I'm Tim Steele, CTC and I live in the San Francisco Bay area in Santa Clara, California. Like so many, I grew up with pets. But I dreamed of becoming an attorney when I was a kid and not a dog trainer (I was an odd kid, huh?).
I had lots of pets as a kid and I think everyone in my large family had a dog. Then I got hooked on parrots and trained many over a thirty year span. Though I had no formal training, I read everything I could get my hands on to learn how animals learn and how we can train them.
But things changed when Juno came to live with us.
At a puppy socialization class with Juno, I met a great trainer who suggested I read "The Culture Clash" by Jean Donaldson. That book showed me that there was real science behind the things I'd figured out on my own with the many parrots I’d trained over the years. Later, I found that Jean had a school in which she teaches dog trainers using science-based, effective, humane methods. The school is called The Academy for Dog Trainers. You can't find a more comprehensive course on dog training (everything from evolution of the modern dog, obedience basics, fear and aggression, genetics, applied behavioral analysis, and more).
I completed the two year course with honors. The CTC following my name means "Certificate of Training and Counseling."
Of course, even after two years of extensive study, there's always more research and advances in animal behavior to keep up with. I continue to attend seminars, classes, and webinars by experts such as Daniel Mills, Susan Friedman, Susan Garrett, Bob Bailey, Simon Prins, and Michael Shikashio. And then there are the books! Lots and lots of books. Feel free to ask for reading suggestions!
Let me be clear: No dog needs a shock collar, prong collar, choke chain, pain, fear, or intimidation to learn. Unfortunately, many trainers use those methods because they don’t know how to solve problems without them.
How to find a trainer
Dog training is a completely unregulated industry. Anyone can call themselves a dog trainer, and there are no requirements for licensing, education, or experience. People sometimes use experience (“I’ve always had a a dog”) as their only qualification. Well, I’ve always had teeth but that doesn’t qualify me to be a dentist. And the availability of good and terribly bad information on TV and the internet makes it very difficult for pet owners to know who’s qualified and who’s not.
When speaking with a potential dog trainers, it is important to ask about their specific training approach. A dog trainer should be able to explain their training methods in detailed, easy-to-understand language. It can be helpful to ask the following questions:
What exactly will happen when my dog gets something right during training? (I’d tell you that the dog will be reinforced with food, praise, play, and/or petting to help ensure the behavior repeats.)
What exactly will happen when my dog gets something wrong? (I’d tell you that the dog will not experience anything painful, scary, or intimidating. Instead, I’ll give them another opportunity to get it right. I’ll also consider whether or not I’m asking too much for the dog given their current training level. If so, I’ll adjust accordingly to help the dog succeed. If an undesired and repeated behavior is self-rewarding, I may take away the thing the dog wants (like attention) to point out that the behavior doesn’t work.)
If you’re not satisfied with the answers, keep looking for a trainer makes you feel comfortable.
Dog trainers should also be able to describe the downsides to their chosen training approach. Those who use force may not know or may not be willing to share the potential for increased aggression. So, in the spirit of full transparency, here are the possible downsides to the use of the force-free training methods I use:
Your dog might get a tummy ache (might have loose stools or even vomit during/after a training session) but that will pass.
Your dog could, in theory, gain a little weight, though I've not seen this happen. If it does happen, we’ll get your dog back in shape soon.
Dogs may pester you when you pull out a Dremel to do house repairs or crafts because they’ve learned to love having their nails trimmed with the Dremel.
And, if improperly implemented, our way of training could result in dogs who perform only when they see a treat - though I'll make sure that doesn't happen and I'll show you how to avoid that pitfall too.
For more information, check out this article from the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior.