Pet lovers should seek professional advice before getting a dog_ certified trainer _ gazettextra

Certified professional dog trainer Bridget Davies of Janesville does training exercises with Connie and Steve Holmes and their 13-week-old border collie mix, Marla, during a session at Palmer Park in Janesville.

Marla, a 13-week-old border collie mix owned by Connie and Steve Holmes of Janesville, takes a break during training with Bridget Davies. Davies says dog owners should train puppies when they’re between 6 and 16 weeks




—Check trainers’ qualifications. There are no regulations or required qualifications for dog trainers. However, some organizations require standards and education. To find them, visit ccpdt. org, karenpryoracademy. com, petprofessionalguild. com.

The website apdt. com has resources for dog owners and lists of trainers and their qualifications.

One Wisconsin-based group of trainers and animal professionals uses force-free training methods and techniques that focus on teaching animals by rewarding desired behaviors. Visit forcefreewisconsin. com.

—Make sure anyone living with your dog is teaching the dog the same way, using the same cues and rewards.

—Be careful using aversive training methods that suppress undesirable behavior; they can have detrimental side effects later in the dog’s life.

“Results can be quick and magical, but beware you could be doing more harm than good,” said dog trainer Bridget Davies.

—Using food to reward your pet while training is fine, but it isn’t needed for life.

“We spend many weeks/months potty training children with praise and rewards, but eventually things take care of themselves. You don’t praise your 10-year-old for using the bathroom. This is the same with reward-based dog training,” Davies said.

Other reinforcers, from praise to petting and play, can be used in addition to food, she said.

—Don’t buy into the notion that dog training requires establishing dominance.

People look up to “dog whisperer” Caesar Millan because he is on TV and gets instant results in a half-hour program, Davies said.

“If it looks too good to be true, it probably is,” she said.

“Research behind the dominance alpha theory methods has been debunked, and even author David Mech, who wrote this theory, no longer stands by his research regarding the dominance theory.”



Choosing a dog trainer can be one of the most important decisions you make in your dog’s life. Here are guidelines from the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior:

—Seek reward-based training. The society endorses training methods that let animals work for food, play and affection rather than techniques that use fear or pain to punish them for undesirable behaviors. Look for a trainer who uses reward-based training with treats, toys and play. Avoid a trainer who uses physical force, which can harm your pet.

—Look for a good teacher. A good instructor should be able to explain and demonstrate training behaviors. In a class situation, the teacher should provide ample time for practice and one-on-one help. Teachers also should be able to adapt humane training methods to the individual dog.

—Continuing education matters. Look for a trainer who demonstrates continual self-education. A conscientious trainer will keep up-to-date with new training theories and methods and may attend workshops and conferences.

—Respect is key. A good trainer should be personable and respectful of both you and your dog.

—Observe a class. Always ask to observe a class before attending. You need to make sure that the teaching style of the instructor will work with how you learn. Also, watch the students and their dogs. Are they having fun or looking stressed? Talk to current students. If the trainer does not allow you to observe a class, ask yourself (and the trainer) why.

—Do you feel comfortable? You should feel comfortable doing whatever the trainer asks you to do to your dog. If your trainer ever tells you to do something you believe will cause distress, ask him or her to explain why the technique is being used, potential drawbacks of the technique and how those will be addressed if they occur. Or ask for another option.

—There are no guarantees. Because pet behavior can be unpredictable, a conscientious trainer cannot and will not guarantee the results of training. However, trainers should be willing to ensure satisfaction with their services.

—Ensure up-to-date vaccinations. A good instructor will insist on up-to-date vaccinations for dogs in a class and will discourage owners from bringing in sick dogs. Make sure your veterinarian is comfortable with the trainer’s vaccination requirements, especially for puppy classes.

—Confront problem behaviors. When dealing with problem behaviors, such as biting, fighting or destructiveness, a good trainer should collaborate with your veterinarian and know when to seek help from other professionals.


Hear dog trainer Bridget Davies talk about the hows and whys of dog training at gazettextra. com/videos.

JANESVILLE—Connie and Steve Holmes sought the help of a professional dog trainer a week after rescuing Marla, an energetic border collie mix puppy, in August.

“We’ve had other dogs and didn’t get a trainer, but this breed is different—very intelligent and active. So we’re going to need help training her,” Connie said.

Connie searched online and found Bridget Davies, a Janesville certified professional dog trainer.

Davies is glad they reached out. However, she stressed that prospective dog owners “should seek professional advise before ever getting the dog, whether you have had experience with a dog in the past or whether this is the first time you’ve had a pet, so you know what you’re doing.”

Daniel H. Antolec of Brooklyn , a certified professional dog trainer and chairman of the Pet Professional Guild Advisory Committee, agreed.

“It is my belief that people who want to bring a dog into their lives should plan ahead—as if they were expecting a child—and consult a certified, force-free trainer long before getting the dog,” he wrote in an email.

“You wouldn’t take your child to just anyone for tennis and piano lessons,” Davies said. “It’s the same with a dog. If you are not being committed to training and helping your dog learn how to be a member of your family, then your dog is going to lose its life.”

Antolec said families who don’t hire professional trainers often get frustrated with their dogs and end up giving them to animal shelters.

“A shelter dog is typically an adolescent male with little or no training. The leading cause of death among dogs 3 years of age and younger is euthanasia due to largely preventable behavior problems,” he said, citing data from the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior.


When people look for a dog, they usually base their choice on looks more than breed and temperament. If they do their homework thoroughly, they’ll know what they are in for and will be prepared, Davies said.

If they don’t, they could end up with a dog whose natural instinct is to herd whatever is around it—other people, pets or things—unless that energy is channeled properly, she said.

Davies has trained dogs for more than 20 years, and she advises people to ask themselves these questions:

—What do you want your dog to achieve?

—What behavior do you want your dog to stop?

—What happens when your dog gets it right (does what you ask)?

—What will happen when your dog gets it wrong (does not do what you want)?

Dog trainers are not regulated, so Davies encourages people to research trainers and their qualifications.

“In Wisconsin, we have our own special group of trainers and animal professionals who are force-free,” she said.

A list of those people can be found at forcefreewisconsin. com.

According to the group’s website, members “advocate for the physical, emotional and environmental well-being of companion animals and are dedicated to training methods and techniques that focus on teaching animals by rewarding desired behaviors and exclude the intentional use of physical or psychological intimidation.”

Other organizations that require standards and education can be found at ccpdt. org, karenpryoracademy. com, petprofessionalguild. com and apdt. com. Resources for dog owners and lists of trainers and their qualifications are included on the websites.


Many dog training methods exist, but Davies has adopted her own style. She calls it the Positive Reinforcement Method.

“To change behavior, I focus on rewarding desirable behavior and removing rewards for undesirable behavior,” she said.

Davies teaches dogs how to be happy, healthy members of a family.

“This is keeping it simple so people understand what they have to do to teach their dog to be polite—go potty outside, not jump on guests, not beg at the table, not steal food—and a courteous member of the family,” she said.

The Holmeses found that to be true after Davies visited their home. Her $40 initial visit allowed her to assess Marla and customize her training as she does for all new clients.


With Marla, the timing was perfect because dog owners have a narrow window of time to socialize puppies correctly, Davies said.

“The critical time for training a puppy is between 6 and 16 weeks,” she said.

Before enrolling Marla in a six-week puppy class, the Holmeses learned commands, including “come,” from Davies while they worked with Marla off-leash in the park.

Davies takes dogs she trains to social places, such as parks, so they learn the commands, etiquette and social skills they need to be safe outside the home.

“It’s very important for a dog to listen to you,” Connie said.

Having a trainer gave the Holmeses invaluable insight on how Marla should act around other people and pets, Steve said.

“It’s nice to know we can do something with her and have it where we can enjoy her along with other people, instead of just us,” he said.

The Holmeses agree they made the right decision by hiring a professional dog trainer.

“Training will make us happy and (teach) Marla to be a good dog,” Connie said.