Subcategories from this category:Staff Profiles
This piece was originally published in a local newspaper in 2006. I updated it and think it's relevant to re-run given that the state of New York is currently considering licensing dog trainers. They'd be the first state to do so.
Dog training is a divided profession. We are not like plumbers, orthodontists or termite exterminators who, if you put six in a room, will pretty much agree on how to do their jobs. Dog training camps are more like Republicans and Democrats, all agreeing that the job needs to be done but wildly differing on how to do it.
The big watershed in dog training is whether or not to include pain and fear as means of motivation. In the last twenty years the pendulum swing has been toward methods that use minimal pain, fear or intimidation – or none at all.
The force-free movement has been partly driven by improved communication from the top. Applied behaviorists, those with advanced degrees in behavior, and veterinary behaviorists, veterinarians who have completed residencies specializing in behavior problems are in greater abundance than in previous decades, and there is much more collaboration between these fields and trainers on the front lines. These two professions are quite unified on the point that the use of physical punishment or confrontation is unnecessary, often detrimental and, importantly, unsafe. And in 2015 the American Animal Hospital Association came out with detailed behavior management guidelines that unequivocally caution owners to employ only trainers that use force-free methods.
On a more grassroots level, trainers have found more benign and sophisticated tools by boning up on applied behavior science themselves. But dog training is currently an unregulated profession in the US: there are no laws governing practices. Prosecutions under general anti-cruelty statutes are occasionally successful but greatly hampered by the absence of legal standards pertaining specifically to training practices. Provided it’s in the name of training, someone with no formal education or certification can strangle your dog quite literally to death and conceivably get off scot-free.
It’s not a complete wilderness: There is now the Pet Professional Guild, which specifies its member trainers must employ modern, force-free methods. The Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) Mission Statement, Delta Society and American Humane Association (AHA) trainer guidelines all state that less invasive (i.e. without pain or force) techniques must be competently tried and exhausted before more invasive techniques attempted. Such guidelines are not law, but they’re a start.
The current professional climate is one laden with some remaining fierce debate. There’s an ever-expanding group of trainers that train force-free (ad literature will be some variation on the theme of “dog-friendly” or “pain-free”), trainers that still train primarily with force (ad literature: “no-nonsense” or “common sense”) and trainers that employ liberal use of both force and rewards (ad literature: “balanced” or “eclectic”). From a consumer’s standpoint, the choice in methods is wide. You can hire a professional to train your dog pretty much any way that suits your fancy and it’s all legal in the US. (More and more European countries are cracking down on the most harmful force tools and methods.)
The force-free movement gains momentum every year and a sure sign of this is that many trainers in the other camps resort to murkier and murkier euphemisms to disguise their more violent practices and retain their market share. Stressed dogs aren’t “shut down,” they’re “calm.” It’s not strangling, it’s “leading.” As a committed devotee of the dog-friendly camp, I am therefore agog at the continued presence in pop culture of “The Dog Whisperer”. This is pretty ferocious stuff by anybody’s standards. The National Geographic Channel even runs a disclaimer banner at the bottom of the screen admonishing people to “not try this at home,” a warning notably absent on home improvement shows or “Nanny 911″. I like to think people don't get dogs so that they can hurt and scare them, so I'm left wondering whether the cloaking of corporal punishment and hazing in mystical language, promise of instant results, high octane telegenicity of Cesar Millan and lucky connections with Los Angeles celebrity clients are sufficient explanation for the Dog Whisperer phenomenon. I don't know. We need psychologists deconstructing what drives people to elect scary, painful practices.
I am willing to bet that, in what’s been termed the “post-factual universe," we’ll be battling a while longer.
Academy Grad Joan Mayer of The Inquisitive Canine has been hard at work for over a year designing and refining a new no-pull harness which is scheduled to hit the market soon. Seeing the development of a production through to fruition is a huge process, one with many hitches to be expected along the way, and Joan has made it through the development process with a harness that looks as comfortable as it does functional. We're very proud of Joan and really excited for the launch of the Transpaw Gear Harness!
LN: You’ve got a new harness coming out soon called the Transpaw Gear Harness. Tell us a little bit about this.
JM: Lori, thanks for asking! I’m thrilled to tell everyone about it - it’s been a long time coming. The TransPaw Gear™ dog harness is a multi-functional, dog-friendly and user-friendly product for dogs-on-the-go! (TransPaw is a play on “Transpawtation”). The emphasis is on functional and comfortable.
LN: What makes this harness different?
JM: There are so many harnesses being offered nowadays! And, there are some great companies. My goal was to combine the better attributes of harnesses I liked, while minimizing those I found to be challenging. There are leash attachments in both the top back area, along with front of the chest. There are both shoulder and girth straps that are easily adjustable, with easy-release buckles. The fabric used for the body is soft, with a thin breathable padding. The outer material has enough structure to keep the girth straps back behind the front legs, to minimize irritation to sensitive areas. I also added a nifty lightweight utility handle between the shoulders to aid in sports -- you can also use it to help dogs get in and out of cars. (It’s not designed to withstand intense pulling like you’d need for lifting the dog in his or her entirety.)
LN: What inspired you to design your own harness?
JM: Funny you should ask that. I’m pretty sure most dog trainers have come up with harness ideas, and I’m no different. When we adopted our dog Poncho back in 2003, I never felt comfortable attaching the leash to his collar - so I wanted to look for an alternative. I found some great harnesses out there, but it seemed I needed to have three for the same outing: one for walking, one for driving, and one for sports. I’m all for having choices, but it got to be tiresome. I kept asking, “Why isn’t there one that has ___, ____, and ____?” The more dogs and pet parents I worked with over the years, and reading various discussion threads among trainers about still looking for good products, the more I came to realize there was still a need. So I said to myself, “Why don’t I design one!”
LN: How has the process been for you?
JM: Having developed other pet-related products, I’ve gained a lot of valuable experience over the years. So this time around, I’ve been using that knowledge, creating a process that has so far been smooth. As Jim Collins talks about in his book Good to Great, I’ve made sure the right people are on my bus (Collins, 2001) http://www.jimcollins.com/article_topics/articles/good-to-great.html.
It is taking longer than I had hoped, but I believe the “slow and steady” approach creates for a better chance of success - not just for me or the company, but for all stakeholders, especially the dogs.
LN: What went into the development process?
JM: Wow, so much! Where do I begin? The road from concept to creation has been quite an adventure. A methodical one though, planning all along the way. Having been a trainer for years, and dog mom, I’ve been able to gather a lot of data. So, going into the process I had a more definitive product goal. The beginning designs included using my own dog Poncho, a local seamstress, and materials gathered from a local used sporting goods store.
After a couple of sample prototypes, I decided to take it further, consulting first with a local soft goods designer, followed by a larger development company, clear across the country. I made this choice because I wanted to consult with experts who were more familiar with the engineering aspect of design, as the movements of a dog are unique in their own way. A pretty harness is one thing, but I wanted to ensure that the design met the goals of fit and functionality. Additionally, this particular company was dog-friendly, which meant easy access to fit models throughout the three phases of designing and testing.
Once the final prototype was established, it was time to move forward with production. I reached out to a friend of mine who works with a wonderful local company that has the capability to create a small run of the harness in a few sizes. We worked together, refining the design, while having me test it on multiple dogs. This was a great opportunity, as I was able to really hone in on the details, creating a product I am really proud of. While waiting for quotes from the manufacturers, I’m working on sizing, as it will be offered in a range of sizes to cover the wide variety of dog breeds, both pure and mixed.
LN: How much refining did you have to do along the way?
JM: There were revisions with each group I worked with. From the beginning, working with the local seamstress, to the final product development company. I could continue to make changes, but I’ve learned you also need to stop at some point, otherwise you’ll never get anything to your customer. I’ll hold onto these other ideas for different products. In all honesty, I would say I have done my due diligence.
LN: What types of dogs did you test it on?
JM: Because I had the one prototype, I was limited to the size of dog. However, it did fit a range, from 40 - 80 pounds! The fabulous test-dogs I worked with ranged from smaller long-haired Aussie mixes to mid-sized pittie mixes, and larger Labs. I also had poodles, retrievers, and a few other mixes between.
LN: What are the key components of this harness?
JM: The real benefits of the TransPaw Gear™ dog harness is that it’s made of sturdy fabric that is soft, flexible with movement, and comfortable for dogs. This is evidenced by the way the dogs responded while wearing it. It’s easy for handlers to fit to their dog, put on and take off, and provides options for training, sports, and play. As I like to say, at TransPaw Gear™, we put the FUN in FUNctional!
LN: What are the next steps for you?
JM: While waiting to hear quotes for the initial run from various manufactures, I’m working with the local team creating prototypes in a wider range of sizes. Additionally, a provisional patent has been filed. Depending on what we hear from the PTO, we will file the permanent one within the allotted time frame. I’m also working on PR and marketing campaigns, including having a booth at a local annual fundraising pet adoption event this October.
LN: When should we expect to see it available on the market?
JM: The final prototype is in the hands of two different manufacturers, awaiting bids for production. Once an agreement is reached, I hope to get it to market within a couple of months. So, my goal is Fall of 2016.
LN: Where will we be able to purchase it?
JM: Initial sales will be offered through my website, and locally in Santa Barbara and surrounding areas. I’ll offer both business to business wholesale and retail direct to consumer. I will have a booth at the upcoming fundraising pet adoption event Wags ‘n’ Whiskers here in Santa Barbara, October 1, 2016.
Kristi Benson is a dog trainer living on a small farm in central Manitoba, Canada. An honors graduate of the program, she now works for the Academy for Dog Trainers as a student mentor and coach, directing special research projects and organizing the Academy’s Wednesday Webinar series.
Kristi’s dog addiction is firmly rooted in racing sled dogs. She has her own crew of sled dogs and for the last decade she has directed a micro-rescue, placing racing dogs in homes as pets. Through her dog-training business Kristi teaches adult dog and puppy classes in several nearby communities, works one-on-one with owners whose dogs are having behavioral issues, and consults for many local foster-based rescues.
Her love of dogs (and her love of using humorous narrative as a pedagogical tool) was cemented during her time living and working in Canada's far north. Today, she continues to work as a research anthropologist, archaeologist, author, and cartographer with First Nations communities in Canada’s subarctic.
Erik Tamm graduated with honors from the Academy for Dog Trainers in early 2016 and joined the Academy staff a few weeks later. Erik's main responsibility in the Academy is caring for the technological infrastructure of our online community and coursework.
Erik has a background as a software developer and became interested in dog training after moving to Hong Kong and volunteering to help the island's feral dogs.
Today, he divides his time between programming and dog training. Erik works with all kinds of cases but has taken a special liking to dogs with body handling issues.
Erik lives on a small island outside Hong Kong, Cheung Chau, with his wife and his two dogs, Charlie and James. During his time off he enjoys windsurfing and volunteer work to improve the lives of the feral dogs on the island.