Everyone is an Expert These Days!

Photo by Emma Judson| www.foulmouthedfido.com

Photo by Emma Judson| www.foulmouthedfido.com

With the availability of the internet, everyone suddenly becomes an expert in something. The staggering amount of information available, both good and bad, makes for a veritable feast for anyone looking to learn on just about any subject. Education is typically a good thing. However, anyone with the ability to create a website can deem themselves an expert. The newly minted “expert” soon acquires followers and a dynasty of bad advice is born. This is never more frightening to those of us who advocate for dogs, than when the subject is dog behavior and training.

Television has brought this subject to the forefront with the popularity of certain TV personalities who are imminently charming but woefully uneducated about dog behavior and showcase outdated punishment-based techniques. We have reached a point where anyone who watches an episode or two feels qualified to call themselves a trainer.

There is no quicker way to cause an internet fight than to ask a dog behavior question on a board comprised of regular dog parents. The responses will range from the absurd to the dangerous. Thrown into that mix will be a morsel or two of good advice. Most responses will be preceded by “this is what I did” and many will include the words “dominate” or “pack”. Periodically, you will get a behavior professional that has the patience and the low blood pressure required to try to carve through the chaos. Most of us simply don’t have the stomach for it so we sigh and move on, with massive guilt momentarily felt but sanity saved.

There are few professions that lend themselves to this sort of advice being thrown around so casually. After all, I have never seen anyone ask on a board devoted to home remodeling, how to rewire one’s house from scratch. Sure, there are amateurs who are not working in the field who have the knowledge required to do such a job. But there are some perimeters that are expected to be followed in most other fields so that quality and safety are assured. And of course, licensure and tests required to show the public your expertise.


Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the field of dog behavior. Opinions are thrown around like rain drops in April. Arguments ensue at the drop of a hat about tools and methods that are best left to rot in some landfill or recycled into something more useful. Advances in the field are readily dismissed by some as not appropriate for their breed or ridiculed as too permissive. This divide and misunderstandings are epic.
Experts in the field all agree that rewards-based training is how dogs learn. Yet the dominance myth just won’t go away quietly. The word alpha still gets used when this subject is discussed almost as often as the word pizza is mentioned at dinner-times across the world. Pack myths are abundant, even as actual packs aren’t. Some days, it feels like we are fighting a losing battle. When my pool man tells me how a dog should be trained, it makes me feel battle worn. Strangers on the street think they can tell people how to “make” their dog behave. It’s enough to make you want to run to your bed and draw the covers.
But we behavior professionals rise up to challenge another day. Education is the key to success. Regulation in this field is crucial if professionals expect to have their words carry more weight than any Tom, Dick or Harry who offers to “show you how to dominate your dog”. Perimeters for what is acceptable must be drawn up. Abuse in the name of training can not be considered widely acceptable anymore. Getting “certified” to be a dog trainer by some fly by night six week course cannot be considered the standard. Gaining experience working with qualified professionals before money changes hands is vital to a professional image. Continuing education is vital as is membership in a quality organization that values science based methods.

Even other dog professionals like dog walkers and pet sitters now routinely offer “training” services as if the mere ability to walk a stranger’s dog enables them to modify the behavior of such. Sadly, the public has no way to know immediately whether that person they allow to “train” their dog is qualified. There is no one licensure or certification.

Providing guidelines to the public about how to properly choose a professional in this field should be part of every adoption package for a rescue and shelter. Rewards based training information should be automatically provided as a default. Breeders, rescue groups, and shelters all have an obligation to update their information in order to provide the best outcome for any pairing they make.

The public needs to expect credentials that are meaningful in the people they choose to mold their dog’s minds. It cannot be good enough any longer to simply have grown up with dogs, therefore proclaiming one’s expertise. Raising the standards is every dog lover’s responsibility. Every dog behavior-savvy educated person should make it their goal to responsibly and without judgment, educate one open mind at any available moment. Teach by example and you will be better heard. Trainers need to supply proper credentials to their clients and clients should demand quality from their trainers. Only then will we make this a better world for the dogs.

These links below can help you to better understand what to look for in a trainer:







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Positively Expert: Debby McMullen

Debby is a certified behavior consultant and the author of the How Many Dogs? Using Positive Reinforcement Training to Manage a Multiple Dog Household. She also owns Pawsitive Reactions, LLC in Pittsburgh, PA.


9 thoughts on “Everyone is an Expert These Days!

  1. Anne Springer

    I'm surprised, since the illustration accompanying your article suggests that you don't approve of shock collars in training, yet an APDT article is listed re how to find a trainer. In my area, several shock collar trainers are members of APDT, and the public has no way to tell that when their listing comes up, nor are these collars mentioned on the company's web site.
    I think this is becoming a consumer protection issue and the best way for consumers to protect themselves is to ask very pointed questions of anyone who is being considered to train, walk, groom, or otherwise care for a dog, and to insist upon transparency regarding both equipment and techniques. Just today, a post has been circulating on Facebook about a dog owner whose dog was subjected to shock without the owner's consent. Asking questions in advance, and perhaps even creating a written agreement, might have prevented that.
    My blog post "Finding the Right Dog Trainer - Harder than You Think" has some sample questions based on suggestions made by Jean Donaldson, author of "The Culture Clash" and special council expert to PPG if anyone needs a starting point, but I agree that for trainers, it isn't enough to train one dog and take a six week course - such things as significant career training, degree in behavioral science, ABA courses, apprenticeships or mentoring, and continuing education are critical..

  2. Christine Kiefer

    Said article states: "Because APDT is primarily an educational organization for trainers, we allow trainers with all methodologies to join with the goal of exposing them to humane, science-based training methods. However, this does not mean that all trainers in our directory subscribe to this philosophy, and it is your job as a consumer to use the tools we provide in this section to find the right trainer for you and your companion." I really like that they are open about their policy and try to educate trainers to cross over to science based modern training techniques.
    In Ireland APDT has a different philosophy. Everyone can become a student member but in order to become a full member people have to go through a written, practical and verbal exam to prove they have the knowledge and skills of a modern science based trainer.

  3. Debby

    The APDT needs to remain an open organization in order to educate trainers with more modern methods. If I had not been permitted to join when I did, as an old school trainer, I would never have had the opportunity to grow into what I am today. I don't believe in throwing the baby out with the bathwater. The article in question on the APDT site lists good information for those seeking a qualified positive trainer. There is nothing in the article that would lead anyone to a force based trainer or I would not have used it.

  4. Buzz Cecil

    Questions are nice. They can be a help. But honesty begins where the rubber hits the road. And often ends there. Asking pre-configured questions might be a start, if the answers weren't also preconfigured, as in an "action" started a couple of months ago. What is telling is what one sees of the real-deal. Does this go along with what you as the potential client wishes for your dog.
    Also, something that needs to get out there is, that an owner and/or the dog (yes, you read correctly) must have a veto-right to anything a trainer proposes. Unfortunately Milgram still prevails, because of those experts. Today Milgram presents himself often in the guise of alphabet soup-like initials after the trainer's name. These also offer no protection for the potential client. There are going to be those who slip in under the wire and if not directly confronted by the offended party with the quality control agents of the org, if there is one, nothing will be done. There was a film also going around the internet of a trainer shocking and kicking a dog. Such evidence itself would not be enough to clean the ranks, if the owner of that dog had not submitted it. That cannot be the standard by which we as trainers protect and inform clients as to how to find the qualified and step around the types of training we don't want for our dogs.
    The industry needs a shake up and despite the cries of each organisation that only IT is the one to do it, none is yet in sight, in my humble opinion.
    Germany has come closest with it's paragraph 11, which theoretically requires each person who wants to train for money to pass a test. It's a good start, but flawed in the detail, that there is no preparation available, and no standardisation of the test requirements ... yet. But that first step is there. Maybe for a change, Other countries can take something that is a basically good idea and improve upon it. And get the training organisations with their economical interests out of the picture and let them get on with what they are best at - preaching to their choirs and recruiting from the others.

  5. sueb30

    I had some remodeling work done on my house, so I kept my dogs behind a baby gate to allow workers to go in and out. My 3 Belgians kept barking excessively when a certain sub contractor came in the door. I caught him yelling NO! to the dogs. He explained that he had to show his dominance to them. I told him, even if he believes in that nonsense, he was not going to be "alpha". He was in THEIR house and he was only antagonizing them. If they got over that gate they were going to show him who was "alpha" around here. 😉

  6. Gerry Glauser

    You commented that there's no quicker way to cause a fight then to ask a dog behavior question of several dog owners. I'll suggest there is one faster way, and that's with two dog trainers. The very new ones may think and listen, and the very capable ones will discuss, but the large group in the middle tend to fixate on their own specific approach and opinions. Part of this may be due to the openness of the APDT, which does have good reason, but also means you can never know what to expect with an APDT dog trainer. On that, I'll agree with Buzz Cecil's remarks here. In some cases I suggest people check with local rescues on trainers, as they've often had far more opportunity to both observe the trainer with many dogs, and also compare them to others.

  7. James B.

    Just what we need... more government regulation. NO! While the welfare of dogs is of supreme importance, government is NEVER the answer. Government only makes things worse, because they care for nothing but their own aggrandizement. The answer lies in private accrediting agencies.

  8. Debby

    Every single field of service requires regulation. Even hairdressers are regulated. We change dog's behavior. That is the equivalent of a human therapist or anyone in the mental health field. Absolutely such a career should require regulation. You expect your doctor to have qualifications. You expect your plumber to have qualifications. You expect your dentist to have qualifications. You expect your hairdresser to have qualifications. All of these fields are licensed. Dog behavior is no different. Regulation is a requirement for quality. There is no way around that.

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