Dog training in Canada is an unregulated business without a regulatory body
A couple of days ago I received a most enthusiastic email from Dr Sara Dubois, the Chief Scientific Officer for the British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (BC SPCA) and University of British Columbia Adjunct Professor, to a brand new dog training plan known as AnimalKind Dog Training, the description of that reads,”You love your dog. Although critics say the science supporting reward-based instruction is lacking, this isn’t so. Both a thorough report by the BC SPCA known as”Review of dog training methods: welfare, learning ability, and current standards” (available online at no cost ) along with also a webinar about the science supporting the criteria clearly demonstrate that scientific study supports their others’ conclusions that reward-based training is the best way to train dogs.
“AnimalKind aims to make a neighbourhood of animal-related companies that are dedicated to utilising science-based, humane criteria, and also to help customers locate businesses which encourage excellent animal welfare.”
Additionally, the dog training industry in North America is unregulated, and although several high-quality dog training schools and certification programs exist, members of the public are often confused about which certifications indicate humane evidence-based training expertise.
The AnimalKind team is made up of animal welfare scientists, professional dog trainers, and a board-certified veterinary behaviourist. Behaviour concerns are a leading cause of dog relinquishment to animal shelters, and we (the BC SPCA) get hundreds of requests for dog trainer referrals every year. Until now, we haven’t had a way to evaluate the quality of dog training businesses objectively.
What are the basic guidelines for the methods you use?
When training or handling animals, the BC SPCA advocates the use of force-free, humane training techniques utilising evidence-based learning theories which foster trust and build positive human-animal relationships.
Aversive training tools and methods have been shown in many studies to be associated with unfortunate welfare consequences and undesirable behavioural outcomes for the dog (increased fear-based behaviour, including aggression). In contrast, rewards-based training methods are associated with better obedience, lower rates of assault and other fear-based reactions, and increased attention to the owner during training.
Full details on our position on methods used to train animals are available here, and our literature review on dog training methods can be seen here.
How do you assess each dog and their human who come to you to solve a given problem or problems? Of course, each dog is an individual and requires personal attention.
Based on the individual dog’s temperament and history, skilled trainers can determine a comprehensive behaviour plan that may involve environmental management and training new behaviours. Trainers can also help dog owners to determine the cause of undesirable reactions, which can be addressed by removing the reinforcer for the unwanted behaviour, and making an alternative routine consistently more rewarding.
An example: let’s say a dog is jumping on people for attention. You could remove the reinforcer for the jumping behaviour (turn away and ignore the dog whenever they jump on you) and train an alternative action (for example, stand calmly with 4 feet on the floor), and reward the dog with attention or treats whenever they perform that behaviour. Over time, the dog will learn not to engage in the jumping behaviour and instead stand calmly for care.
How much emphasis do you put on working with the human companion, as so many”pet issues” are just as much”individual issues?”
Good dog trainers need excellent communication skills. This is why our standards require trainers to demonstrate not only theoretical knowledge of dog behaviour and learning science but also be proficient in the practical skills of training and client communication.
Why do you think that some people remain resistant to reward-based training, including the use of food?
This is multi-factorial. Research has shown many dog owners do not reach out to professionals for advice on dog training methodology. Even if they do reach out to dog trainers, the profession is unregulated, and many trainers are still using and promoting outdated methods. Also, cultural factors, such as family history or celebrity trainers, influence how owners interact with their dogs. The evidence on negative welfare and behavioural consequences of training dogs using aversive tools and methods is relatively recent, and it may take time for the general public to become aware of the risks.
What are some of your current and future projects?
AnimalKind accreditation programs launched in March 2018 to initially respond to the need to help the public navigate the unregulated “pest” control industry and find humane wildlife and rodent control operators the BC SPCA could recommend based on current evidence and practices in the field. We currently have two accredited companies in this space, which otherwise struggles to define “humane” appropriately, since it is often a marketing term used by companies that still use harmful methods.
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In the future, given that other pet service industries are also unregulated, and the public frequently contacts the BC SPCA for referrals, we will be creating evidence-based standards for doggie daycares, kennels and boarding facilities.
We look forward to recommending companies that are committed to humane and transparent practices!
Is there anything else you would like to tell readers?
We hope that programs like AnimalKind will draw attention to the evidence for proper dog training and help move the dog training profession towards using more evidence-based methods.
Thank you, Karen and Sara, for taking the time to answer my questions. Your program surely is a model that can help dogs and their humans, and I hope it receives a global audience. Humans who choose to bring dogs (or other companion animals) into their homes and hearts are obligated to give them the very best lives possible. (See Canine Confidential: Why Dogs Do What They Do and Unleashing Your Dog: A Field Guide to Giving Your Canine Companion the Best Life Possible.) I found your”Review of pet training techniques: wellbeing, learning capability, and present criteria ” to be an incredibly important read, one that should put to rest ideas that aversive conditioning, including the use of shock collars, work well in the long term. (See “Is It Time to Ban Shock Collars for Dogs In All Situations? ” and “What and Who Dogs Want and Need: Love, Not Shocks.”) I hope that everyone who works in the dog training field will read it. For those who don’t or won’t, I’ve provided some snippets in Note 1. And, as I mentioned above, your summary of dog training standards should be required reading for anyone who chooses to work in the area of dog training/teaching. A dog who has trouble fitting in the world of dogs or an increasingly human-dominated world need all the help they can get, and your program will help make it a win-win for all involved, the dogs and their humans.
(Neither Psychology Today nor I am responsible for the advertisements that appear in this or other essays.)
Here is a brief overview of the BC SPCA’s report titled”Review of puppy training techniques: wellbeing, learning capacity, and present criteria ” by Dr I. J. Makowska. Concerning comparisons between reward-based vs. aversive-based methods and dog welfare (Page 6) we learn that”two empirical research found that instruction with aversive-based techniques directed to more anxiety -associated behaviours in the puppies in contrast to instruction with reward-based methods, Stress-related behaviours lasted even after the puppies were trained along with the aversive stimulation was no more used, indicating the verbal cues themselves become aversive, 5 in five polls found that more ordinary reported utilization of aversive-based methods, whether independently or in conjunction with reward-based methods, was correlated with more regular coverage of aggression and other problem behaviours, and More common usage of R[reward-based positive reinforcement] was associated with significantly less frequent coverage of aggression and other problem behaviours.” Concerning dog-human relationships we learn that”Dogs educated with Rwere prone to gaze in their guardians during instruction than puppies educated with R, but puppies trained with Ray have only been looking for their guardians for snacks, Dogs whose guardians reported utilizing P, P- or R- were far less likely to socialize with their protector and using a stranger in a play session compared to puppies of guardians who reported using R, also with respect to instruction achievement, “More regular reported utilization of P, R- or P- has been correlated with reduced obedience and learning capability, and More common reported utilization of R+ has been associated with improved obedience and learning capability. The overview of research conducted over the use of shock collars reveals”3 in 3 empirical studies reported yelping and other vocalizations in response to shock, 2 in 2 empirical studies found more immediate stress-related behaviors in dogs trained with vs. without a shock collar (e.g. lowered ears, lip licking, lifting of front paw), 2 in 2 empirical studies reported long-term negative effects in dogs trained with vs. without a shock collar (increased alertness; persistent stress-related behaviours around the handler), and 2 in 3 surveys found lower success in training by guardians who used shock vs another reward- or aversive-based methods; the third found no difference.”
You might want to read Know more about the Adoption of Puppies in Canada