In the world of dogs, anyone, anywhere can claim to be a trainer. There is no regulation, no governing body. So how to you know which trainer is best suited (and competent) to work with you and your dog? Here at Confident Canines Ltd. we pride ourselves on following the Nine Core Ethical Principles every day, with every client, and every interaction. That is what sets us apart from the rest of the "pack".
Nine Core Ethical Principles
In other fields such as psychology, behavior analysis, and education, practitioners have turned to some specific ethical principles that can be used to guide ethical decision making (Beauchamp & Childress, 1989, Frankena, 1973, Josephson, 1991, Kitchener, 1985). Koocher and Keith-Spiegel (1998) have identified nine core principles that are seen repeatedly in the ethics literature. Dog trainers might never all agree on what is “ethically correct” in every situation. However, if we have a common understanding of the larger field of ethics and some common guidelines by which ethical dilemmas on any topic can be evaluated, we can maximize our ability to uphold a Code of Ethics once it is adopted. The nine core ethical principles that can be adapted for dog trainers follow.
1. “Do no harm” is the ethical principle that has guided professionals in the medical profession for centuries. As dog trainers begin to look seriously at issues surrounding the use of punishment, the appropriateness of aversive procedures in certain situations, and handling dogs with serious behavior problems, “do no harm” will be a most important ethical principle. Definitions will need to be developed for dog trainers to specify the meaning of “harm.” Harm is generally thought of as permanent damage or injury. For both humans and dogs, harm can be physical or psychological. In dog training, harm to dogs would most likely result from the inappropriate use of equipment or procedures or the excessive use of punishment. As we begin to address principles such as “do no harm” we will need to define terms such as “excessive,” “great” as in “great pain and distress,” and “inappropriate.”
2. Respect autonomy, defined as independence or the ability to function without control by others. In human settings, ethical therapists should work hard to have their clients become self-reliant. It is considered unethical for a therapist tell a client he or she needs to continue sessions simply so the therapist will not lose income if the client is terminated.
Dog trainers who are ethical think about making owners and their dogs as independent as possible. The skills we teach the dog should result in the dog being a well-mannered, well-behaved, respected community member who is loved in a family and welcome in public settings. Teaching dog owners responsible dog ownership behaviors will result in all of us who are dog owners having increased independence. We want to be welcome in hotels, public parks, and other public areas and the way to get welcomed is to have all dog owners behave responsibly. Trainers should teach owners the skills they need to manage their dogs effectively in both the home and community. If your pet dog class is having fun working on agility activities, you may find yourself having to tell a particular dog owner that his or her dog could benefit more from someone else’s class that teaches basic training and good manners. Pet dog trainers should strive to make dogs owners as self-reliant as possible when it comes to handling their own dog. This requires that classes and lessons provide a functional curriculum for pet dog owners. Why focus on teaching a figure eight and flip-finish when the dog will not even come to the owner when called?
On a much larger scale related to autonomy (not being controlled by others), many dog owners are affected by legislation that negatively impacts dogs and their owners. Legislation in some cities discriminates against certain breeds, some locations restrict the number of dogs people can own, and other places ban dogs from public areas such as local parks. This legislation generally comes following problem incidents where dog owners have not been responsible. Being a part of a society means that we will have rules and we lose autonomy to some extent. The loss if autonomy will be even greater in settings where dog owners are not responsible.
3. Benefit others. Benefiting others in the dog training context means that decisions made by dog trainers should have a positive effect on both dogs and clients. In human settings, ethical issues are applied to the professional to client relationship. Ethical issues also apply to the professional to professional relationship. For example, doctors should not speak badly to their patients about another physician. In dog training, there is an additional element added to the ethics formula – the dog. Dog trainers must address ethical issues regarding trainer-client relationships, trainer-dog relationships, and trainer to trainer relationships.
In all of the relationships a trainer has, whether they be with dogs, clients, or other trainers, the ethical principle of “benefit others” applies.
4. Be just. Actions that are “just” are actions that are fair and impartial. This is the principle that says as dog trainers we should treat both dogs and clients as we would like to be treated. Another part of being fair to clients is that they are not promised something a practitioner can’t deliver.
Trainers will take the physical and psychological well-being of the dog into account when planning behavior programs. For example, it would not be fair to use punishment with a dog who engages in an undesirable behavior that was caused by a health problem. Trainers should also refrain from giving unreasonable guarantees regarding the outcome of training.
5. Be faithful. Being faithful in both human services and dog training settings relates to being truthful, sincere, and without intent to mislead anyone. Faithfulness with regard to ethics relates to maintaining allegiance. This allegiance can be to dogs in general, to an individual dog, or to a client. Allegiance also pertains on a larger scale to adhering to one’s principles and high standards for dog training. Ethical trainers will do what is in the best interest of dogs and their owners.
Being faithful in professional settings also applies to confidentiality, promise keeping, and not violating a trust. An ethical dog trainer would not discuss one client with another client. The relationship between a trainer and client is a fiduciary relationship, much like the relationship between and therapist and client.
6. Accord dignity. Professionals in human service settings begin with the assumption that every person is worthy of respect. Expanded to dog training, every client is worthy of respect and every dog is worthy of respect. Trainers can give clients dignity by giving them strategies and procedures to use with which they can have success with their dog. Clients are given dignity when trainers understand their problems, needs, and the dynamics of their particular situation at a given time. Some clients have physical limitations or learning problems and a trainer who gives a client dignity will make the necessary adaptations to ensure that the client can experience success.
Dogs are given dignity when trainers recognize that each and every one is a unique, remarkable creature. Different dogs learn in different ways and ethical trainers will identify training methods for individual dogs that results in the dog having an opportunity to be successful and get reinforced for correct behaviors.
7. Treat others with care and compassion. Treating others with care and compassion is an ethical principle applied in medical and therapy settings that can also apply to dog training. Being able to imagine one’s self in the place of a frustrated, novice dog owner with a problem dog is one mark of an ethical trainer and understanding that a dog is not being noncompliant, instead, he is really just very confused about what you want him to do, are abilities related to ethics.
8. Pursuit of excellence. In professional settings in many areas, the pursuit of excellence relates to becoming a competent professional, supporting other professionals who are trying to become more skilled, and attempting to prevent unprofessional and unethical actions.
Dog trainers who are ethical should be in constant pursuit of excellence. This means improving one’s own skills as well as helping colleagues, clients, and dogs “be all that they can be.” This means that clients will learn specific dog training skills as well as what it means to be a responsible owner. Excellence as related to dogs is a far bigger picture than learning to sit and come when called. Ethical dog trainers will do their best to have an impact on the larger dog training community, but they will not attempt to work out of the range of their own professional limitations.
9. Accept accountability. Accepting accountability relates to considering the potential consequences of one’s actions, taking responsibility for one’s actions, and refraining from shifting the blame to others. In dog training, a person who is accountable has to accept some responsibility for both clients and dogs. For example, if none of the students in a group class learned last week’s lesson, a trainer might have to accept responsibility and recognize that it could be that the instruction was not effective.
The nine core ethical principles used by other fields to analyze ethical problems can clearly be applied to dog training. Trainers can use these principles to further understand the ethical dilemmas that face us as we work to become an established, accepted profession. Although we have our own unique needs and parameters as dog trainers, we can learn from the larger field of ethics and from other professions who have struggled with ethical issues before us.
And while you’re pondering ethics for trainers, remember one more thing that Mark Twain said, “Always do right; this will gratify some people and astonish the rest.”
You may have heard about clicker training, a method of positive reinforcement training. But what does it mean? How is it different from just rewarding your dog for making good choices?
Firstly, clicker training is rooted in science. Behavioral science tells us that behaviors that are rewarded will continue. Clicker training was developed by marine mammal trainers; however, they use whistles because they can be heard underwater. Marine mammal trainers had to use some sort of positive reinforcement method to train the animals with which they worked. Not surprisingly, negative reinforcement or aversive training doesn’t work with an animal that can simply swim away if he is in pain or uncomfortable! The clicker, or whistle in this case, is a bridge. It tells the animal that whatever he is doing at the time he hears the click or whistle is correct and will earn a reward.
Why is this better than just rewarding an animal after it completes the desired action? For example, perhaps a trainer wants to train a dolphin to create a bigger splash when jumping. Without marking the exact action that the dolphin creates a splash, the dolphin doesn’t know if he is being rewarded for jumping high, jumping fast, returning quickly to the trainer after jumping, etc.
There are many variables that can be interpreted or misinterpreted when, in actuality, all the trainer cares about is the splash. With a clicker (or whistle) the trainer can “mark” the exact moment a big splash is created. Now the dolphin knows exactly what action should be repeated in the future to earn more rewards. In short, clicker training is very efficient!
How does this relate to your dog? Using clicker, or marker, training, you can communicate to your dog exactly what he is doing that will earn him a reward.
A clicker is a mechanical noise maker, however, you can also use a verbal marker word. Many trainers use “yes” or “good.” It’s important that this verbal marker not be confused with verbal praise, and that it is always used in the same tone of voice.
So how would you use marker training with your dog? Here’s an example…you are teaching your dog to lie down on cue, however, your dog tends to immediately pop back up into a stand the moment his elbows hit the floor. You can’t possibly deliver a reward fast enough for him to connect the reward with the lying down action. Bring in the clicker! You can click, or mark, the moment his elbows hit the floor so that even if he does stand back up, you can still reward him and he still knows what he is being rewarded for. As your dog learns, you can delay your click, or mark, so your dog learns that remaining in a down position is what earns his reward!
Ready to start clicker training? Not so fast… First you need to charge your clicker! Right now, a click or marker word doesn’t mean anything to your dog. Before you can start using it in training, you have to give the sound value. This step is very simple. Count out 10 small treats. Click and feed treat, click and feed treat, click and feed treat, and continue until you have used all 10 treats. Now when you click or use your marker word, your dog will be expecting a treat!
Try it out. Start with something simple that your dog already knows: Sit, for example. Ask your dog to sit, click/mark as your dog’s rump touches the floor, and then deliver your reward. Some other behaviors where using a clicker can be handy?
Jumping – You can click for four paws on the floor much easier – and faster- than you can deliver a treat when all four paws are on the floor.
Stay – Click any time your dog is staying still.
Go to place – You no longer have to be next to your dog, or follow him to his bed, to reward him for going to his bed when asked.
IMPORTANT TIPS FOR SUCCESSFUL CLICKER TRAINING
Don’t forget! Follow up every click with a reward! This could be food, a toy, praise/petting, or anything else your dog enjoys. Important Tips for Successful Clicker Training
• Pay up!
• Practice timing!
• 1 click = 1 reward
• Delivery reward within 3 seconds • Click for action; reward for position.
Over the years, I’ve had more people than I can count ask if they can apprentice under me to learn to train dogs. I’ve generally always said yes as I love to share my passion and dream of working with dogs! And, lets be honest, I can’t train all the dogs in the world (Although I would give it a good try!) But time and again, these initially enthusiastic, eager, would-be trainers just slowly disappear. They stop coming to classes or have “other plans” and will come “the next week”.
You see, no one really knows what it’s like to be a professional dog trainer. Training your neighbor’s dog for a couple extra bucks is not the same as being a professional dog trainer. Holding a couple of group classes once and a while isn’t being a professional dog trainer. Offering advice to anyone who asks on how to fix problem a, b, or c, isn’t being a professional dog trainer. Here, in my experience, is what being a professional dog trainer is all about:
Dogs don’t ask to be in our lives, so it’s our responsibility to not only ensure they have a roof over their heads and food in their bellies, but also meet all of their other needs as well; their need for exercise, their need for enrichment, their need to be a dog. Dogs aren’t humans, and it’s no wonder there are so many issues that need to be sorted, but a dedicated, ethical, driven trainer will help build that bridge of understanding and in doing so, build an unbreakable bond between you and your dog. I am humbled daily by what dogs have to teach me and there isn’t anything, anywhere, or anyone, that could ever make me want to change professions. I have visions of myself, in my 90’s, possibly even in a wheel chair, working with clients and their dogs to enhance and build that elusive bond!
So if you think dog training is playing with fluffy puppies all the time, you are right, and you are wrong.
Paws & Love