Transparency in Training and Behavior

Those in the world of canine training and behavior know there is a wide gap between philosophy and methods employed by professionals, and even some rifts between professional organizations. It can be confusing for those of us in the field, and more so for pet owners who just want help.

I have heard the founder of The Pet Professional Guild, Niki Tudge, speak passionately about the need for transparency as a consumer issue. Until I heard her say so I never thought of it that way.

Now I am more aware and the lack of transparency in our profession catches my eye, like the way my Labradors notice bunnies and squirrels darting about the yard. It has become painfully obvious that consumers of pet services can be led astray by a “professional” who may well be causing harm rather than helping.

When the primary cause of death in young dogs is euthanasia due to behavior, transparency is vitally important.  Pet owners need to know what they are getting.

Recently I came upon marketing material of a local trainer who identified as a “canine behaviorist.” I thought to myself, “Really? It would be swell if I had a behaviorist to refer to, but it just isn’t so.”

The only behaviorist I know in state of Wisconsin is the renown Dr. Patricia McConnell, Ph.D., CAAB. McConnell no longer takes new clients so I asked her just a few months ago who she recommended I refer serious behavioral cases to…and that referral was not the individual claiming to be a “behaviorist.”

Photo: Pixsabay

Where is the behaviorist?  Photo: Pixsabay

The nearest Board Certified Veterinary Behaviorist is John Ciribassi, DVM, DACVB and he practices in Illinois. He was not the named “canine behaviorist” either, so I investigated further.

I examined the web site of the alleged “behaviorist” and saw another claim to that credential, but no evidence. There was an additional claim of “becoming a Certified Behavior Consultant Canine-Knowledge Assessed (CBCC-KA)” in bold print.

It would be a bold accomplishment indeed, since the trainer is not even a CPDT, which is a pre-requisite to sit for the CBCC exam.

Like Buddha gathering gopher scent in the field, I sniffed about the membership registries of professional organizations in search of the elusive “behaviorist”.

I checked Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (1), Association of Animal Behavior Professionals (2) , American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (3) the Animal Behavior Society (4) and The Pet Professional Guild (5).

Photo: Daniel H. Antolec

Buddha, sniffing for clues.  Photo: Daniel H. Antolec

The mysterious “behaviorist” was nowhere to be found.

To be fair, I contacted the individual directly, politely expressed my confusion about credentials and requested clarification.  I received no response.

I was reminded of the Wendy’s marketing campaign in which an elderly lady at a fast food restaurant peeled off the hamburger bun and declared in disappointment “Where’s the beef?” (5)

So what’s the beef about someone passing themselves off as a behaviorist?

My first beef with a false claim is that it is unethical. Those who offer professional services should not deceive their customers.

Second, this individual advertises their skill and experience with “aggression, fear, anxiety, hyperactivity and destructive behavior” in dogs. These are serious behavioral issues and pet owners seeking help deserve fair treatment and competent professional services.

These are also matters of public safety and stakeholders include the pet, the family and virtually anyone who may cross the path of the animal. The very life of the pet may depend upon the services rendered. There is no room for deception in the relationship between pet owner and professional.

Third, the professional who exaggerates their expertise may find themselves in legal jeopardy. Attorney Kenneth M. Phillips practices law in Beverly Hills (CA) and specializes in cases involving injuries caused by dogs. Phillips takes cases throughout the United States. (6)

Professionals who work with animals face several potential liabilities, and among them is creating false expectations.

Phillips explains “Over-aggressive marketing of training services can result in liability based on false expectations about a trainer. If you hold yourself up to possess special expertise in an area then you will be held to the same standard as an expert in that area.
I am thinking specifically of the term “behaviorist” to describe a trainer. If you are not an accredited applied animal behaviorist or a veterinarian who is board certified in animal behavior, my recommendation is do not use the term “behaviorist” to describe what you do.

That word is developing a meaning that is filtering out to the community, but the real meaning is the one used in court. Whenever anybody holds themselves out to have special experience or training in a field they are required to perform just like they have that special experience or training.”

Phillips presented “Avoiding Liability when you Train, Shelter or Adopt-out” to The Biting Dog Conference (Novato, CA) in 2005. I recommend all canine professionals study this recorded presentation. (7)

My final beef with false representations is that it harms the rest of us, whose professional credibility may be doubted by the larger community due to the behavior of unscrupulous individuals. I have seen that happen in other professions.

Thankfully the Pet Professional Accreditation Board (8) works to raise the bar in our industry, as stated “To address the need for consumer protection, animal welfare and a high level of skill proficiency the PPAB is offering a professional accreditation program that ensures transparency and accountability among pet trainers and behavior consultants. (Emphasis added) The program’s goal is to provide a meaningful credential that supports pets and their owners and guarantees an unprecedented high level of competency for force-free pet professionals.”

Let us each be transparent in our business practices, steadily improve our knowledge, and remain within our level of competence and expertise when offering services. For pet owners, what they see should be what they get.

(1) http://www.ccpdt.org/dog-owners/certified-dog-trainer-directory/
(2) http://www.associationofanimalbehaviorprofessionals.com/directory.html
(3) http://www.dacvb.org/about/member-directory/
(4) http://www.animalbehaviorsociety.org/web/applied-behavior-caab-directory.php
(4) https://petprofessionalguild.com/Findyourmember
(5) “Where’s the Beef” Copyright, 1984. Wendy’s restaurant chain.
(6) Kenneth M. Phillips, Attorney at Law, www.dogbitelaw.com, kphillips@dogbitelaw.com
(7) https://dogbitelaw.com/store/avoiding-liability-when-working-with-dogs

About Daniel Antolec

Daniel H. Antolec, PCT-A, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA completed a 30-year police career which included several years as an instructor of two tactical fields. In 2007 he took a job in a dog daycare and began studying canine behavior and training, which led to credentialing as a professional trainer and behavior consultant. In 2012 Antolec founded Happy Buddha Dog Training. His Labradors (Buddha and Gandhi) are registered Pet Partners therapy dogs.
This entry was posted in Advocacy, Animal Behavior, Consulting, Stuff, Training, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Transparency in Training and Behavior

  1. Heatherskelly@comcast.net' Heather says:

    I’ve had a few interesting experiences as a trainer related to not being a behaviorist. Several people have contacted me after being told by their vet that they should see a behaviorist for their dog. You see, when they find out how much a behaviorist costs, they say forget it and call me to tackle an issue that is outside of what I offer. They beg me to help at my trainer rate. I’ve never said yes and do as much as I can to persuade them to move forward with the behaviorist, but I suspect some never do. It makes me sad but it also makes me wonder if they do end up finding a trainer with no experience with complicated behavioral issues who takes on the case.

    • Heather, I understand that cost likely stops some pet owners from seeking the help they need. In my locale I have no behaviorist to refer to other than one who practices about three hours away. Fortunately there are a few local certified behavior consultants, though demand for services seems to exceed the supply of professionals.

  2. Hello Daniel, I agree using the description “behaviorist” is inappropriate and should be reserved for those who have truly achieved that designation. However, other than pointing out this issue, especially, using your one example, you don’t spend any time emphasizing why the other credentialed individuals and/or their organizations are the best options for pet owners to find trainers who belong to organizations that promote training and behavior modification using “guidelines” and/or “position statements” promoted by veterinary organizations and organizations like America Humane who promote using R+ over punishers.

    In my local area, we have someone who has been using that designation for over 15 years and that person doesn’t belong to any of the organizations you mentioned here or ibbac, who also offers pet owners an excellent source of behavior specialists. Keep in mind, i belong to both PPG and IAABC and choose to maintain my CDBC designation as my credential of choice. And i fully understand that you choose to promote other organizations while not including iaabc. That’s fine, i do the same thing. I also, generally, will not share articles who do not include iaabc as reputable source, just so you understand, but do often include ppg. However, i believe there still remains some problems because both organizations have members from A-Z qualifications. I’m not sure, i haven’t looked recently, that PPG includes all members listed, not only those who have certifications. Is this correct?

    It’s because of this dizzying array of levels of expertise that i suggest professionals include more than a few paragraphs stating how much they “love dogs” and/or grew up with dogs instead show me what conferences you’ve attended, what CEU’s you’ve collected via seminars, webinars, mentorships. This allows one to clearly determine what type of trainer/behavior specialist that person is and how much training they’ve actually received.

    Just wanted to let you know, i agree, with your main point, but i don’t think you go far enough to explain why owners should choose qualified people from organizations used as your examples vs none or others. I’m not even sure anymore what averse organizations are generally considered unacceptable sources vs those who you use.

    I say all this because i consider this generally serious problem in my local area, it’s rampant, including most recently an article written by veterinary neurologists son but very obviously included their own thoughts that poo pooed clicker training, mats and treats suggesting that chain collars and petting better achieved the canine bond they considered superior. The article was literally an endorsement for this “Hollywood” trainer. And when brought to the attention of publication editor, these unsubstantiated claims were sufficient to believe the person was highly qualified. I’m sure there are examples everywhere similar but that a vet was literally endorsing using choke collars in writing was troubling!

    Thanks for listening

    • Oops meant IAABC. Should have proofread!

    • Hi Joyce. Thank you for taking time to respond with such thoughtful comments. I will address them in order.

      You are right, I did not spend (words) time explaining how other credentialed individuals or organizations are better options for pet owners, references to position papers and so on. Those are very important things which could easily fill an entire blog, and I have read such blogs and articles written by others. One consideration in writing blogs is to keep the word count between roughly 750-900 words. When I finished this blog it was 974 words, including references and my bio. It was already a bit bloated.

      It is also helpful to the reader to focus on a single point, as much as possible. Blogs that ramble on or cover too many tangents become difficult for the reader. I tend to stop reading such blogs even if they are providing good information. Had I written a magazine article on “transparency” I could have added more information.

      I apologize for not including IAABC in my list. Each year I learn a great deal by reading books and blogs written by IAABC members, as well as their webinars and seminars. The omission was an honest oversight and was certainly not a snub.

      Like you, when I visit a Facebook page or web site of a person offering canine services I want to see credentials, references, statements regarding philosophy, methods and education. While it is true that a qualified professional may opt to not be listed in a professional registry, I suspect that anyone who attains the credential of behaviorist would certainly want to tell the world. I know that I would!

      I am sorry that lack of transparency is rampant in your area. Perhaps by working together we can all make the distinction clearer for pet owners as stewards and consumers of services so they can avoid those who make fuzzy claims of expertise and find those who are actually qualified to help them. Thank you for being part of the solution.

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