As training and behavior professionals, we just about always encourage dog owners and new puppy parents alike to seek training for their dog at some point or another. Positive reinforcement based training can be a great way to build your bond with your dog, learn about how your dog communicates, address problems proactively, and can be a great benefit to you and your dog’s quality of life. However, we know there are many people out there who choose to DIY their training with their dogs or look to friends, family, or the internet to get their information instead of hiring a pro. This can sometimes work out just fine, but in more serious situations with more concerning or even dangerous behavior, trying to figure it all out yourself can pose some serious risks. Here are a few common situations that indicate a need for help from a dog behavior professional through private training:
Scenario #1: You Have “Tried Everything”
Your friend’s aunt, your neighbor down the street, and that stranger on an internet forum all have their own tips, tricks, and opinions about how you should work with your dog. And it’s important to remember that not all advice, even if well intentioned, is credible, applicable, or ethical. If you find yourself scrolling through social media for advice and have tried all of the generic suggestions, or feel confused about all the different methods you’ve tested and aren’t sure why nothing is working, it’s time to let a behavior professional take over and get you on the right track with a specialized plan. Especially with more complicated behavior or multiple behavior issues happening at once, it’s likely that your dog needs an individualized plan that can’t be formulated through generic advice found on social media, friends, or internet articles.
Scenario #2: Your Or Your Dog’s Quality Of Life Is Being Affected
If you find yourself making your dog’s world smaller and smaller as a result of their behavior, or you find yourself frustrated, feeling hopeless, or reducing your own quality of life trying to manage your dog, it’s time to let a professional help you. Some examples of your dog’s quality of life being impacted include, but aren’t limited to:
No longer being able to go on walks or get sufficient exercise in other ways
Living in a “crate and rotate” or “animals are separated 24/7” situation in a multi-dog or multi-species household without a long term strategy
Your dog is showing inability to rest or get adequate sleep
Your dog is displaying obsessive, repetitive behaviors
Your dog spends a significantly large amount of their day and night crated or confined to prevent the rehearsal of behaviors
Your dog is showing significant, frequent signs of anxiety or stress (daily or several days a week)
Additionally, your quality of life living with your dog matters too! A few examples of your quality of life being affected by your dog’s behavior include:
You are unable to leave your dog alone at all or for realistic periods of time like to go grocery shopping or out to dinner
You are not able to have friends and family over to your house to socialize with
You are neglecting your own hobbies, activities, or enjoyment to tend to or manage your dog’s behavior
Your mental health is negatively impacted by your dog’s behavior (causing excessive stress, anxiety, depression, feeling hopeless, etc)
You are unable to take time for yourself to travel or socialize because your dog cannot be responsibly left in the care of someone else
You spend any amount of time concerned for your safety or the safety of others in your household/community because of your dog’s behavior
Scenario #3: You Cannot Find A Pattern In Your Dog’s Behavior
Living with a dog who struggles with their behavior can be all the more concerning if you feel like the behavior isn’t predictable or doesn’t have definable “triggers.” For some dogs, this really could be the case that we’re seeing issues with unpredictable behavior, but with others, it may just be that you need a third party, professional eye to identify the precursors to their behavior that you may be missing. Don’t try to figure out what makes your dog tick all on your own, a behavior professional can help fill in those gaps of knowledge and help you understand what causes your dog’s behavior, as well as help you learn the more subtle communications you may be missing from your dog. Once you’re armed with this understanding, a path to addressing the behavior becomes more clear! And, if your dog’s behavior truly isn’t definable by certain triggers, it’s even more imperative that you find a professional to get on your team right away to help address the potential underlying reasons.
Scenario #4: You Have Made Progress In The Past But Have Hit A Plateau or Regression
You may have been working on modifying your dog’s behavior for a while, but for some reason, it’s been months with absolutely no progress. Sometimes this can be for benign reasons, like a small gap in your plan or mechanics, but sometimes this can have a much deeper meaning. Dog behavior is a product of multiple different factors all at play and constantly interacting with each other. Your dog’s genetic makeup, breed(s), early life experiences, environment, and current health all have a play in who they are on a day-to-day basis. Sometimes training roadblocks aren’t just simply a matter of needing better treats. And, if your dog has a more complex issue going on under the surface, a behavior professional can help point you in the right direction of where to go. They can also help you navigate heavier topics with this issue like adjusting expectations or goals, increasing/decreasing management, investigating potential underlying medical concerns, etc.
Scenario #5: Someone Has Gotten Hurt
This one seems straightforward to say, but it’s very easy to fall down a slippery slope of denial when it comes to your own dog that you know and deeply love. When someone has gotten hurt, whether it was an accident or intentional, it’s time to get serious about hiring a professional to help you with a behavior modification program. Accidents happen all the time, and this doesn’t necessarily mean you have a bad dog! But, it does mean that the potential for getting hurt because of your dog’s behavior is present, and something needs to change to prevent further mishaps in the future, especially if we are concerned about any liability issues. This can be anything from dog bites, dog fights, all the way down to someone getting knocked/pulled over, scratched, or your dog accidentally hurting themselves because of their behavior. An ethical, responsible dog behavior professional will never judge or shame you for any past mishaps or injuries, in fact they will be relieved to see that you’re seeking help now!
How To Find A Dog Behavior Professional
The industry of dog training and behavior modification in the United States is currently completely unregulated. This unfortunately means that any person can call themselves a professional, and any business-savvy person can open a dog training business or franchise without much or even any experience or educational background. Although unfair and unfortunate, the responsibility does lie in the client to do their proper research and make sure that they are hiring a professional who has the necessary qualifications, education, and experience to address their dog’s behavior concerns. When looking for a training and behavior professional to work with your dogs, be sure to ask them about their education, ethics, and experience before purchasing their services:
Do you have any relevant education?
Do you hold any training certifications with any certifying bodies?
Certification Council For Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT)
Karen Pryor Academy (KPA)
International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC)
The Academy for Dog Trainers
CATCH Canine Trainers Academy
Victoria Stilwell Academy (VSA)
Pet Professional Accreditation Board (PPAB)
Separation Anxiety Professional Trainer (SAPT) or Certified Separation Anxiety Trainer (CSAT)
How many years of experience do you have with training dogs?
Look for experience beyond working with their own personal pets
Do you have any mentors and/or do you continue your education regularly?
What kind of training methods will you use on my dog?
Do you offer guaranteed results?
This is a red flag! Dogs are sentient beings and we cannot ever guarantee behavior.
Do you have experience working with the behavior concerns I am seeing with my dog?
Getting help from a behavior professional when you are struggling with your dog can be a massive step in the right direction to get where you want to be. While professional dog training can be an investment of time and money, it may be exactly what you need to finally get those results with your dog that you’ve been dreaming about. If you’re struggling with your dog’s behavior and it’s affecting safety or quality of life, please reach out to us here at Pawsitive Futures. We have a team of highly educated, experienced, and credentialed professionals ready to help send you down the path of success!