Becoming a dog trainer made easy…or NOT!

I am not sure why I thought so but when I finally decided to follow my childhood dream to qualify as a dog trainer, I just assumed I would find a super training course that I could study online, do some offline workshops and case studies and spend a few years immersed in learning something that I forgot how much I loved.

If I am absolutely honest, I fully decided to do it purely for myself and not even planned a career in dog training afterwards but I did think it would potentially work well with my equine coaching career. It would teach me many new things and maybe one day I would add Canine to my Equestrian Academy…

My idea was to find a foundation style, well recognised course that focused on modern yet well researched training techniques, used principles of positive reinforcement in dog sports and logical approach to obedience training. I hoped that after completing such course I could maybe start paving my own path and specialise in high energy dogs.

For the last eight months I’d been reading many different books, watched videos, joined training forums, booked myself into different dog training classes – all to figure out what training methods sat well with me. I short listed a few online courses and set on researching the trainers who graduated from those courses. It’s amazing what one can find on You Tube nowadays without any expense of travelling anywhere!

So here we are dear readers – at a point of a major headache because I am nowhere near finding the course I truly would love to attend. What’s worse, the courses I thought sounded good, turned out to produce trainers teaching in a way I would not want to teach nor do I believe in the ways they seem to be teaching.

Positive Dog Training – or is it…

Thanks to my education and line of work I am fairly familiar with principles of different training methods. Similarly to dog world, the horse world’s buzz word is “positive training” and I use that word a lot too because of the connotations it has and because it encapsulates in a nutshell an approach I personally favour in animal sport training.

However, I quickly realised after watching hundreds hours of footage online and reading books on both so called “balanced” training and “positive” training, that the meaning of both is desperately blurred. I realised that what I played with in the 80s and 90s was a very different “balanced” training to what I was watching. Yes the prong and choke collars were everywhere (I used it for my own GSDs and my Boxer cross and I don’t know whether the design was different but I never seen one actually digging into the dog’s flesh or drawing blood as some trainers who are against them describe them. I wouldn’t use one now, but just saying), we pressed the dog’s bums to teach the sit and gently pulled on front paws to teach the down etc but nothing prepared me for watching some of Dr Ian Dunbar’s (the head of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers) training videos where dogs were grabbed with full force, yanked and shouted at (screamed at really) and were children as young as 3-4 years old were taught to copy that training…I listened to over 60 hours of Dr Dunbar’s seminars for dog trainers too and some concepts and advice given found me in a mild state of shock. Now, I am not saying that ALL the trainers who graduate from APDT’s courses are training in a way I saw on those videos but what I am saying is that for someone like me who is trying to understand what’s on the market canine education wise it’s incredibly hard to find a solid foundation course where one can be happy to support what comes out of it!

Anyway, I thought surely “positive reinforcement” trainers will get me excited about their education options…I found two online Academies that sounded fantastic. I loved the curriculums and the initial materials available so again I went the video research route because I figured that if I read a biased opinions it won’t be much of an opportunity to form my own.

I must say I was not elated watching so called “purely positive obedience training classes”. Many a time the methods worked ok with non-problematic dogs but not so well with those who showed issues. I was especially shocked by footage from Victoria Stilwell training sessions and her TV programme as I really loved the theory behind her approach. The practice seemed a polar opposite but I am not yet sure if to discount her programme completely as the course content seems really good!

Overall the mainstream R+ only training in dogs reminded me of a very fashionable now “purely positive horse training” which is disastrous in many aspects. I feel it’s a huge manipulation of the name “positive” too which in training terms has very little to do with “enjoyable”, it simply means “adding something to gain desired behaviour/response”. I feel many training providers and course leaders use the word “Positive” when describing their services to lure owners who simply love their pets and want training without “punishment”. However, once inside those courses and classes, it’s clear that many dogs (and horses) are confused, show repetitive problems despite “training” and constant use of food almost without other forms of praise puts me off too (especially in horses as can become a highly dangerous practice).

I do think the idea of treats is a good one and I do use treats with Jazzy but I watched so many unedited videos of owners being unable to phase out food which makes me question the methods I watched.

The Quest in on!

As it is I am still looking for a course that:

  1. Doesn’t dismiss evolution. I know dogs are not wolves and don’t have identical hierarchy. I know there is more to Alpha theory than Cesear Milan and the likes led us believe. But I also grew up in the 80s and watched many homeless dogs making a living around people. As a kid I used to befriend these dogs and taught them to pull a sledge because my friend and I were fascinated with books about American gold fever, Alaskan Malamutes, Huskies and dog sledging. I can read as much as I can that “dogs have no hierarchy or that all dominance theories are bs” but I saw with my own eyes that it was not as simple as that…Dogs I knew definitely shown various behaviours that could be called dominant or socially organisational. Some would pull amazingly as front dogs but if put by the sledge would immediately attack the front dog. I would love to understand these and other behaviours more and not be dismissed by being told they don’t exist or that this dog “is an aggressive one”. Equally, I don’t intend to become a behaviourist so I am not looking for a few years of in depth behaviour studies…
  2. Approaches any non-basic training with various intelligent training methods like ‘Shaping’. I am currently reading a few books on Agility training and Gundogs training with Clicker Training and I am loving it. I know for definite that this is the route I would love to take if I ever ran any educational classes myself because dogs truly love it and I am yet to watch any footage of such training that I didn’t enjoy. By non-basic training I mean any dog sports training including Gundogs and Pet Gundogs, enrichment kind of training, tricks, fun games etc
  3. Approaches basic training like recall, social skills, basic obedience, “dominant/aggressive” behaviours etc in a “disciplined way”. By Disciplined Way I mean the kind of way that is consequent, clear and logical to the dog, that doesn’t just “ignore all unwanted behaviours” like advised in some “positive only” methods I came across so far. However, I don’t want to be told to smack, yank, shock or shout at the dog as a means of telling them what’s not desirable in a society which seems to be what so called “balanced training” is about. Some videos of trainers showing “balanced approach” classes made me feel physically sick.

I am probably at the stage where I find more “extreme” versions of everything and I am hoping I will come across the right choice soon. Am I after an impossible?? Surely not! If you know of good online dog trainer courses with elements of behaviour studies please let me know (I would of course travel to any offline assessments if needed).

Do you find this canine training subject as confusing as I do??

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