The "Dog Park Dog Trainer"

We dog trainers have what we call a negative conditioned emotional response to a few things in the dog world. The terms "alpha", "pack leader", "stubborn" and (human) behaviours like alpha rolling, or the use of positive punishment (leash corrections, shock collars, physical reprimands). 

A common one comes to mind this week after three separate clients came to me and stated "this week I tried [XYZ] because there was a dog trainer in the dog park and (s)he said that it's very effective." 

It's hard to bite my tongue in those moments because [XYZ] is generally well-meaning but poor or dangerous advice from someone who may be a hobby dog trainer, but has little to no education in the field. More often than not I have to undo the damage there and explain why pinning the dog on the ground after he barked at the dog who was relentlessly humping him [or insert some other normal dog behaviour here] is not only ineffective but dangerous and considered inhumane.

It takes me back to a private training session I was doing with a new client years ago. We we're out walking along a trail that passed by a small fenced in dog park. As we passed, a man caught my eye - he was standing in the far corner of the park with his back to us and his dog in front of him. It almost looked as though he was urinating. I thought to myself "well, that's odd!" and kept moving. Lo and behold, as we continued on I glanced over again, he was. He was urinating on his dog. I kid you not. 

I had to know. This was something I could not pass and turn a blind eye. I approached the fence as his dog went back to play, shaking off repeatedly with a lowered head. I caught the man's eye and smiled - "do you mind if I ask you a question?" He shrugged, probably waiting for the wrath he expected. "Why?" I asked. I had no idea what else to say because everything sounded stupid. "He pees on people's legs in the park and this teaches him that he is not top dog - I am." I'm sure you can imagine my face - the frozen smile and wide eyes. "Does it work?" I asked. "My trainer said that it should work with some consistency." He said and turned back to monitor his dog. He seemed split between embarrassment and indignation. I couldn't help. I think my response was "Okay........" which trailed off and I turned and walked away. There is no response for such a thing. 

I dream of the day where dog trainers are regulated and there is no such thing as a hobby dog trainer. Just like there is no such thing as a hobby lawyer or hobby doctor or hobby nurse. We (professional, educated, often certified) dog trainers work so hard to learn about psychology, animal behaviour, learning theory, husbandry, ethology. We charge fairly for our time and expertise. We put our hearts and soul into our career, and we spend countless hours on continuing education to ensure we are giving our clients the most current and accurate information possible to set them up for success. When we are undermined this way, it is not only professionally infuriating but it is devastating for the client who is receiving advice from all angles and even more confused than when they started. It is devastating for the dog who is on the receiving end of this continuous "trial and error" method of behaviour change. 

The next time a "dog park trainer" gives you free advice, thank them for their time and move on. Just as you would not take medical advice from a random person in a supermarket, simply walk away. They may be correct and educated and well-meaning, but it's Russian roulette, since those of us who are true experts in the field don't often work out of a supermarket aisle or preying on desperate and frustrated people in dog parks. Take it with a grain of salt and question it before acting. Let's start thinking critically about what we're being asked to do in order to change our dogs' behaviour.

Hire a professional and know what to look for. Check out these articles to learn more about the process for choosing a reputable trainer: