer.” When I asked how the dog reacted when the other “trainer” came over, the owner said she ran into the back bedroom and quivered.

What the hell did she do to get that response?

My students enjoy school and when I arrive—they love up the teacher and are eager to learn…and that is how it should be.

But back to the story…

The dog also showed reluctance when we began to review the command, “down.” When I asked how the behavior was trained, the owner said the previous “trainer” would use a harsh choke chain correction to jerk her onto the ground.


Needless to say, the behavior modification methods we used amazed the pet owner and the dogs loved it.

Her large dog became more secure with each session.

Finally, the owner about fainted when we got the dogs to accept ear drops in five minutes. They had never been able to administer them before without major drama and trauma.

Anyway, what irks me as a new “trainer” has surfaced. She is the former apprentice of the other and is taking over the business.

The new cards say she is a “certified” dog trainer and I know she is not. The problem is that she does not have the aptitude or experience that it takes to keep herself and her charges safe.

So, are credentials important or not?

Today it is one of the few things you can check on and also verify to see if the person is using the latest techniques for training.

Ideally, you will get both experience and credentials.

It is easy to say, “avoid archaic techniques” but most people have no clue what those techniques are.

So, if you are seeking a person in your area I would recommend you start with the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (ADPT) or the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC) and don’t forget to check out my animal expert referral page.

Super Zoo 2008

Left: Queen (Afghan) pays attention during a seminar at Super Zoo 2008 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Last week we attended the annual pet trade show, Super Zoo which is now held in Las Vegas, Nevada.

I have to admit that I am still recovering from the long days on the show floor and the industry hosted parties at night.

The good news is that I found some great new products and will be sharing some of them with you over the next week or so.

One of the nice things about the show is that I get to connect with people I only seem to get to see about once a year since I no longer do loads of shows or conferences.

For instance, I always look forward to seeing Joe Markham–the founder of Kong.

I’ve known Joe for about twenty years now. He is one of those people who triggers an immediate smile on my face.

Kong Company has a great line of cat toys out on the market now and always has new and innovative products coming out. (Catch the video interview in the previous post.)

Above: Chris Onthank promotes his Dog Gone Smart Beds at Super Zoo.

In 2006 I met Chris Onthank. At the time he was just launching his Dog Gone Smart Beds. Of course, I was thrilled to hear this year that his products are doing well and that he now has dog jackets available (made with the same technology).

Just what is so special about his products? They repel dirt and moisture using nanotechnology. Watch the Dog Gone Smart Bed demo video here to learn more.

When we met we immediately began talking about training and behavior–certainly one of my favorite topics.

If you live in the Connecticut area you might want to catch Chris Onthank’s behavior series on Instinct and Learning that starts this week.