all tip cards 1

We are very excited to be releasing these Tip Cards to help with both common issues that we see and help to enrich the lives of dogs and their owners. These cards are going to be available in several local veterinary offices as well as the Pet People stores in Hyde Park, West Chester and Montgomery. We will be providing each store with a pair of cards, so be sure to check back in to see them all!

This is the first set of a series. We have some additional cards planned for later this year. If you have any requests on topics you would like us to cover, please let us know. These cards are designed to help pet owners and so we love receiving input from all of you.


These are the next two questions pet owners should ask potential trainers. Please read the first part located here.


3. What is your educational background in dog training & behavior? Where did you learn to become a trainer?

Because the law does not require licensing or formal training for dog trainers, anyone can call themselves one. There is no one-way to become trainer and people approach it in many different ways.

Schools & Programs
There are schools and programs people can attend and they range from in-depth courses that take several months or more to complete to the weekend dog training school where after two days you are a “certified trainer”.  There are both online only courses and hands-on programs as well as some that combine both.

If the trainer you are interviewing attended a school or program, ask for specifics about the course such as did anyone who attended pass or was there a standard that must be passed? Get the web address of the program and the contact information so that you can check it out.

Now, attending a program is not the only way to become a trainer and many wonderful trainers never attended one for a variety of reasons.

Another way that a young trainer gets their start is by apprenticing under another trainer, learning and studying from them. Just like with the schools and programs, there are some great trainers you can study under as well as some not-so-great ones.

Books, DVDs, Seminars
Othere trainers are so propelled by their thirst for knowledge and/or did not have a way to otherwise learn about dog training that they educated themselves. This was done by reading books on a variety of topics written by great dog trainers and either attending seminars or conferences and/or watching them on DVD.

This last one should not be confused with “trainers” who have no other training besides owning dogs all there life and always being good with them. Dog training is a complex field of study and requires an understanding of behavior science, how dogs learn and understand and more.

The best trainers will have studied through books and seminars plus apprenticed under another trainer for some time and/or attended a program. You should always ask for specifics on a trainers education so that you may be sure they have the background to help you and your dog.


4. What are some recent continuing education events that you attended?

Building on the fact that dog training is built around behavior science, the information is ever-evolving and changing for the better. For this reason, continuing education is absolutely vital for every dog trainer. In addtion to furthing the trainers own knowledge and understanding of dog behavior & training, it also helps them to be able to offer clients with the most up-to-date and effective techniques to help dogs and their loving owners.

Continuing education can take a few forms. Attendance to seminars and conferences is my favorite way of learning more because in addition to hearing from amazing speakers, you get to meet other trainers who also understand the need for continuing education. Online seminars are another type and allow trainers from all over the world to learn more on topics that would cost them hundreds or more to see in person because of travel costs. Lastly, trainers can buy or rent seminars that have been recorded on DVD. These can be very handy because you can pause, rewind and rewatch whenever you want to be sure to get the most out of the experience.

Look for trainers that take their education seriously and whom have attended at least one continuing education event in the past year and a half. Some trainers believe after a certain point they know enough and wouldn’t benefit from attending another event but this is never the case. There is always more to learn and grow.


Did you know that anyone can call themselves a dog trainer? The law does not require any formal training or licensing. It is the responsibility of pet owners to find the best qualified person to work with you and your dog.

Unfortunately, many pet owners don’t quite know what to look for in a trainer, the questions they should ask potential dog trainers and what the answers to those questions should be. This is a topic I feel very strongly about because I believe that this will help to save pet owners from wasting money on one trainer and then having to go to another as well as protect dogs from dangerous and outdated techniques.

This is going to be written as a series of two questions each so as to not overload the post.


1. What method of training do you use?

There are many methods out there to train your dog and they go by many names. The techniques that I use when training focus on rewarding good behavior, prevent rewarding bad behavior while setting the dog up to succeed and not focusing on punishing bad behavior or using methods that will cause the dog to feel pain, fear or intimidated.

Why not punish bad behavior? Your dog could do one thing right or hundreds of things wrong. Wouldn’t it be easier to reinforce the good behavior (by definition making it occur more) than constantly punishing all the wrong things your dog does? Punishing will also inhibit learning because your dog will not want to offer you behavior for fear of being punished.

When asking this question, ask for specifics. What will you do to my dog to teach them? Will you use a food treat to reinforce good behavior? Will you give the dog a leash pop or hold up the dog by the leash (cutting off air) until they do what you ask or stop doing what is wrong? Will you set up the environment to keep the dog from reacting (going over threshold)? What will you do if the dog reacts? Will you remove them and chock it up as more information to help train or will you do something to punish the behavior?

The reason I say you must ask for specifics is dog trainers are trying to sell you a service and this means they are going to try and make it sound attractive. Here’s an example:

            “What methods do you use to train my dog?”

            “I will work with you and your dog to make your dog see you as the alpha, or pack leader. Because of how dogs behave in their natural habitat, we can use those same techniques to teach your dog to see you as a pack leader. By doing so, we will be able to quickly, easily and permanently solve many of the problems you are having with your dog.”

Sounds nice, right? But it didn’t actually answer the question. Many slick salesmen and advertisements are designed to sound the most attractive to the buyers and doesn’t actually have to answer the question. This is often done because the answer is not nearly as nice sounding. Here is the example above, continued:

            “Well that sounds wonderful, but how exactly do you teach me to be alpha? What specifically are you going to do to me or to my dog to get this result you speak of?”

            “Well, you see, I will teach your dog that offering any behavior other than the one I want is very unsafe and may result in a leash pop. This way, your dog will only do what you say is okay for him to do.”

This, unfortunately, is not going to be the first response out of the trainer’s mouth but will require more prodding on your part to get. When asking this question to trainers who utilize methods based on the use of pain, fear or intimidation, they are often going to use clever euphemisms to disguise what they are doing because when their methods are explained in plain terms, it doesn’t sound safe, let alone nice.

However, if you ask the same question of a humane trainer, many are enthusiastically happy to explain exactly how the training works. You may have to ask them to explain what some words mean exactly though. The reason for this is dog training is behavior science and many humane trainers, like myself, love the science so much that we sometimes speak in the technical terms. I am even happier when clients ask me to explain further because I want them to fully understand why I do what I do and why it works.

So, ask for specifics about exactly what methods the trainer is going to use to train you and your dog. Poke and prod them until you can visualize what the trainer is going to do. Only then can you make a better informed decision.


2. What are the side-effects of the training methods you use?

Dogs learn by both consequence and association (which is a topic for another post). The associated learning in a nut shell means that dogs associate an emotion with an item/person/environment because of what it often predicts. For example, many dogs get excited when you pick up their leash because leash means walks. Another example is dog is fearful when they go to the vet because the vet office means poking/prodding/shots.

Due to this learning, dogs are always associated emotional responses with things that often occur together. A training example is dog lies down on their own and you give them a treat. With repetition, the dog starts to think, “I really like lying down” because it is so often associated with a happy feeling.

The reason this is significant is because techniques that cause pain, fear, or intimidation can cause the dog to have an unpleasant association with whatever the training is involved with.For example, you have a dog who is excited to see another dog on walks and you leash pop him. Enough times and the dog begins to think, “Hey, each time I see a dog, my neck really hurts. I wish dogs would stay away from me.” and to accomplish this, the dog may begin barking and lunging at the other dogs to keep them away.

Methods that focus on reinforcing good behavior and exclude the use of methods that would cause pain, fear, or intimidation are going to result in a dog who loves training and eagerly performs anything you ask.

Methods that focus on using pain, fear, or intimidation are likely to cause the dog to become (more) fearful of you, the trainer, and whatever else may be around when training. That fear may also generalize outward as an adaptive way of surviving in a dangerous world.

Now, don’t misunderstand me. A bad humane trainer could teach your dog the wrong things, bad/rude behaviors and to be a general butt-head if they don’t know what they are doing. That is why it is important to not just find a humane trainer but a humane trainer who knows what they are doing.

There are side-effects to any training that you do with your dog and by understanding what those are yourself and finding a trainer that both knows the side-effects and how to use them to your dog’s advantage will help you on the road to finding the right person to work with you and your dog.


Tune in next time for part two of this series and I look forward to hearing your thoughts.



This is a bit of a pet peeve of mine so I do apologize if I sound a bit strongly about this. I am often astounded at how often I see people coming over to dogs they do not know and greeting them without ever asking first. In addition to it being rude, it is also incredibly dangerous. No matter how cute that dog looks, it is no guarantee it is friendly.

When I was younger, my parents taught me never to touch something that did not belong to me and to always ask permission first. It just came naturally to me that I should ask a pet owner who’s dog I wanted to greet if it was okay to do so. In addition to that being the polite thing to do, it also helped protect me if the dog was one that did not like to be greeted. As sad as it is to say, not every dog enjoys having a stranger whom they have never met to come over and roughly pat them on the head. I know that your intentions are good but please take a moment to ask first.

Imagine how the dog might see it. I want you to put yourself in the dog’s paws for a moment. How would you react if a complete stranger came up to you and roughly gave you a hug? Did I forget to mention that you have a phobia of being touched? Next this person gives you a smooch right on the lips, all the while, speaking Portuguese-baby-talk.

Now me personally, I don’t mind a nice hug from a stranger, granted they don’t smell funny (no offense). However, I certainly wouldn’t want someone giving me a kiss and if they spoke a language that I did not, I would have a lot of trouble telling them “please, don’t” without getting into a physical confrontation with them.

I had taken one of my St. Bernard’s, Bruce, to the pet store with me to get some provisions. As an adorable fluff ball, he is a magnet for attention. I do my best to help people say hi to him in a way he likes but I can’t always. This particular day, a woman came out of no where, loomed over Bruce and wrapped her arms him in a great big hug. I was horrified for a moment before Bruce gave what is known as a muzzle punch to her face. This meant a closed mouth punch that resulted in her glasses being knocked off and slime all over her face. I was horrified at what I had allowed this woman to do to my dog, and embarrassed by his actions (though, quite frankly, they were appropriate).

Luckily, the woman was not scathed and was actually laughing about it. However, if this were a different dog, this woman could very easily have needed plastic surgery because of her actions; even a very low level bite to the face can be devastating. And if that had occured, you can bet that the dog will be likely euthanized and the owner possibly sued, all because some person didn’t ask first.

Now, asking the owner is really only half the equation. You also should always ask a dog if it’s okay to pet them because sometimes even owners may not realize their dog would rather not be petted. They may just be having an off day or perhaps a bit stressed out. No matter the reason, asking the dog will help to save the dog from taking issue with your greeting.

How should you ask the dog though, you may be wondering? By being respectful of their space for one. Do not just rush up to a dog and expect them to like you. Approach the dog at a gentle pace and stop just outside the dog’s bubble. Allow them to make the move towards you if they would like. If the dog seems relaxed and interested in your attention, then gently pet the dog. I recommend gently petting the dog on the side closest to you, on the chest or around the chin. This way, the dog can see where you are petting and can easily walk away if they are done with getting your attention.

Hopefully, you now of a small glimpse of how our dogs may perceive us saying hi. Now, there are many dogs out there who would be absolutely thrilled to have you do this to them but by asking permission first, you can be more polite to person and pet alike and I for one would like to see some more politeness in this world.

For additional resources on how to greet dogs appropriately, for what to avoid, and to better understand how dog’s may feel about this, please feel free to contact us or visit for some fantastic free handouts.