We’re Certified Humane

Certified Humane

By Lisa Spector, Canine Music Expert, Juilliard Graduate, and co-creator of Through a Dog’s Ear.

I noticed the top of the Brown Cow yogurt I recently purchased. It read "We're Certified Humane". I continued to read, "Our farmers have always treated their cows with kindness. But, now that we're certified humane, you can be certain the ladies enjoy ample space, shelter, gentle handling, healthy food, clean water, and a safe living environment."

I reflected on those words and wondered if that phrase could also be used with dog trainers. Just imagine, if a trainer uses science based, positive-reinforcement training, everything associated them would say, "I'm certified humane." A further expanded explanation could read, "My dogs and the dogs in my training classes and lessons have always been treated with kindness. But, now that we're certified humane, you can be certain that they are treated gently, are encouraged to make good choices and are rewarded well for those choices, are not seen as something to dominate,  are taught very patiently, while their people are supported in building bonding relationships with their dogs."

Of course, if you are a Victoria Stilwell licensed trainer (VSPDT), you will likely have the Positively sign to the right (or something similar) on your website, so it will be obvious. Otherwise, it's not always so clear. I try and be very selective in who I follow on Twitter, and often can't tell what training methods a professional trainer uses by looking at their website. Trainers who use dominate based training methods often use deceptive words that could misguide potential clients. And dog lovers in search of a trainer may not know what science based/ reward based/positive reinforcement training really is all about. And the initials KPA, CPDT-KA, KPA-CTP, CDBC, CDAC might as well be in Greek to some of them.

What do you think? What words could be used to make it clear what kind of training method a trainer uses? Should a trainer that uses dominate based training methods be required to say so? And should there be a certification that would allow trainers to post a sign that says "We're Certified Humane", if they use positive reinforcement training? If you are a trainer, I'd love to hear what words you use to describe your training methods. Thanks for sharing your comments below.

As co-founder of Through a Dog’s Ear, I am offering my readers a free download from our latest release, Music to Calm your Canine Companion, Vol. 3. Simply click here and enter your email address and a link to the free download will be delivered to your inbox for you and your canine household to enjoy.

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Positively Expert: Lisa Spector

Lisa Spector is a concert pianist, Juilliard graduate, and canine music expert. By combining her passion for music with her love of dogs, she co-created Through a Dog's Ear, the first music clinically demonstrated to relieve anxiety issues in dogs.


17 thoughts on “We’re Certified Humane

  1. Leslie Fisher

    Lisa, great food for thought here. Some of the red flag words that turn me off, (in fact I just did not follow a person on twitter after reading a blog based on them) are alpha and pack leader. Anyone using this terminology is most likely to asciribe as well to the tired old domiance theories. IN fact Bridget my lab just posted on twitter that her Mom was not an alpha pack leader but a human Mom practicing benevolent leadership based upon her understanding of dog behavior.
    I think force free are very good words. You really cannot get around that can you? There is a great dog training group on FB call just that Force Free Dog Trainers, to which I belong. I agree it is SO confusing for dog owners receiving conflicting advice. And even worse for the dogs. Great post.

  2. D

    Personally, the "positive" trainer doesn't need anything more than the word "positive" on their certification. If people really care that their dog is trained in a humane manner, then they should be concerned about how trainers present themselves. I don't know what all those other initials mean, but if someone says to me that they're a VSPDT (or Victoria Stilwell Positively Dog Training) Endorsed Trainer, I will know right away that they train in a positive manner. It's pretty self explanatory really.

    The word positive should be used, period.

  3. Adrienne Farricelli

    Gentle, kind, positive, reward-based training are words that can describe trainers using humane manners. I do not think it would be wise for a trainer using outdated dominate-based methods to claim so. It sounds like more and more people are aware of the ''positive trend'' and hopefully they would steer away from trainers with no positive words describing their training methods.. I would. If there would be no positive sounding words described on a business card or website, I may call to ask but I would be sort of biased by the lack of ''kind wording''. People using positive reward based methods should be proud of it and display it everywhere, business cards, websites, fliers, etc.

  4. Lisa Spector Post author

    Leslie - Glad you liked the post. Love the words "force free".
    D - I agree. If one is a VSPDT, it's very clear that their training methods are humane, science-based, reward based and positive. But, I still find some force based trainers that sneak in the word positive in deceiving ways.
    Adrienne - Yes, I too am very hopeful that more and more people are aware of the positive trend. It's great to have sites like Positively.com to help spread the word.

  5. erika dugas

    Hi Guys! I am a CPDT-KA positive trainer in Rhode Island. And I absolutely love showing people how this all works. There is nothing that fills my heart more than the first time an owner actually witnesses their dog thinking. I also work at the RISPCA so I can also tell you this. When we get calls from owners looking for help, some of them couldn't care less if you strung the entire alphabet behind your name. This is especially true with aggression cases. People feel desperate and helpless. Unfortunately, and I mean very unfortunately, there are "trainers" out and about who will tell them, "I can fix your dog." and off they go, usually to make the problem much more severe. Then the owners seek out different help because they are mortified about what happened to their pet. By the time we are called, this scenario has usually exploded into a bell you can not un-ring.

    There is still so much education to be done. We are off to a good start. People like Victoria and all of us who choose a science over force are making some head way. My training partner and I are doing what we can over here in our little corner. Little by little, we are making a difference. I can not wait until all of these force trainers are called out and shut down.

    Thanks for the post. I share this blog on my Facebook page regularly. Excellent work!


  6. Nick Hof, CPDT-KA

    I personally don't like to use the term 'positive' to describe my training methods because I am a fan of the scientific terms and to me, when I say (or hear) positive, it means to add, whether that be reinforcement or punishment. And although I do like the phrase 'force free', I very often see that phrase used by trainers utilizing a shock/remote/e-collar.

    I am certainly wary when I see the terms 'alpha' or 'pack leader' but I don't automatically dismiss a trainer using those terms in their literature. What I have seen a few +R based trainers do is use those terms to help catch the eye of potential clients. Many of the clients I speak to have watched The Dog Whisperer and believe those are the terms to look for. So by using them to get people to call in for more information, you have an opportunity to help enlighten them on the subject of dog behavior. I, personally, don't use either term but I do use the term leader and see why other +R based trainers may.

    I tell clients that my methods are positive reinforcement based (and elaborate on that), and are scientifically proven to work. That I can achieve the results they are looking for, as long as they are realistic, with as little use of fear, pain, or intimidation and that it is my goal to use none. I also like to show my clients the humane hierarchy from the CCPDT.org which I follow whenever I work with animals.

    I like the term Certified Humane but no matter what clever or appealing phrase we use, it is open to interpretation which means others who want may deceptively describe their techniques to fit into that phrase. This is again why I love the scientific terms; you cannot mislead if the client is informed. And that is where we need to be putting our efforts; educate the general public so that they can be informed as to what is being described to them through all the bs.

    Nick Hof, CPDT-KA

  7. Emm

    Generally, if a trainer's website doesn't make a big deal about being largely positive reinforcement (with negative punishment, though since people don't really know what that means, "non-aversive" and "force-free" work pretty well), I don't even bother with them. It's a shame - there aren't many dog sport trainers in my area (or heck, even my state!). I may have to teach my dog some K9 Nose Work on my own.

  8. Ingrid Bock

    We have a trainer in our area whose business name has the word positive right in it, yet she trains using remote shock collars. One of my acquaintances began going there before I knew him, especially because of the word positive. My attempts to explain to him that that was a very clever, sneaky word choice on her part went in one ear and out the other. He, in common, I think, with most of the dog-owning population, just doesn't know enough to understand.
    I've written about this exact issue recently. I believe that if the positive reinforcement/negative punishment trainers don't decide on some catchy name for what they're doing, people like Cesar Millan will get all the business. I'm frustrated by the lack of calm assertive behavior exhibited by the pr/np trainers I know. In our city, they meet in secret and seem to try to hide behind one another. Or else they think of each other as competition, instead of realizing that there's power in a group. What good will that do for the public, who has a sketchy knowledge of dog training in the first place? All the different messages from the different trainers are probably confusing. We need to get a simple message out there.
    Last week I asked on Facebook, do you like the name, DSL (Dog As A Second Language) training, or PR/NP (Positive Reinforcement/Negative Punishment) training to describe the kind of training Victoria does? I myself like the second, because it gives one a chance to explain what negative punishment is (which I've found is the toughest part for people to understand and implement). I think my first idea is too cutesy (although some readers voted for that one), and the second is too complicated, though, so I asked for suggestions. So far, I'm not even sure if most of the people reading understand what I was driving at...

  9. Linda Michaels, MA Psych

    Thank you so much Lisa for posting "We're Certified Humane". It's unfortunate that positive methods, +R, green, non-aversive, humane, even clicker and force-free are all terms I've seen co-opted by aversive trainers. I'd love to get Certified Humane! I'm now using the term "100% Non-aversive". I understand that that's not entirely scientific, and neither is Positive Reinforcement, but when I'm speaking to the public I don't want to confuse people with the Skinnerian psychological jargon of the four-quadrants, etc. Thus the conundrum and paradox that puzzles well-wishing pet parents. I wish we could develop and Trademark--- a Certified Humane logo. That's what VS does for me. I've organized a Positive Pet Professionals Meetup that has stringent requirements for membership...no compromising. I've decided not to get any more dog training credentials, for the time being, because my MA in Psychology together with my Victoria Stilwell Dog Trainer license say it best for me. I don't get mixe -in with aversive trainers although I hold other credentials. That's just my approach for the time being. I'm open to new ideas and I'm all for some type of regulation, but let's have it Certified Humane at long last! I have the Journal of Veterinary Behavior article link on my website Homepage: "How to find a good trainer." It expressly warns against the use of shock, prong, choke, citronella, shaking cans of coins, etc., as well as specifically lists the "good trainer" tools. This is a problem to be sure: How do we differentiate ourselves? Victoria Stilwell Dog Trainers, if I may say so myself, are Positively positive trainers and I could not be more proud to be a part of the team. The pups deserve no less. Linda Michaels, MA Dog Psychologist and Victoria Stilwell Dog Trainer, CPDT-KA, IAABC Member, AKC CGC Evaluator and writer.

  10. Nick Hof, CPDT-KA

    Linda, thanks for mentioning that article! I had not seen it before but have downloaded it and look forward to reading it. I will most likely be linking it on my website as well.


    Nick Hof, CPDT-KA

  11. Lisa Spector Post author

    Erika - Glad you liked my post. Thanks for sharing it on Facebook. Keep up your great Positively work!
    Nick - Agreed about educating the general public. I had someone comment on a blog I wrote after I attended Clicker Expo and said that they too only use positive training and then in the next sentence said, "Just do what The Dog Whisperer does and you can't go wrong."
    Ingrid - I actually really like "DSL - Dog as a second language." Funny, I've recently started to add Dog as an answer to the question "What languages do you speak?"
    Linda - Congrats on your Victoria Stilwell Dog Trainer license! Just downloaded the article on your website. Thank you for posting that!

  12. Marilyn Wolf

    I think all of those designations have a Code of Ethics or operational parameters that owners could research to know how the trainer should be performing. You can always reference one or all of the ones that pertain to you.

    I go through websites & blogs & such to try to find out how people train. The jerk & punish trainers are getting increasingly clever about the wording on their sites.

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