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Beware When Hiring a Dog Trainer

Are you wondering how to find a dog trainer? Be aware that no education, experience, certification, or license is required to be a dog trainer.

Did you know that the dog training profession is completely unregulated in the U.S.? There’s no licensing or certification requirement, no minimum education or experience, nor any standards whatsoever for someone to go into business as a dog trainer; literally anyone can do it.

Without consumer protections in place, owners should be extremely cautious and exercise due diligence before engaging the services of any dog trainer. Your dogs’ lives literally depend on it.

Regulation vs. Certification

Most professions are regulated. Doctors, lawyers, barbers, and insurance salespeople all must be licensed in the states where they practice. In fact, most trades also require certification (in many cases, passing a state board exam). Certification ensures that practitioners possess a minimum, standardized understanding of their trade; licensure protects consumers and puts consequences in place for shoddy or dangerous work, malpractice, or fraud.

Certification for dog trainers is available from a number of organizations – but is not required by any state – and the education that certificants receive is far from standardized.

Further, no state requires trainers to have anything but a business license; there is no protection for consumers – or, more importantly, their dogs – who suffer at the hands of an incompetent trainer. A dog can even be killed by a trainer’s neglect, negligence, lack of skill, or violence, but the only compensation for his owner that might be required is limited to the replacement cost of the dog (the law considers dogs to be mere property).

In most professions, regulating agencies have encoded industry standards and practices, so consumers can compare the services they receive with industry norms. In contrast, dog owners have no recourse against harmful training practices, unless obvious abuse or neglect has taken place – and even then, owners usually have no way to recoup the money they gave their dogs’ abuser. Regulation could provide this consumer protection.

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Calls For Regulation

Some training organizations are lobbying for dog-trainer licensure and are working on model legislation. State legislatures in Illinois and California have introduced bills for dog trainer licensure, though neither has been passed or written into law. California, at least, passed a bill requiring dog trainers to disclose whether there have been any civil judgments regarding their training or any animal cruelty convictions.

There is much discussion but zero consensus among dog trainers on whether the industry should be regulated. The split seems to run down the middle, with most force-free trainers favoring regulation, and most trainers who refer to themselves as “balanced” against regulation.

I am strongly in favor of professional certification and regulation for the industry, but I don’t know exactly what it should look like. The working draft of model legislation I have seen from one training organization is not yet equitable or inclusive, and may even be harmful to trainers from marginalized populations.

But I hope consumers and trainers alike continue to push for regulation of the dog-training industry. A minimum, standardized education for dog trainers is badly needed. Certification programs that require practical skills testing and the passing of an exam covering scientific principles of learning theory, behavior analysis, ethology, and animal husbandry would benefit every dog-training client, human and canine. Regulation and licensure would protect consumers – and help educated, professional dog trainers gain the recognition and respect they deserve.

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