Push for licensing in dog training

Push for Licensing in Dog Training
Updated: Mar. 24, 2022 at 9:00 PM CDT
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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) - Pulling on a leash, jumping on others, reacting towards other dogs are all reasons dog owners sometimes seek out dog trainers.

However, dog ‘trainers’ can market themselves as such without any certification, classes or experience-- and it’s completely legal.

The Association of Professional Dog Trainers is trying to change that, hoping for legislation that requires a license.

“If you’ve hired a dog trainer and they are doing something that makes your gut go, ‘oh I don’t know if I like that’ that is a huge red flag. You are right,” said Heather Mishefske, owner of emBARK in Eau Claire.

Many families welcomed a new furry member into their home during these past two years.

As pandemic puppies get older and naughty behavior is discovered, lots of dog owners turn to dog trainers for help.

“At this point anyone can claim that they’re a dog trainer, so regardless of education, experience or ability really,” Mishefske explained.

“Anyone can self identify as a dog trainer whether that’s through past experiences, reading a book, taking an online class,” added Bradley Phifer, executive director of the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers.

That’s why those in the industry say dog owners shouldn’t blindly trust their trainers. Mishefske, who is also on the Board of Directors for the Association of Professional Dog Trainers, says that can be quite dangerous.

“Dogs have lost their lives at being ‘trained’ by someone which is horrifying,” Mishefske reflected. “I hope that we don’t see dogs in the news again that were strung up on a choke chain because they got the problem wrong and were asphyxiated.”

Experts say even a well intentioned dog trainer with a lack of knowledge can hurt dogs. Phifer says it’s not always physical--sometimes its hurting a relationship between owner and pup.

“If you go to someone and they say ‘you need to put this collar on your dog and pop it a bunch of times in order to get it to listen’ that affects the way that you view your dog,” Phifer said. “It affects the way that you see how you’re dog thinks and learns and feels.”

Both emphasize there is a difference between someone being certified and having a certificate. So, they’re turning to lawmakers with a piece of model legislation hoping to be passed.

“What would that look like? It would look like some kind of licensing board that would set standards of care, competency,” Mishefske mentioned.

Mishefske says the organizations are working to get the legislation on the docket for New Jersey first and from there the rest of the country.

The licensing process would make sure trainers are using least invasive, minimally aversive techniques.

It’s not a one stop shop, though. Once trainers receive their license, they would still have work to do.

“Along with licensing will come accountability,” Mishefske explained. “If they are not following these guidelines, then they can be reported and go through our ethics committee and be determined if they can still be in that particular organization, so they’ll be a lot of checks and balances in place.”

Both have advice for those in need of training now.

“Always ask the question, ‘what will happen if my dog doesn’t get it right?’ and the correct answer to that is that ‘well your dog doesn’t understand what the question was. Let’s go back, let’s review,’” Mishefske added.

“Make sure that your trainer has demonstrated competency in some way, that the trainer is receiving continued education. That they are putting positive reinforcement as their primary means of training,” Phifer said.

Experts say trust your gut always.

For Mishefske, licensing protects owner and their dogs, that’s why this is her passion project.

“Dogs that are stressed out in the hands of trainers is just so heartbreaking,” Mishefske added.

Heather adds you should always ask potential trainers about their code of ethics and if they’re seeking out more education.

For a list of dog trainers the APDT recommends, click here.

To learn more about the model piece of legislation, click here.

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