Behavior training at pet retailersgood, bad, ugly, beautiful?

March 21, 2019

Help steer your veterinary clients in the right direction.


With so many options and so much input for dog training available in today's marketplace, your clients can get confused and overwhelmed. From blogs and cable TV shows to readily available advice at big box stores, it's easy for a pet owner to forget the true experts with animals: you, the veterinarian. We spoke with four veterinary behaviorists and, no surprise, they're rather fired up on the topic.

But, what's the big deal anyway? Training is training, so long as they're not hurting the dog, right? Not so fast. Fetch dvm360 conference speaker John Ciribassi, DVM, DACVB, says it's much more nuanced than that. "One of the advantages of a higher quality trainer is that these trainers tend to understand the difference between a training problem and a behavior problem," he says, noting that the latter may require psychoactive pharmaceuticals to address. And guess where they're going to get those. (Hint: Their initials are DVM.)

Behavior resources

‘My dog bit someone!' Two aspects of a delicate situation.

Client video: How do I find a veterinary behaviorist and why do I need one?.

Leading Off: Not all animal behaviorists are created equal.

If, with your veterinarian's help, it is determined that your dog indeed has a training problem and you seek out help from a large retailer, Fetch speaker Lisa Radosta, DVM, DACVB, says you're still not really in the clear. In some chains "trainers are contractually obligated to refrain from using prong, choke or shock collars," she says. But, "how a big box store trainer conducts him or herself at the store may not be how they conduct themselves in private lessons off of the store property." Wayne Hunthausen, DVM, echoes this sentiment: "I always recommend visiting with a trainer before enrolling in class, and possibly sitting in on a class session to ensure the trainer is using positive methods with the dogs as well as with people."


The bottom line is that there is no official entity governing what a dog trainer even is or the training one must complete in order to be "certified." Fetch speaker Julia Albright, MA, DVM, DACVB, has much to say on this. "We have to preach buyer beware because there are lots of for-profit companies that claim to certify dog trainers. No independent body is assessing the content or competency of these companies or 'graduates.'"

She continues, "I am so frustrated by the lack of oversight and the ease at which very smart people are taken by these dangerous trainers. Good trainers are often crowded out."

So where does that leave us? As Dr. Hunthausen puts it, "Ultimately, a positive training experience depends on the trainer, no matter how good the protocol is." And Dr. Ciribassi leaves the door open for outside help: "As veterinary behaviorists, we often need to include a good trainer in assisting the pet owner with the behavioral and environmental management aspects of the case. It is a team approach that best serves the pet and the pet owner."