Guarantees in Dog Training

By Lynn –

I know I’ve quoted it before, but I need to say it again just so everyone knows where I’m coming from. Remember that scene in Miss Congeniality when Gracie has her interview with the other finalists? She does a great job and then adds in her own addendum after the applause. Gracie’s coach (Victor Melling) states “One brief shining moment…and then that mouth.”
That’s pretty much how the next two years are going to be.

My mouth will probably get me into trouble and whoever makes blood pressure medication will probably ask me to make commercials when I start downing pills by the dozen.

Having graduated last May with a Bachelor’s, I’m just starting school (again!) to become a vet tech. And since vet tech school is not dog training school, I’ve agreed to keep my mouth shut (aka “Smile and nod”) whenever we go through the behavior segments, as well as do my job whenever I have to care for the dogs…who are required to wear headcollars. Gentlemen and ladies, start your bets as to when I blow a gasket.

Anyway, the chapter on animal behavior in the $88, 10-lb monster of a book is quite amusing. That phrase on “technicians should encourage owners to use [a head halter] as standard practice in place of choke chains or pinch collars”? Nope. They’ll hate me for it. I’ll begrudgingly walk their dogs on them (with a backup kennel lead), but you will not hear such recommendations coming out of my mouth. Maybe out of the mouth of the tech standing next to me. But not mine.

I’d also like to discuss something else in that chapter that makes training a little touchy. As you’ve probably guessed, when referring to dog behavior, everything is all behaviorism and “Punishment doesn’t work.” There’s also a section in here that I’ll dissect over a few blogs called “Guidelines for evaluating a dog trainer or behavioral consultant” with a subheading of “Finding and working with dog trainers.”

One bullet notes “Avoid trainers who offer guarantees about results. They are either ignoring or do not understand the complexity of animal behavior.”

The problem with this is that it puts you, the consumer and dog owner, in danger.

Dog training is both an art and a business with a little science thrown in for good measure. Behavior is something that is indeed complex, I’ll give them that. But to not offer a guarantee from a business standpoint is suicide for the company. Any good businessman wants someone to use his product and be satisfied with it, but if he does not back it up with some type of guarantee and money-back offer, three things will happen: unsatisfied customers, many of whom can be quite outspoken, can spread the word that some of your products are of iffy quality, others will sue you to get their money back since they have no other recourse, and unles he’s doing some deals involving offshore accounts, the business will most likely lose revenue.

In the sense of dog training, many trainers and training classes will outline what is expected during the course of the class. The dog will learn sit, heel, down, etc etc. But is this guaranteed? Will the dog KNOW for sure how to do those by the end of the session, or will it just know how to perform for a cookie? Everyone here knows the story after story we get of dogs who have graduated petstore training classes who act as if they know nothing.

This, in my opinion, is why guarantees are necessary.

The class has expectations of the dogs and a list of goals for them to meet, and I’m sure every person who takes their dog in there just wants a well-behaved pet they can take anywhere. And the truth is, every dog out there (physically and mentally able) is capable of being That Dog, which is why good trainers DO offer a guarantee on their services. Making excuses for why a dog cannot do a particular exercise gets you nowhere, and in fact sets the dog back, not because of its own limitations (real or imagined), but because the owner sets HER OWN limitations. Human limitations are not shared by dogs, and nor are excuses.

When I come out of a training class, I want to know that my dog can sit, down, heel, come, etc. on command, the first time, and with a wag in his tail and spring in his step. These results should be GUARANTEED in any training program, if nothing else, because they are the most basic things a dog should know. I can be a bit more lenient on other things: competition obedience isn’t for every dog, nor is Schutzhund or agility. Anyone who offers guarantees that my dog will break speed records in agility after taking a few classes is wearing a bumhat!

Simply put, money-back guarantees are necessary in dog training and should be required. Too many dogs are abandoned for behavior issues already, and to not be able to tell an owner “I CAN fix this, and if not, then my efforts are at no cost to you” starts up the big flashing neon warning sign in my mind that reads “This is a fraud.” Unfortunately, I am not everyone (let’s all give thanks for that!), but in this case, a word to the wise is imperative.

As for those poor sods who paid money for a course in cookie-bribery? Refund all expenses paid to every one of them. I know they worked hard to try and make their dogs understand what they want, but until each dog comes out of those classes on the road to knowing the most basic commands under the most pressing of distractions and any behavioral issues successfuly cleared up, don’t make their owners pay a cent. In the end, they’ll just spend the money they saved on a trainer who will actually help them with their dog rather than dispense feel-good advice on the guise of being “on the cutting edge of behavioral science” and “dog-friendly.”

Let me add also that this blog is applying the assumption that anyone who goes into training with a professional is actively working with their dog using that professional’s advice and seeking to get the most for their money out of that particular training program. Unfortunately, many people who go into a training class do it with the attitude that all they need to do is find that one magic moment when things just “fall into place” or apply that one “magic tool” and from that moment on, the dog will be perfect. This is where the guarantee falls apart, and as Adam describes in his book, the dog might work for the trainer…but when it comes to working for the owner, the dog all of a sudden turns back into its old self, responding inconsistently or not listening at all. Professional dog trainers can pretty much tell this type of owner, and they’re not fooled by the excuses that “But we worked on it!” when obviously, the lesson was neglected. This post then, is geared more toward the owner/handler who is actively seeking to make a change in his dog’s behavior and using all advice offered by the trainer.