“I would have sent him flying”: the importance of choosing the right trainer

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Sprocker Spaniel puppy
Image by Alexander King

One dog owner, who wishes to remain anonymous, talks about her bad experience after hiring a trainer she found online to train her Sprocker Spaniel…

When a woman seeking help to train her Sprocker Spaniel came across this trainer’s adverts, they seemed pretty good: he stated that he was a specialist Spaniel trainer, using gun dog training to “harness the natural instincts” of the dog.

It was only after a few sessions that a much uglier truth would come to light.

She said, “We had an initial session where he asked us a lot of questions about Harris and his lineage. I guess in retrospect he was disparaging of the fact that we didn’t know much about this, as well as the age that we’d accepted him as a pup at (we got him at 8 weeks on recommendation of the vet as he had already been weaned and separated from his litter due to illness).

“Initially he made it sound really tame, for example he said to use a ‘bop’ on the nose when the biting began”

“It all went well until Harris hit the ‘sprockerdile’ phase and we sought help to deal with it. This is when we discovered that the ‘corrections’ to behaviours all involved force. Initially he made it sound really tame, for example he said to use a ‘bop’ on the nose when the biting began. His feedback was that I didn’t bop hard enough, and he would have ‘sent him flying’. I immediately said that wasn’t going to happen.

“Because I wouldn’t correct the biting in retrieve training, we moved onto loose-lead walking with a slip lead and we had no real initial red flags until the corrections came again. Once again, the correction was made to sound light, but feedback was that I needed to be prepared to toughen up and correct more severely.”

“Obviously I wasn’t prepared to do that, so my partner spoke to a work colleague who works with a rescue organisation and they recommended Steve, who is a director of the Professional Association of Canine Trainers (PACT), which definitely suited us better. The rest is happily in the past, and the only thing I’m sad about is that we didn’t find them sooner. It definitely would have saved Harris, and us, a lot of stress.”

Steve Goodall, director of PACT, comments, “When you know what to look for, you can spot red flags in a trainer a lot easier. Unfortunately, a lot of the terms come across in a positive way so it’s hard to spot them.

“A lot of common things we see are the person only having social media and no website, having no verification of their experience or only experience with no qualifications, no qualifications or certifications, not having a membership body that you can go to if you have a negative experience. They may also claim to make big changes over a small space of time.

“They may also use phrases like ‘alpha’, ‘dominate’, ‘guaranteed fix’, ‘money back guarantee’, ‘balanced training’, or ‘corrections’. All of these suggest physical harm to the dog to change their behaviour.”

“They should use empathy, kindness and management to help owners understand their dogs”

He added, “A good trainer should never train your dog using physical punishment or fear. They shouldn’t use intimidation tactics such as water bombs, stones in bottles or cans, yanking leads or anything similar. They definitely should never use or ask you to use equipment that will inflict pain, particularly e-collars and prong collars.

“A good dog trainer should have membership of a professional body, a commitment to a clear code of ethics as well as have been formally assessed of their theoretical & practical skills. They also should have relevant experience, insurance and a commitment and requirement to keep learning through constant continued professional development.

“They should use empathy, kindness and management to help owners understand their dogs to determine the best approach for the needs of both ends of the lead.”

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