D is for dog

Danielle Haywood, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Month: January 2015

To each their own.


I mentioned in a previous post that there’s much more to dog training than personal experience and opinions. Although lots of people like to give advice on dog training, they may not be qualified to do so. And that’s probably why I often hear things like, “Ask five dog trainers, and you’ll get five different answers,” – who are they asking, what are their qualifications? And things like, “Well, that’s your way of training, and this is my way of training,” even though opinions really don’t matter when we have actual scientific research…

A friend recently asked me about the profession of dog training, surprised to learn that the field is unregulated; dog trainers don’t all learn the same things or have the same credentials. There are NO requirements to become a dog trainer, despite the seemingly obvious threat to public safety that misinformation and poor practice poses… So here’s my response to my friend, and some explanation for you dog-lovers, dog owners, and dog guardians out there! This summary of the methodology of training is intended to help you know what to look for in a dog trainer or when evaluating information online, in a book or tv show for that matter.


So there are different kinds of trainers?

Yeah, there are “traditional” trainers, “balanced” trainers, and “positive” trainers.

Which are you?

I’m technically a “positive trainer”.

What’s the difference?

Well, positive trainers have science to back up their methods.


Let’s start with Dog Training 101: The Quadrants of Operant Conditioning

In learning theory, we have four quadrants of operant conditioning: positive reinforcement, negative punishment, negative reinforcement, and positive punishment. Positive and negative aren’t “good” and “bad” in training as they are commonly used, they are actually “adding” and “subtracting” much like in math. So positive means adding something and negative means removing something. Reinforcement means increasing a behavior (think of reinforced steel, which is stronger), whereas punishment means decreasing a behavior.


Positive reinforcement (+R) is adding something which increases a behavior, like rewarding your dog with a treat for sitting nicely. “Positive training” is really short for positive reinforcement, because positive trainers use primarily or entirely this method. It’s quick and effective, and offers long-lasting results without side effects. It does require a great deal of skill, timing and consistency, and creative problem-solving – but even if you make mistakes, they won’t result in harm to your dog.

Negative punishment (-P) is removing something to decrease a behavior, like turning away from your dog when they jump up on you (because you are removing your attention, which is what the dog wants at that time). Negative punishment should come only after excessive +R, if at all. Your dog still needs to know how to get your attention appropriately by sitting.

Negative reinforcement (-R) is removing something in order to increase a behavior, like relaxing the choke chain when the dog walks nicely on-leash. This method requires positive punishment first in most cases, usually you would have to inflict pain or cause fear in order to then remove it. There are exceptions, which I will write about in more detail later. In general, this is not an effective or humane means of training.

Positive punishment (+P) is adding something in order to decrease a behavior, for example giving a sharp jerk on the leash/prong collar in attempts to discourage the dog from pulling on the leash or squirting a dog with water in attempts to stop them from barking, for example. Positive punishment is pinching a dog’s ear, yelling at them, anything that is added to discourage a behavior. This method has been shown to be much less user-friendly and less dog-friendly, not really communicating what you intend to and actually creating behavioral side effects more often than not. Professional trainers don’t employ these tactics, unless very, very, very rarely and only after exhausting all other methods and consulting with colleagues, as outlined by the Humane Hierarchy and written into the code of ethics of various professional organizations and certifications.


Now, why do you need to know all that? Because, sadly, even some “trainers” don’t. Any trainer may describe their methods as “relationship based” or “motivational method”. I actually know balanced trainers who market themselves as positive trainers, so you need to know the difference. Here are the three major types of trainers:

Traditional trainers use positive punishment, negative reinforcement, fear, pain, intimidation, and mythology in training. Of course, they probably don’t call it that; they usually use euphemisms like “correction”, say that they tug on the leash to “get the dog’s attention”, claim that flooding will help the dog “face their fears”, and claim that dominance is “natural” to dogs, etc. They might tell you that you have to be the boss of your dog, make him do things or else; everything is their way because they said so. They’ll probably tell you that training with food treats is bribery and clickers are a silly fad. They typically use so-called “corrective” devices such as choke chains, prong collars, and shock collars in order to scare or hurt the dogs under their care – but they’ll call it an e-collar or insist that the shock doesn’t hurt, it’s only a “vibration” or “low-level stim”. However, these devices do cause an enormous increase in dogs’ stress hormones (ie anxiety and aggression) even when used correctly and/or  by so-called trainers. If there is another way to train that offers the same or better results WITHOUT those long-term side effects, why wouldn’t you use that?

Balanced trainers try to incorporate all four quadrants into their practice, without regard to modern science (which proves that positive reinforcement is the most effective and humane way.) So while they might claim to be “positive” because they introduce new behaviors with treats, if they subscribe to dominance myth or still use “corrections” after they believe the dog should know better – this is disingenuous; they are NOT a positive trainer, they are a balanced trainer. I wasted the first couple years of my career as a balanced trainer; I understand that it sounds reasonable enough (there’s good AND bad in life, yin and yang). If only I knew then what I know now! It’s simply not a good way to teach any animal anything.


*If you are a dog owner, and you’re thinking, Hey, wait a minute! I thought balanced training sounded good… You are not alone, and it’s not your fault! The people giving training advice have a responsibility to give you the right advice, whether that’s a rescue/shelter, pet food/supply store, daycare, or veterinarian, but especially if it’s someone claiming to be a professional dog trainer. If positive training sounds new and far fetched, I highly recommend the books Culture Clash by Jean Donaldson and Don’t Shoot the Dog by Karen Pryor. And check out the links listed below for more info.

Positive trainers:

  • use current, legitimate scientific research, cognitive behavioral therapy, applied operant conditioning / applied behavior analysis, and mostly or only positive reinforcement in training.
  • typically use a clicker or a marker word in conjunction with immediate food treats (or another rewarding experience) in order to reinforce a dog’s behavior.
  • also use careful management to prevent the practice of unwanted behaviors, teach the dog alternative behaviors, or teach behaviors which are incompatible with the problem behavior.
  • use only humane and scientifically sound treatments of fear and aggression, such as systematic desensitization and counter-conditioning.
  • DO NOT use or recommend positive punishment, aversive stimulus including choke chains, prong collars, and electronic shock collars, they do not cause flooding, use physical force or psychological intimidation, etc. – the “traditional” training techniques that balanced trainers also employ.

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You might hear positive trainers go by different names, like “dog-friendly”, “force-free“, “clicker trainer“, “humane hierarchy trainer“, “science-based training”, or even “progressive reinforcement training“. Some just call themselves professional trainers, because positive training really is what we now know all training should be.


“What I’m advocating isn’t an all or nothing approach that discourages independent thinking.  What I’m saying is that no legitimate independent thinking and thoughtful inquiry starts without first acknowledging what we already know to be true, based on scientific evidence. What I’m suggesting is that according to the experts in this field, we are many years of work and mountains of evidence beyond having to balance our training philosophies because the real scientists, knowledge producers and expert practitioners have confirmed ten times over that the new art and science of animal behavior IS the field.” – Emily Douglas, The Unexamined Dog



For more information:

The Truth About Positive Reinforcement written by Dr. Haug, run in Psychology Today

‘Types of Training Methods’ and ‘Red Flags’ in How to Choose a Dog Trainer by 4Paws University

Application of the Humane Hierarchy Position Statement from The Certification Council of Professional Dog Trainers 

Dr. Sophia Yin’s Philosophy

The Science Behind Positive Training from Victoria Stilwell

Least Invasive, Minimally Aversive (LIMA) approach from the Association of Professional Dog Trainers

The Continuum Generator by Jean Donaldson of The Academy for Dog Trainers

Buyer beware!


Buyer beware! What to look for in a professional dog trainer.

If you’re thinking about hiring a dog trainer for any reason, first of all, pat yourself on the back for being a responsible dog owner! However, you should be warned, that the field is unregulated. While it’s illegal to pretend to be a doctor when you’re not, and hair stylists need to be licensed in order to work – anyone can simply claim to be a dog trainer, whether they know what they’re doing or not. Horror stories abound; I’ve heard plenty first-hand accounts from clients who worked with other trainers before me and I’ve personally seen not only misinformation but also physical abuse take place under the guise of training. It’s important to know that not all dog trainers are created equally, there is much more to dog training than opinion and personal experience.


So here’s what to look for:

  • Degree.  Look for formal education; undergrad degrees in psychology or zooology, graduate degrees in those or similar fields, like biology, anthrozoology, animal behavior, or applied behavioral analysis. Not everyone goes to college, and that’s okay, but ideally a professional has some kind of education or proof thereof, maybe a certificate from a reputable trade school or other certification.
  • Certificate. There are some trade schools for dog trainers which offer certificates. The best ones by far are the Academy for Dog Trainers (aka Jean Donaldson’s Academy for Dog Trainers or SF SPCA Academy for Dog Trainers) whose graduates achieve a Certificate in Training & Counseling (CTC) and the Karen Pyror Academy, which might be proudly listed after a trainer’s name with the designation of KPA CTP (Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner). There are other certificate programs and certificates for particular subjects as well.

Certification. This one’s important! A certificate for completing a program and an independently earned certification aren’t actually the same thing. You will see letters behind trainer’s names sometimes, different certifications mean different things. The acronyms listed in BOLD below are titles you want to see!

A good standard for any dog trainer is CPDT-KA or CPDT-KSA (Certified Professional Dog Trainer). Even better would be CTT-A (Canine Training Technician) or PCT-A (Professional Canine Trainer).

If you’re working with behavior, there are more advanced certifications: CBCC-KA (Certified Behavior Consultant Canine) or CDBC (Certified Dog Behavior Consultant), and PCBC-A (Professional Canine Behavior Consultant).

There are also certifications for specific subjects or types of training, such as the OSCT (Operation Socialization Certified Trainer) and CBATI (Certified Behavioral Adjustment Training Instructor). And Victoria Stilwell approves select trainers to represent her values as VSPDT (Victoria Stilwell Positively Dog Training).

Behaviorists have their own designations, too: ACAAB, CAAB, DACVB. Note that a behaviorist is either a veterinarian who also studied behavior (veterinary behaviorist) or someone with an advanced degree (MA or PhD) in animal behavior. If someone calls themselves a “dog behaviorist”, ask which one they are! 😉

  • Membership to professional organizations. Memberships act as a support and networking group to learn from and contribute to. They might also have professional requirements or practical and ethical standards which its members must adhere to. Look for trainers who are members of organizations like the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT), the International Association of Animal Behavioral Consultants (IAABC), the Pet Professionals Guild (PPG).
  • Keywords. Not all good trainers go to school or have certification yet, they may be working on it. So look for at least a mention of it, as well as certain keywords on their website, in their pamphlet or flyer, or when you speak on the phone with them. You want to hear about “positive training”, “reward-based training”, “force-free training” and words like “teach” or “guide”. The trainer should describe how they’re going to help you teach your dog what TO DO by giving or possibly removing rewards, not by doling out harsh punishment. Beware of words like “correction” that are focused on telling the dog what NOT to do and may include using fear or pain, “balanced” methods which seek to reward your dog for good behavior as well as “correct” their bad behavior, or words like “alpha” or “pack leader” that imply you should be the boss and overpower your dog – this myth is out-dated and erroneous.

If you are reading a trainer’s bio on their website, or a dog walker or pet-sitter for that matter, and their sole claim is that they “really love dogs!”, please don’t hire them based on that alone. We all love dogs! The length of time they’ve dabbled in dog training and how much they charge are not necessarily indicators of expertise or quality service, either. Typically you will not be saving money by hiring someone without credentials; short-term it may appear that way, however, their lack of knowledge and/or skill can be not only counter-productive to your training goals but also even dangerous to your dog. Like many professionals, I’m often hired to undo damage done by other trainers, and my clients always express regret at not having known to look for credentials in the first place. By knowing what to look for, you are better able to make the right decision the first time for you and your beloved pet.

The Humane Society of Boulder Valley was hiring a dog trainer recently, this is what they required and you should too!

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Links to the trade schools and professional organizations mentioned above can be found on the ‘Links’ page of main menu, if not linked here. Please note that I’ve intentionally named only the best – if you see credentials from other schools, they may or may not be good ones. If you’d like help screening a potential dog trainer based on their qualifications, please send me a link to their info! I’d be happy to help.

Best wishes in your training endeavors!


For more information:

How to Choose a Dog Trainer according to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers

4PawsUniverstity’s How to Choose a Dog Trainer

How to Find the Best Trainer for Your Dog from the Whole Dog Journal

How to Hire a Dog Trainer according to the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists


Don’t quit your day job.


You’re not a dog trainer, and that’s okay.

I have teeth, but I’m not a dentist. I drive a car every day and I can even change a tire, but I’m not a mechanic. I enjoy cooking, but I never went to culinary school and I’ve never been employed as a chef – even if I have any natural talent, watch a lot of Rachel Ray, or have a whole shelf of cookbooks, I’m really not an expert. And that’s okay.

What I am is a dog trainer. And I meet a lot of people who feel a sense of personal responsibility to train their own dogs. That’s okay if you feel that way. And if you have the time and patience to learn and do the work yourself, by all means! But it’s also okay to acknowledge you’re not an expert – because you have a career, a family, hobbies, a home, other things to focus on and do. Dog training isn’t your job, or maybe isn’t even something you’re very interested in. So you might reach out for advice.

I personally know little to nothing about computers and I don’t care to. So when I walk into Best Buy and I’m overwhelmed by numbers and symbols and Star Trek-esque technology, I might browse for a moment, I might Google something, I might text my brother who studied computer technology. But then I’m going to ask someone who works there to translate things for me; what exactly is a gigabyte and how many do I need in order to blog? (Kidding! Kind of.)

Sometimes we might seek help from our friends, family, or coworkers. Sometimes that’s no big deal, like if you’re trying to get a stain out; there might be a right or wrong way to remove a stain from carpet or clothing, but even if you take your neighbor’s terrible advice, the worst that typically happens is it stays stained. No one gets hurt. No one dies. When you’re dealing with dog training though, it can be that serious. That kind of help should come from professionals.

A good professional dog trainer will make it easier for you. They have all the education and experience, they read all the books so you don’t have to, and they’ve probably attended a seminar or workshop on the very training or behavior issue you’re puzzled by or at wit’s end about. Have you ever been sick and thought, I have no idea what this could be with such strange symptoms… ? And then your doctor only has to take one look at you to know you have the same strain of flu that the last hundred people they saw also have. Dog trainers should know what’s going on scientifically, they should get to know you and your dog, provide you with options for treatment, and make your training goals attainable.

How do you know if you need a dog trainer? Well, do you have a dog? Maybe you’re thinking of adopting a dog but you haven’t had one in a very long time, and want help selecting a dog and starting off on the right foot. Or maybe you’ve already tried everything you could think of, but you’re still dealing with a training or behavioral issue and it’s time you gave a professional a call. That’s okay too! Whether your dog is purebred or rescued, or both, every dog has something to work on, just like no person is perfect – we all have room for improvement. So don’t be afraid to ask for help! Contact a qualified professional – after viewing Buyer Beware! to learn what to look for in dog trainer.

Happy New Year!


It’s a new year. That usually means New Year’s resolutions, self-improvements, goal-setting, living life better in some way. Sadly, a few million dogs are euthanized every year due to behavioral problems, more than the number of dogs who die of medical causes like cancer and diabetes. Let’s try to do better this year.

People surrender their dogs to shelters for a number of reasons, like allergies, job loss, relocation, divorce, etc., sometimes it’s because they are overwhelmed with the dog’s behavior. Turns out, most behavioral problems are actually normal dog behaviors which simply need(ed) to be managed and/or trained. Dogs chew; teach them what to chew on (toys), and it’s not a problem. Dogs bark; teach them when it’s acceptable to bark (when they “speak!” as a cute trick), and it’s not a problem. Dogs go potty; teach them where they’re supposed to do that (in the yard), and it’s not a problem. Unfortunately, with millions of family dogs in the US, only a small percentage of people actually attend basic dog training classes. Many people believe the misinformation on television or take advice from unqualified sources on the internet. Some don’t even realize that training is even an option. For example, have you seen the video of the dog left wearing a GoPro and it turns out he has separation anxiety – so the owner vows never to leave his dog alone ever again (as though that’s realistic)?

That’s where I come in. I’m only one of nearly 2,500 certified professional dog trainers in the United States. By no means do I think that I’m the best, everyone makes mistakes from time to time and my dogs aren’t perfect either, but I’ve been at it for a while now, learning from even better trainers and keeping up to date with all the exciting new research that will help you and your dog live a happy, healthy life together.

D is for dog looks forward to bringing quality educational information to the public. I was inspired to begin a blog while helping in an animal shelter, where kind-hearted, hard-working people are sometimes forced to face the question, “Is this dog safe for the average dog owner?” This dog may have a naturally unsafe temperament, or it may have accidentally been taught to act out due to lack of socialization and/or poor training practices.  While we cannot and maybe should not save them all, I felt it was time that I take a bigger, broader step toward starting dog owners off on the right foot and keeping more dogs in good, long-term homes. By networking and spreading the word about real, positive, and force-free training, hopefully we can all be wonderful dog owners with well-behaved dogs. When we know better, we do better!

What else can you do to help reduce the number of dogs euthanized? Adopt from your local shelter or rescue instead of supporting puppy mills, volunteer or donate to legitimate rescue organizations, spay or neuter your pets, and, of course, learn about scientifically sound and humane training practices. I’m going to help you with that last part – let’s get started! Here’s to a new year and a new venture.

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