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dog behavior

Codes of Ethics and Policing Ourselves

Every so often another article comes out on the perils of dog training being unregulated. To trainers that means we are free to do pretty much what we want, within our own individual ethical code. It means much less to the people we service. Our clients are likely to do whatever we tell them because they are paying us for our opinion. On the other hand, some people who call themselves trainers couldn’t even train a stick to lie down. So how is the public to know who’s earned the title and who hasn’t? Good question with no easy answer.

I’m opening another element of the discussion that can help potential clients choose a trainer within their ethical code, reasons why it matters, and drawbacks to trainers policing ourselves. I’m offering no solutions.

Dog training is unregulated.

  • There are no laws or legal standards that prohibit or define what should or should not be included in the practice of training dogs. Any tool or method is available to any trainer.
  • There are no laws or legal standards that prohibit or define the education an individual should attain to call him/herself a dog trainer. Any or none are allowed.
  • There are no laws or legal standards that prohibit or define who can call him/herself a dog trainer. Anyone can “hang out a shingle” and do what they want to your dog.
  • The only regulation dog trainers have is the market and other dog trainers.

These are only some of the tools and methods of which I’m aware for training pet dogs.

  • Treats
  • Clickers
  • Lure and reward
  • Antecedent control
  • Stare dog down
  • Step on leash or collar and force dog down
  • Blow in nose or face
  • Slip collar
  • Prong collar
  • Head halter such as Gentle Leader®, or Comfort Trainer
  • Standard harness
  • No-pull harness such as Easy Walk®
  • Martingale or limited-slip collar
  • Electronic collar controlled by human
  • Electronic collar bark-activated
  • Citronella collar
  • Throw a can of coins or rocks
  • Water pistol or spray bottle
  • Hit dog with hand
  • Hit dog with leash or paper
  • Hit dog with board or bat
  • Step on dog’s toes
  • Knee dog in chest or belly
  • Kick dog
  • Alpha roll dog
  • Yell at dog
  • Dog psychology
  • Sssst
  • Electronic containment such as Invisible Fence®
  • Isolate dog somewhere in the house
  • Cattle prod on dog
  • Leash “pop” or jerk
  • Tie dog up
  • Hang dog by leash and collar
  • Muzzle the dog
  • Shove dog’s nose in urine, feces, or destruction

I believe all of these techniques and tools, individually and collectively, have supporters. The techniques a trainer uses may help define the label with which she identifies herself. As examples, trainers who refer to themselves as “force free, “ and “positive” often use primarily treats, clickers, and antecedent control. Those who refer to themselves as “balanced” often include tools and techniques such as slip and/or prong collars and leash pops.

These different training “camps” don’t always play nicely with each other. Most of the disagreements take place out of the public eye. Even if a trainer knows another trainer uses a tool or method she thinks is ineffective, inhumane, or damaging, this is seldom stated publicly. If we’re the only people policing each other, why don’t we let the public know? I’ve asked other trainers and these are some of the responses I’ve received.

  • Professional courtesy: Infighting makes us all look bad.
  • Fear of retaliation: If I speak badly about him, he will trash me next.
  • Fear of your own competence: A trainer may not want anyone looking too closely at her.
  • Fear of legal retaliation: One famous trainer is famous for this, too.
  • Personal ethics: It’s just the wrong thing to do.
  • Professional ethics: A Code of Ethics for an organization of which the speaker a member or certified by prohibits denigrating another trainer.

When these Codes were written, I assume they were to maintain a tone of professionalism. I’m not sure because I haven’t asked. However, the way they’re written, they inhibit the policing we need to be doing. Trainers feel they can’t turn in colleagues because it violates the Codes of Ethics. Below are the Codes of Ethics of national or international organizations regarding discussing other trainers. Where I’ve put “didn’t find one” that’s exactly what it means. A Code of Ethics wasn’t available on the website where I could find it, not that one doesn’t exist.

International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants:
“Animal behavior consultants are respectful of colleagues and other professionals and do not condemn the character of their professional acts, nor engage in public commentary, including commentary in public presentations, written media or on websites, Internet discussion lists or social media, that is disrespectful, derisive or inflammatory. This includes cyberbullying, that is, the use of electronic media for deliberate, repeated and hostile behavior against colleagues.”

Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers:
“to refrain from public defamation of colleagues, respecting their right to establish and follow their own principles of conduct, provided those principles are ethical and humane according to The CCPDT Humane Hierarchy Position Statement.”

Association of Professional Dog Trainers – USA:
“Be respectful of colleagues and other professionals and not falsely condemn the character of their professional acts.”

Canadian Association of Professional Pet Dog Trainers:
“Maintain a spirit of co-operation with other trainers and Association members, and refrain from criticizing members and other trainers in public or to clients.”

 International Association of Canine Professionals:
(Didn’t find one)

Victoria Stilwell Professional Dog Trainer:
(Didn’t find one)

Karen Pryor Academy:
(Didn’t find one)

Pat Miller Academy
(Didn’t find one)

Association of Pet Dog Trainers – UK:
“Members shall respect the views and independence of others and shall not publicly denigrate their conduct or opinions.”

Association of Animal Behavior Professionals:
“Professionals do not participate in spreading untrue information about fellow professionals. Professionals ought to ensure that any discussion about a fellow professional be accurate and constructive.”

Pet Professional Guild:
“Ensure all communications are professional and based in fact. When discussing industry practices, trends or issues, members will limit discussion to practices and consequences rather than the individuals using them thereby ensuring informed, professional and civil exchanges that enrich members and the industry of force-free pet professionals.”

I would like to posit that these sections of the Codes of Ethics are part of the reason dog training is such a difficult profession for not only the public to understand but for professional trainers too. How do we balance our own ethics, organizational ethics, the public good, and bringing about changes? What do you think?

A Big Day for Katy

This morning while I was fixing breakfast Katy was bouncing and whining, as she’s done before, but this time she was with the other dogs. She was trotting around right behind me (first time). When it was time to go out, she was right beside my foot (first time) with the others waiting on the door to open.

She’s walking around the house, in and out of rooms, like she belong here. I took a nap this afternoon. Molly and Candy were on the bed with me, Digger was on his bed beside me, Katy joined us and slept on Candy’s bed (first time). When I offered the other dogs a treat she came into the kitchen with the others (first time). She ran behind the couch when I walked toward her so I put it on the floor.

Katy was lying down on the couch and I sat beside her. I picked her up and put her on my lap. She was comfortable enough to move off by herself (first time). She still doesn’t come to me and does run away sometimes but today was a big day.

Katy – 4_5

Well, our family’s had a lot going on lately so I haven’t posted every day. I’ll give you all a synopsis.

Katy was tethered to the couch for a few days. She had her own water and was fed on the couch. Sometimes she would try to go somewhere else but not often. I don’t think it was too stressful since that’s where she spends most of her time anyhow. We had to take the coffee table out of the room because she kept getting wrapped around it.

With shy dogs, it’s always best to let them set the pace on social interactions. Forcing them sets back any progress made up to that time. Then you have to work back to that spot again. My colleagues have all cautioned me against it. I’m sure there is some finite reason I could document that made me think it was ok with Katy at the time. I’ve been thinking about it for days and I can’t come up with it.

On the evening of 3/31, I picked her up. She pulled away from me when I first tried it, so I stopped and stroked her slowly, talking quietly. She relaxed a little so I tried again. She let me pick her up and hold her. Ever so slightly she leaned into me. That was the turning point. From then on, her facial expressions softened enough that I’m 99% sure she won’t bite me again. I can pick her up and take her outside. I can pick her up and put her on the couch. She leans into me every time. She let me pet her while she was on the leash outside without trying to run away. She never runs away when I approach the couch. I can sit and stroke her any time. Any time she balks I just slow down until she relaxes. The morning of 4/1 I got a small but sustained tail wag while I approached!

I can now walk her on a 6’ leash, too. Calmly, slowly moving at her pace she’ll come with me. I use the cue, “Let’s go.” She will pee and poop on leash. I haven’t asked Burt to walk her but she and I have worked out a system.

She’s loose and dragging the leash unless we have to go out that day. Then she’s walked outside on leash. She’s in her crate when we leave still. The past couple times we’ve left her, it appears she’s tried to get out. So far she’s neither pulling the crate apart not injuring herself in those attempts.

We had a friend and her two dogs visit yesterday. Our friend sat beside Katy without touching her or looking at her & Katy didn’t try to get away. Our 5 dogs, she, and I were sitting in the yard for awhile & Katy kept moving closer to us. The visiting spaniel tried to get Katy to play but Katy ran away from her. However, she did continue to come closer and walk around us. Katy is still trying to get Candy to play but the biggest response she’s gotten is a play bow. Today Molly gave Katy a play bow to try & get her to play but Katy ran away. From Katy’s body language I think they would have played if Molly had run with her.

Katy’s been getting frequent non-contingent reinforcers this week. She gets a treat or a bite of my food with no expectation of earning it in any way. She likes most treats but not all, mac & cheese, Triscuits, hummus, yogurt, ice cream… I also found out I can put a little food in the bottom of a yogurt cup and she’ll clean it out. She still won’t work on a Kong. When she’s loose in the yard and I’m walking around I get squinty eyes and she’ll get about 12’ away from me.

Overall, big movement in the past week.


H O W do you train?

Here’s a very interesting article by Buzz Cecil.

An excerpt:

What you do have, if at all lucky, is an 8-10 week old pup who has only known his brothers and sisters and mom and maybe the breeder ― yep, a broken-single-mom family, but that’s the norm in the dog world. Fortunately Dad p@ssed off long before the pups even knew there was such a thing as a Dad, but Mom was busy teaching the pups the rules of being a pup with her. His brothers and sisters were busy teaching each other what the rules were of being pups with each other. But none of them had ever heard of YOU and YOUR rules.

Add to that, when you take that little guy home, you are rrrripping him out of the only home and comfort he’s ever known. You’ve kidnapped him from his own mother ― are you crying yet? And know it or not, your only hope in all this, without otherwise any real effort on your part, is that human psychologists are correct, when they talk about “Stockholm Syndrome”, because YOU are not the victim, when he pees on your carpet or howls at night. HE is the victim. And you’ve got a big job cut out for you. Either you can continue to just be the terrorist kidnapper with your little male version of Patti Hearst, inflicting punishments for rules he doesn’t even know existed (thanks Dr. Ian Dunbar for that formulation) and counting on that “Stockholm Syndrome” forever or you can get down to being an adoptive parent.

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