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of certain TV personalities who are imminently charming but woefully uneducated about dog behavior and showcase outdated punishment-based techniques.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.


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