Red Flags in Pet Professionals

If social media has taught us anything, it’s that there are a lot of pet professionals out there that aren’t doing right by their clients or their dogs. As a dog owner it can be hard to know who to trust with your furry family member and a little scary to think about leaving them in the care of someone you don’t know very well. So what are some things to look for when looking to hire someone? I’ve put together some red and green flags for pet professionals. 

There are many things to consider when looking to hire a dog trainer. Dog training is an unregulated industry so anyone can call themselves a dog trainer regardless of how qualified they might be. It’s important to know what to look for and avoid. One of the biggest Red Flags for me is when the trainer ignores an owner’s request not to use certain training tools or refuses to discuss the use of tools at all. It’s important that the owner has a say in how their dogs are trained. This especially applies to training tools because if the owners are uncomfortable with the training tools it’s more likely that they’ll use those tools improperly or not at all. The inconsistency of the tool use between the trainer and the owner will cause more stress and confusion in the dog and the dog will struggle to learn what it’s supposed to be doing. As dog trainers it is our job to listen to our clients and respect the boundaries they have set in place. As a business owner, it is the trainer’s right to refuse service to someone who is setting limitations on what the trainer believes in necessary, but it is never acceptable to deceive the client or blatantly disregard the client’s wishes. 

Another major red flag for me is seeing dogs that are stressed, shut down, or over threshold. Our dogs are trying to survive in a world that is not designed for them and many of the things we expect our dogs to do go against what they would be doing if left to their own devices. It is important that we are fair to our dogs and treat them with the respect due to them. Trainers that are producing dogs that are stressed out or shut down are not being fair to the dogs. Intentionally pushing dogs over threshold and causing unnecessary stress is another Red Flag for me. Again, it’s unfair for the dog for us to put them in situations where they feel like they must fight or flee.

My personal biggest Red Flag is the use of “alpha theory”. “Alpha theory” is an outdated and disproven method of training or interacting with dogs. You can read more about the history of “alpha theory” and the facts and myths around being the “pack leader” on the VCA Animal Hospitals website. Updated research and a better understanding of relationships between dogs and humans show that the use of “alpha theory” is damaging to the dog’s relationship with the owner and can create various unwanted behaviors including defensive aggression. Unfortunately, many popular trainers on TV and social media continue to use “alpha theory” in their training which makes it difficult to move past it as a society. When choosing a trainer, I always try to pick someone that is constantly trying to improve their methods and grow their knowledge in the field of dog training.

In Board & Train programs, we entrust our animals into the care of strangers with the expectation that they will treat our animals with the same love and respect we do. Among the Red Flags mentioned about dog trainers in general, I consider it a Red Flag when B&T programs produce inconsistent results. This is especially true for me if training tools are used in the training process. If a trainer is producing inconsistent results, that tells me that they are either lacking in skill or over using punishment. 

The use of excessive punishment in dog training causes different dogs to respond differently. Some will try to avoid the punishment by performing the target behavior, some will try to avoid the punishment by offering what ever behaviors they know until they land on the correct one, some dogs will simply shut down, and occasionally there are dogs that develop defensive aggression. A good dog trainer will be able to consistently train different dogs to perform the same behaviors with the same level of enthusiasm. The goal in dog training should be to get the dog to work with their handler as a willing and enthusiastic participant. 

Pet sitters have become an incredibly valuable resource for pet owners. Pet sitters allow us to leave our beloved pets at home where they are the most comfortable and still receive care. Because pet sitters are in our home alone with our animals, it is incredibly important that we’re able to trust them. It’s important for pet sitters to follow our instructions for our pets to avoid injury, health issues, or medical emergencies. It’s important that they notify us when something changes in our pet’s health or behavior. It’s also important for them to know their own limits. When someone takes on more then they can reasonably handle, the situation can become dangerous for them or the animals in their care. It’s important for pet sitters to be honest with their clients and themselves about their limits. 

When looking for a pet professional in any capacity it’s important to read their reviews. If you’re satisfied with their reviews, sit down and talk with them. Go over what your expectations are, go over your boundaries, and ask about how they intend to work with and care for your pets. Listen to your gut. If you feel like something feels wrong, don’t try to convince yourself that you’re being paranoid or over protective. There’s a reason your gut is telling you something is wrong. Always listen to your gut.

I hope this was helpful! As always, please feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions or would like to discuss this topic more!