Twenty Questions: Trainers and Behaviorists

As a dog trainer who travels the country training dogs and working with 20-30 families a week in their homes it is so important for folks to understand how a dog thinks. And when there is no authority figure present, the kind of chaos and bad behavior that can happen. Remember the bad behavior of your dog is not the problem it is just the outcome of a breakdown of leadership in your home. My friend, Click & Treat Training Founder, and Dog Trainer Gary Wilkes puts out such a great blog that I wanted to feature this post. Gary is also an internationally acclaimed behaviorist, author, columnist and lecturer. His message is powerful and important for all.

Twenty Questions: Trainers and Behaviorists

By Gary Wilkes

Modern dog training and behavior is a generally unregulated field. I think that is a good thing. Regulation rarely brings excellence because it stifles advances in the profession. Additionally, we humans have trained dogs for more than 15,000 years. The angst and argumentation over methods of the last 35 years is largely a created thing. The revelation of “modern dog training and behavior” can be explained by a simple Latin question – cui bono? (Who benefits) In most cases, the client/dog owner isn’t the beneficiary. This “argument” is merely an attempt to dominate the market by vilifying trainers who don’t use “modern” or “scientific” methods. Meaning it is not a substantive argument. It damns what has come before and attempts to replace it with rhetoric that is meant to persuade with little consideration for ethical or practical standards. The beneficiaries are those who wish to elevate their status and income without establishing their bona fides. As dog owners are my clients I provide this set of questions both for them and for trainers who wish to have a broader knowledge of the underlying ethics of our profession. While I have my own answers to these questions, they are offered without prejudice. Your answers may wildly vary from mine – which is why this field shouldn’t be regulated. You never know when I might be made Emperor of Dog Training. That might or might not be a good thing by your standards.

Twenty Questions For Trainers and Behaviorists:

1. Can a behavior be stopped immediately? 2. Are there any behaviors that need to be stopped immediately? 3. What is the best way to stop a behavior immediately? 4. Is it important to leave a lasting inhibition after stopping a behavior? 5. Is it the responsibility of professional trainers to know which behaviors must be stopped immediately and which can be solved over time? 6. Is it the responsibility of professional trainers to know which behavioral tools are effective or non-effective with any given behavior? 7. Is it ethical to sell a client services never known to have been effective because the trainer doesn’t know or does not wish to use effective methods? 8. If normally cited “science” turns out to be pseudo-science, is it ethical for a trainer to fail to examine what science really says? 9. Is there a difference between nature stopping a behavior and a trainer stopping a behavior? 10. Is it beneficial for a dog to live its life without stress? 11. Are some dogs innately fearful? 12. If a dog is already fearful, would it be unethical to use a different form of fear to inhibit a potentially life-threatening behavior? 13. Why would a gentle solution be ethical if it has never proven to be effective and a harsh method has? 14. If the terrible side-effects of punishment can be resolved by learning how to apply the behavioral effect correctly, would it still be preferable to using positive methods that don’t work? 15. What rights does the client have to effective treatment for their animal? 16. Does a client have a right to make informed consent about the methods used on their dog? i.e. Can a trainer or behaviorist withhold information about effective treatment because it doesn’t fit their ideology? 17. Is it ethical to provide services that take weeks to months to solve when the same behaviors can be stopped immediately with no harm to the dog? 18. If a dog is likely to die without medical or behavioral treatment, should the behavioral solution be held to the standard of pain and fear caused by the medical solution or some different standard? EG: If I cause pain and fear to stop a dog from eating a sock, should I be judged compared to the intense, dangerous and potentially life-threatening abdominal surgery to remove the sock and the pain of recovery? 19. Does a psychotropic drug treatment by a veterinarian require proof that it is effective using scientific standards such as blind trials? i.e. The same standards and rigorous testing of plainly medicinal chemicals. Does a veterinarian behaviorist have to know that there are purely behavioral solutions to problems like OCD that do not require drugs - the main source of their income? 20. Does someone who cites “scientific methods” have to prove that they have credentials to support that claim?

Bonus Questions: 21.If a drug company requires a “behavior” component to achieve full efficacy of a drug, would it be unethical to give the drug if it turned out that the drug company never actually included behavioral therapy when testing the drug for efficacy? (That is not a hypothetical question.) 22. If a trainer is barred from using pain and fear to arrest a serious behavior like aggression, why is the dog allowed to use pain, fear and physical trauma to satisfy it’s desires? Meaning, if I many not use these things to arrest the behavior of a dangerous dog, why is the dog allowed to?

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