How To Choose a Professional To Work With You and Your Dog

By Lisa Hird

dog trainer telling dog to sit

Trying to decide whether you need a professional to work with you and your dog and what type of professional can be a difficult journey to navigate.

The very first thing to consider is, how will the professional work with your dog? Whether that is a dog walker, a dog day-care facility, dog sitter or a trainer or behaviourist, consider the way they work and the methods they promote.

There is no place for using aversive or punishment type training when working with dogs. We know that dogs are sentient beings and that the relationship with their carer is the most important foundation. Using punishment can cause a breakdown in the relationship and may even increase any behaviour problems exhibited. This can be true of dog walking, dog home boarders and day-care as well as trainers and behaviourists.

Dog walking as a career has become increasingly popular. Some websites suggest that the only skills needed are good customer service skills, physical strength, stamina and no formal education or qualifications. This is both irresponsible and far from the truth. Dogs are sentient beings and have emotional as well as physical needs but sadly it remains an unrestricted business, with little control over the way dogs are walked and managed. Some local authorities do impose some restrictions, but not all, so it is essential to check with the local authority where you live.

DEFRA brought out new guidelines in November 2018 for dog boarding, dog day-care, dog breeding, selling of animals and dog home boarding and they published The Animal Welfare (Licensing of Activities Involving Animals) (England) Regulations. Under these regulations, day-care centres are required to have a licence and display their licence number on their website. In order to be receive a licence a business will need to meet all of the minimum standards outlined in the document. In addition, businesses are encouraged to apply higher standards. A business that meets the higher standards will be able to gain a 4 or 5 star rating in the Animals Activity Star Rating System.

Some of the terms that may be used in relation to working with or training dogs may include the following terms:

Aversive – involves something unpleasant or something the dog does not like or is afraid of. These should not be used in dog training.

Balanced trainer – balanced trainers will use all four possibilities under operant conditioning which include positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, positive and negative punishment. These include aversive methods.

Correction- an action that punishes or stops a dog from doing an unwanted behaviour. For example, a jerk on the lead to prevent pulling. Corrections are a form of punishment and should not be used as a training strategy.

Fear-free - a low-stress approach to handling and training.

LIMA – “LIMA” is an acronym for the phrase “least intrusive, minimally aversive.” LIMA describes a trainer or behaviourist who uses the least intrusive, minimally aversive strategy out of a set of humane and effective tactics likely to succeed in achieving a training or behavior change objective. This means that punishment and negative reinforcement can still be used.

Positive reinforcement – a behaviour that is reinforced (rewarded) is more likely to be repeated. It involves the use of positive, desirable, or pleasurable consequences to teach a behaviour.

Negative reinforcement – the use of an aversive or undesirable consequence to teach a specific behaviour. An example is the use of a shock collar to prevent jumping or barking. The shock collar is turned off when the dog complies with the request. These should not be used. Negative reinforcement can also involve coercion – pushing down on a dog’s rump to get him to sit. The pressure on his rump is removed once the dog complies.

Punishment – a behaviour that is punished is considered to be less likely to be repeated. This may mean a tug of the lead, harsh words, intimidating body language or gestures. The punishment is given as a consequence for an unwanted behaviour.

Reinforcement, reward(s) - A consequence the dog finds pleasurable and desirable. Reinforcement and rewards are dependent on the individual dog and are often dependent on the environment, too. Some dogs may be motivated by a treat, while others may be motivated by a special toy or an extra session of play.

Relationship centred training – This type of training uses the cooperative relationship and bond between the handler and the dog to achieve mutually beneficial results, while at the same time enhancing and strengthening their relationship.

Heron et al (2009) looked at some of the confrontational m