Consider the Source
Before I started my career as a dog trainer, I studied broadcast journalism in college. (Which just goes to show, you never know where you'll end up!) During my time there, I remember one of my journalism professors constantly repeating the phrase "consider the source." Eager students would approach him with what they believed to be an exciting story idea, ready to head out to tape a segment on the story after getting his approval. He would ask them questions about where they had received their information, and in many cases would answer them with, "consider the source." That phrase has stuck with me throughout the years, and recently I've found it to be quite relevant to my work as a trainer.
You see, we don't turn to random strangers on the internet for legal or medical advice. In fact, that's illegal in many places. We don't trust comments on random message boards or comment threads to build a news story. And yet more and more often, I see questions about dog training and behavior problems put out into the digital masses. Just as it would be dangerous for you to take legal or medical advice from a complete, potentially unqualified, stranger, it's also incredibly dangerous for you to take training advice from well-meaning Internet strangers. I beg you - consider the source.
I must add that there are many fabulous dog training groups and pages out there that are filled with qualified dog training professionals happy to answer questions from pet parents in need of advice, and can often find you a referral for a great trainer in your area. I've listed some of them at the bottom of this article.
The problem with entrusting your training issue into the hands of unqualified people is not just the risk of not receiving ineffective advice, but of receiving damaging, potentially dangerous advice. There are so many old wives' tales, myths, and misconceptions about the safest and most effective ways to train dogs; it can be difficult to sort through what advice is safe and appropriate, and what could make the problem worse, or even result in someone being bitten.
Online, you'll find a lot of anecdotal evidence - "well, this worked with my dog" - which doesn't take into account the unique variables that exist in each and every case. A good trainer will be able to do a functional assessment of your dog's behavioral issues, determining the exact issues you're experiencing, their causes, and creating a treatment plan.
Traditionally, dog training has been thought of as "just having a way with dogs." The industry is still entirely unregulated. But dog training is a science. It's no different than training a dolphin, or a chicken, or a giraffe. The principles at the core of training and behavior are the same across species. Whether online or in person, put your trust in a trainer that has studied the science, and has experience putting that science into practice.
So where should you start when looking for help with your dog?
- Check out Canine Correspondence, Dog Sense , Dog Decoder, and That Dog Geek as a starting point for online resources.
- Find a trainer in your area through VSPDT, PPG, CCPDT, or IAABC.
- Many trainers offer Skype or phone consultations, which are a great option if there's no qualified trainer in your area
- Shoot me a message on my Facebook page - I'm happy to steer you in the right direction!
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