Monthly Archives: July 2014

Animal training is not a Queen song and your pet is not a robot

Just what the heck does that mean?! Okay, bear with me.

If you’re anything like the average human being, which most of us are, you probably hear yourself thinking, “I want it all and I want it now”. Kind of like Queen’s 1989 hit, I Want It All.

Freddie Mercury is onto something here. You want something, so why not have it all and why not have it now?

And that’s certainly possible with animal training! I mean, IF you’re training one of those robot puppies. Zoomer Interactive Dog, just $89.99 at your local Toys R’ Us! I think robot parrots, cats, and some other species are available too, but don’t quote me on that.


But… Chances are we’re not training a robot here. Chances are we’re training a living, breathing, thinking, feeling, sentient creature. Rather like yourself! We don’t just insert a chip, press a button on a remote, tighten this wire, loosen that wire, or otherwise program organic creatures. You see, real creatures learn, adapt and change according to what life throws at them. Temperament (your dog’s personality) plays a role too. As does our own behavior, since we control so many aspects of our animal’s lives.

Thus, how can anyone make a guarantee regarding the way a creature will behave, or promise you results overnight? How is such a thing possible? Common sense tells us it’s really not. At least where our pets and ourselves are concerned. While the occasional, “Ah-ha!” moment does occur, and results can be long lived and rather fast, it’s certainly not something that can be predicted. It’s much more likely that behavior change, whether reducing fear, aggression, or even better compliance for obedience cues, will take a while and some work to achieve and stick around. It takes science too, behavioral science. The approach needs to address the underlying issue. It needs to effect a change of emotional response where behavioral issues are concerned, and it needs to address the learning deficit where obedience isn’t being complied with.


If you want guarantees and instant results, I can promise you this: I can guarantee that I can make it so that your pet doesn’t feel safe to communicate the way that they feel. But I can’t wave a magic wand and permanently alter the way that they feel. See conditioned emotional response. I can also (near) instantly make shutting down to be the safest choice for your animal so that they don’t chance unnecessary behavior that carries with it the chance of unpleasant repercussions. This phenomena is called response depression. And you may end up with a robotic-like creature. Which is great… If that’s what you want for your pet… But is that what you really want?

To most of us, it’s not what we want for our pets. To most of us, our dog, cat, parrot, or other pet is a member of the family, our buddies, our pals, and even our work partners. Even though behavior change may not be like programming a robot, it’s well worth the wait and the work. Not only for your own peace of mind, but for your pet’s too.

As the Association of Pet Dog Trainer’s Association says,

We believe it is unethical to make guarantees about behavior results. In fact, as members of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT), we pledged to refrain from giving guarantees regarding the outcome of training. Instead of guaranteeing specific behavior results, we promise to work with you and your dog to achieve a better relationship.

We are committed to excellence, and that you can count on.
It is unethical for trainers to guarantee changed behavior results. This is due to the variables in dog breeding and temperament, owner commitment and experience, the dog’s future life experiences, etc. You know this to be true when you consider that human behavior cannot be guaranteed, let alone a dog’s behavior. Dogs are independent beings that we cannot sit down with and verbally convince them to comply with our instructions. It doesn’t matter if that session is one hour or 10 hours long. One session is not going to change behavior patterns in either the dog or you. You must understand that when it concerns behavior, it’s up to you to change and learn so that your dog can change and learn. No trainer anywhere can guarantee you and the dog.

Your dog’s success is dependent on YOU doing your homework if you are getting private lessons or coming to group class. If at the end of each week the dog is not showing that he can do that week’s homework, you will repeat that week. The dog cannot progress to the next set of exercises without some proficiency in the ones you were supposed to be teaching him.

So, how and why are animal trainers promising you guarantees and instant results? Because they can! This industry is unregulated. You need to be your pet’s advocate. You’re his/her only protection.

Need some helping choosing an animal trainer? World renowned animal behavior professional Jean Donaldson offers the following suggestions.

The animal training industry is completely unregulated and anyone can call themselves an animal behavior professional in spite of having no formal education or qualifications. So what can consumers do to protect themselves?
1. Ask for formal education and credentials.
2. Ask for continuing education involvement.
3. Ask for scientific evidence supporting any claims about behavior.
4. Ask what actual physical events will be used to motivate your animal (keep asking if you receive obfuscating answers such as “energy,” “leadership,” “status” or “dominance”). For example, ask, “What exactly will happen to my dog if he gets it right? And what exactly will happen to my dog if he gets it wrong?”
5. Ask what side effects each procedure has. Fear is a particularly concerning side effect as it is difficult to undo.
6. If you feel at all uncomfortable, don’t be bullied: get another opinion.
You are entitled to full information before consenting to any training or behavior modification procedure.
Animal Learning Solutions.