Common (Dog) Sense


Dog trainers selling snake oil - part 2

My previous article titled "Dog trainers selling snake oil" had me thinking a lot about other areas I feel unsuspecting dog owners are being sold the dreaded snake oil. I also know that that article didn't go down well with a lot of dog trainers, so I am sure this one will have the same effect. So be it.

I have been around long enough to know what is and is not possible, and when unsuspecting dog owners are being sold a lie. One of the biggest cons these days are the dog trainers advertising that they have the magic method that will solve all of a dog's behaviour problems with just one visit, they will 'fix' your dog in 3 hours, and guarantee it! I find this a lot with many of the franchise businesses now operating, offering a lifetime guarantee with a 2 to 3 hour visit! This advertising is no more than an advertising gimmick to suck dog owners in to handing over their cash. No dog trainer can guarantee that they can 'fix' a dog in one session. Granted, I personally do offer an initial 2 hour home consultation to help guide dog owners to understand their dog better, and help and advise them on how they need to change their relationship with their dog to affect positive change in their dogs overall behaviour. I then offer follow-up support if they feel they need it. The onus is on the dog owner to rehabilitate their dog by following my advice, I am just their professional guide that is their for support and guidance. I can't fix their dog for them. Nowhere on my website or advertising will you see the word 'guarantee to fix your dog'. Or that I offer a lifetime guarantee. I offer follow-up support. I inform all my clients, its not just about their dog, its about how they relate to their dog, and the way they interact with it, the dogs genetics and instincts that also conditions their dogs behaviour. Many people don't like to hear that they need to put the work in to their own dog, so they tend to gravitate toward trainers that advertise, "I will fix your dog in 3 hours, and will guarantee it for life". When logic should tell them this is never going to become a reality, because it is rarely about the dog, its more about changing the dog owners relationship with their dog, their mindset and previous conditioning, and understanding their dogs instinctive needs. Then and only then can they create positive change in their dog.

It's sad, but we need to accept and be honest with ourselves, many trainers even though yes they love dogs, are in this profession first and foremost for the money, and some will even make misleading promises and make outlandish claims to dog owners to get them to part with their cash. It's reality and goes for any business, not just dog training. Money has the potential to turn honest people into people that will make promises they know they cannot keep, or make misleading and outlandish claims to get as much money as they can. Some dog trainers that aren't making enough money, and feel their competition is taking work away from them will become desperate, and feel that the only way forward is to make outlandish claims to try and win clients. So they sell snake oil.

In my professional opinion, the franchising of dog training has been one of the worst things that has happened to the dog training profession. We need to be aware, that many dog training franchises are run by under qualified people, that could afford to purchase a franchise, do a 3 to 4 week course with the franchiser, and then promote and advertise them self as a professional. For the franchiser, its nothing more than building a larger network to make more money. There is no other reason a dog trainer chooses to turn his or her business into a franchise. The problem with turning a business in to a franchise is that no person wanting to buy into a franchise wants to spend 12 months learning their craft first before opening their own business. The reason they opt for a franchise, its a quick way in to the profession. Most are out running their own little dog training business within weeks of purchasing their franchise with little to no background working with dogs in a professional capacity beforehand, and then promoting guaranteed quick fix dog training... Again selling snake oil to desperate dog owners.

Another service that has created chaos within the dog training profession, are these online courses that teach people online how to be a professional dog trainer or behaviour specialist. They are fairly cheap to do, and dog lovers are signing up for them in droves like there is no tomorrow. Everybody wants to be a dog trainer these days! They sit behind a PC for a few weeks or months, reading articles, watch videos, then go out and set up a dog training business, promoting them self as instant experts, because they have a computer generated certificate and qualification. I see so many of these trainers in closed dog groups on Facebook, running businesses, and continually asking for help from other dog trainers for the most basic training and behavioural issues. I mean, honestly, how do they seriously look in the mirror and see a professional looking back? How can they look a client honestly in the face, and tell them they are a professional? I read one post in one of these groups by a 'so-called' professional dog trainer, "was it true that dogs have trouble reading the body language of black dogs?" I mean seriously? And this was a trainer running her own business! It can take years in the field before one can even consider them self a professional.

Dog owners also need to take more responsibility when deciding to include a dog in their home.

  • Does the breed suit their lifestyle and home environment?
  • Are they going to take responsibility for their dogs education and training?
  • Are they prepared to put the hours and years into maintaining their dogs training?
  • Are they going to educate them self on dog behaviour, and implement rules and boundaries around the home?
  • Are they willing to create structure, rules, boundaries, and teach impulse control, no matter how much effort it takes?
  • What is the reason they are wanting a dog? Are they getting a dog to feel loved, and therefore to fill a void they have in their own life? And if so, are they willing to do what's right for their dog, and not just focus one their own needs to fill that void?
  • The list goes on...

I have lost count of how many homes I have been too over the past 25 years that have high energy and high drive working breeds, such as Kelpies, Border Collies, Australian Cattle Dogs, German Shepherds, etc, etc, locked in tiny backyards, or kept inside for 23 hours a day, and the owners wondering why their dog is stir crazy, destructive, overly stimulated and suffers anxiety. They will tell me, but I take my dog for a walk an hour each day, or take it to the dog park for an hour. But what they forget is the other 23 hours a day when the dog is confined in such a small area. A 1 hour 'walk' is not satisfying their dogs genetic and instinctive needs. What do many of these dog owners do to try and 'fix' their dog? They call one of these 'quick fix' trainers that offer a lifetime guarantee, with a fix your dog in 3 hours gimmick. All the owner is shown by many of these charlatans is how to dish out punishment, to quickly 'fix' the dog.. And the trainer walking out with a lot of money, and the dogs owner falsely believing their dog is fixed. Modifying behaviour is never a quick fix, its a process that needs to be worked through, and its about understanding a dog and respecting its instinctive needs and drives. Having an attitude that my dog needs to behave itself because I need to go to work each day, and my life is busy, and therefore I don't have the time to satisfy my dogs needs, so he just needs to learn to behave himself, is being totally disrespectful, selfish and not considerate to the dog. I have a client (well possibly former client now), with a working breed that lives in a very small home, with a very small confined yard with this attitude, and will not listen to my advice on what she needs to do, so now she is considering sending her dog to another trainer for board and train. It's easier to pass their dogs 'problems' on to someone else, believing they will have the magical fix. But no amount of training by another trainer in their own home is going to 'fix' her dog, unless she is willing to accept that when her dog comes home from this trainer, she is still going to have to create structure, by instilling rules and boundaries, and help the dog satisfy its genetic and instinctive needs and drives, getting the dog out more often from its confined enclosed home environment and offering a lot more mental and physical stimulation, or else nothing will change. So in other words, all the advice I have tried to pass on to her, will still stand when her dog comes back home, but hey easier to send the dog away for a week and hope that fixes the problem. Please note, I am not having ago at trainers that offer this service, as most of the ones that I know, do offer an outstanding board and train service, and have helped numerous dog owners and their dogs. However there are some things sending a dog away for that a board and train cannot change... It cannot change a dogs genetic make-up, the dog owners home environment, and a dog owner that refuses to listen, and accept responsibility for her dogs needs. I am sure the trainer she is considering sending her dog to will do a great job, but will this transfer over to my client, and will it help create a more balanced dog that has instinctive needs and its drives not currently being met in its home? I doubt it.

So many dog owners are looking for that magic snake oil, and will continue to do so until professionals start educating dog owners, that there is no such thing as a quick fix. Firstly we need to expose all the snake oil salesmen! Because while they are there, they will always have gullible dog owners desperate for their magical cure. Then we need to educate the dog owner and prospective dog owner... Sadly not all are willing to listen.


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