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This is my text entry into the World Dog Trainers’ Motivation Transparency Challenge.

About the World Dog Trainers’ Motivation Transparency Challenge

Trainers and owners are posting videos or text that answers three questions you see below. The purpose is to educate owners about what exactly the trainer or owner will do when working with their, or your, dog. Jean Donaldson of The Academy For Dog Trainers noted there is a disconnect between the marketing language used by dog trainers, and what they actually do in practice.

The challenge was started by John McGuigan, and you can find the related group on Facebook.

If you are hiring a trainer or taking a class, these three questions are great ones to ask before working with them and your dog. Do not trust a trainer’s marketing on websites on its own.

About me

I just want to point out that I am not a professional dog trainer. I do not train other people’s dogs, nor do I have accreditation from some of the professional groups who offer it. I consider myself an educated dog enthusiast, as I do have a few training and behavior-related certificates, shelter experience, and a lot of books under my belt about dog training and behavior. I try my best to communicate accurate information, and understand why I believe what I do. But this is much different than being a trainer for a living, and I believe that’s worth mentioning here.

You do not need to be a dog trainer to ask or answer these questions though, and it is important to understand your own answers to these questions regardless of how you make a living. It is vital to understand your dog trainer’s answers to these questions, and not just what they say on their websites or to market their services! Our dogs are learning from us constantly. And you are influenced by your trainer, which influences your own actions towards your dogs. And finally, understanding these answers is the core to dog training.

The three questions

1. What will happen to my dog if she gets it right?
Good things happen: I smile, I exude happiness, they get a prize that is meaningful to them (food, tossed toy), they get freedom, they can continue to do the rewarding thing whatever that is. Whatever the appropriate, positive response is for doing something right, they’re rewarded with what’s motivating them to do it.

Just as importantly, I try my best to have my dog get it right in the first place. I do this by choosing where we go, how close we walk to something they care about, my mood when we start to train, a clear indication of what I am after, an idea in my brain of what is “right” and what I’ll do when I see that thing. All of these things are important to set up my dogs for success, and this helps me get the timing right too.

2. What will happen to my dog if she gets it wrong?
Nothing happens, or I will distract my dog away from whatever that thing is so something right happens instead. A dog might perform an exercise to stop or avoid the “wrong” behavior (which is ignored), and I proceed to reward the “right” response to that different thing (for example, having the dog at me instead of something that may cause trouble, or doing tricks instead of barking at the mailperson). This also helps me not inadvertently reward or punish the thing that’s wrong.

3. Are there less invasive alternatives to what you propose?
I don’t use any invasive or aversive techniques with the dogs. I don’t believe in shock collars, prong collars, “invisible fences”, e-collars (the electric kind), or anything else that will harm a dog while he or she is trying to learn a good, smart, or safe response. Not only is it not fair and not necessary, for fearful dogs (like mine) its particularly a recipe for disaster. Learning doesn’t require pain, and there are much safer techniques (such as the ones above) that work well. And there are so many creative, out of the box ideas out there for learning – a pain-free option is sure to work with enough trial and error.

And a related side note – because I do a lot of tricks, there are times when Mort (who is super fast and has no sense of personal space) will accidentally hit me in a way that hurts him when we’re doing a body vault or similar and he mistakes it for an aversive correction. While I always attempt to avoid that of course, there’s no way around it when it does happen – it’s just an accident and misinterpretation that happens at lightning fast speed. So when this occurs, and he looks at me with a “why on earth would you hurt me face,” I have to try my hardest to give no reaction at all and keep the momentum going – like I didn’t notice a thing. It works: he moves on like “oh, it’s not a problem!” (so can you imagine how bad an aversive would be on a dog like Mort?!). An edge case, yes, but an important one to ensure “aversive” don’t come into play during accidents either.

See answers from dog trainers worldwide

Dog trainers are posting their videos with their answers to the three questions above, as part of the World Dog Trainers’ Motivation Transparency Challenge. I encourage you to find and watch some of them! You can find the public group on Facebook here, which contains videos and text responses. Here are links to a few that are on YouTube. Know of any more videos? Add them to the comments!

From John McGuigan Glasgow Dog Trainer

From Grisha Stewart, Ahisma Dog Training:

From Patrick Rocha, http://patrickrocha.pt/

From eileenanddogs.com

From Heidi Steinbeck

From Blanche Axton

From Claire Staines

From Al Bunyan

From Nando Brown

From Jolein van Weperen

From John Stawicki

From Claudia Estanislau

Videos without embedding enabled:
Video by Urban Dawgs – Postive, Reward-Based Dog Training

About Author

Jen deHaan is graphic designer, small business owner, and dog person living in Bay Area, California. Jen enjoys learning about dog training and behavior, and has taken several courses and seminars since 2010. She also contributes articles to leading websites, such as Victoria Stilwell's Positively . It all started with a great dog called Mikey (aka "dude"), loved and lost but remembered forever. Jen also runs a freelance business focusing on graphic, web, and UI design at FoundPixel, and a small business creating hand crafted dog products at Stylish Canine.

  • Mark S

    Excellent questions for a potential dog trainer. I seems like by asking those three questions you can get a good sense about the beliefs and training style of any potential trainer.

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