What Would You Do? A Series on Dog Trainer Ethics

What Would You Do? A Series on Dog Trainer Ethics

A Series on Dog Trainer Ethics

Ethics in the dog training industry is a major area of conflict. Ethics surrounds a variety of topics including relationships between trainers, professionalism, client relations, and, of course, training methods. In this article, some of the professional dog trainers and writers of The Modern Dog Trainer blog discuss their opinions regarding relationships and conflicts between other professional dog trainers. Take a look at what we had to say!

Dog Trainer Ethics – Colleague Relations

#1 – Competition is steep in dog training. Anyone can become a self-proclaimed dog trainer which has its benefits and its downfalls. How would you approach a new trainer entering your service area? How would you gauge their competence?

Kat: Since 95% of dogs receive no training at all, the competition isn’t other trainers, it’s the dog owner who sits on the sofa and does nothing. The only reason to gauge their competence would be to send referrals when I’m busy. If I’m vetting a trainer for that purpose there are usually tacos and margaritas involved.

Liz: I’m not a full-time trainer, so maybe #1 doesn’t affect me as much as others. But I’m thrilled when I can offer other resources to people whose schedules don’t mesh with mine, or if their dog’s issues are outside my knowledge base. I use word of mouth and FB page/website reviews to begin my gauging of their competence.

Lisa: I would introduce myself to them and let them know that I have been training for many years and would love to be able to refer clients to them if I could not fit them in. During the convo, I would ask questions as to how they became a trainer, their experience, how many dogs they have trained, what methods they use, what books they’ve read, what courses they’ve taken, who they apprenticed under, etc.

#2 – What are some benefits to welcoming the new trainer with open arms? What are some downfalls to being so open and friendly to them?

Liz: I generally don’t see downfalls, again maybe because I’m a part-timer. Huge positive to being welcoming though, as I said above, is another person to refer cases to.


  • Benefits – someone who may refer you to clients they cannot deal with, someone you can talk to, share ideas and help each other out.
  • Downfalls – They use your info and go behind your back to contact your clients, bad talk you, undercut you in prices.

#3 – Lets say that there is a trainer in your area that is less than positive with the dogs, but he has a great reputation with the community. How do you educate your clients about the differences between you and the competitor without turning them off?

Kat: The only reason to discuss another trainer is if an existing client used that trainer previously. This is fairly common for behavior modification cases. There generally isn’t enough time to discuss other trainers, either good or bad. Just discuss the training techniques that failed and why they need to be changed.

Erin: I find it more professional to not so much address the trainer as much as methods used. Discuss how the methods can be disadvantageous to the training using science and examples. This way the client is provided with information to make a sound decision.

Monica: I generally explain how I train and include things I don’t train with. I’m very open with how I train and let them know I use no fear or intimidation. I just kindly tell them that their training methods and my training methods differ greatly.

Liz:  I leave it with, “their methods are very different from mine,” and then I explain my methods.

Lisa: The key is to never criticize the competition. Simply explain the positive methods that I use, letting them know that studies and research has been done to show it is more effective than using aversives. Quote the AVSAB Position Statements and use examples of their work environment or kids in learning in school. I find it’s very helpful to use examples that they can personally relate to.

#4 – Many times, online and offline, even positive trainers have their disagreements. How do you agree to disagree politely? (Feel free to give an example.)

Monica: Just tell them, I don’t agree with that statement but it is ok. We have come to different conclusions through our studies of dog training. If they continue to heckle you about your choices, then it’s time to leave the discussion.

Liz:  I explain my side and leave it at that. Arguing won’t change minds. I prefer to change minds by using my training as an example, as opposed to lambasting people. Positive training works on people, too.

Lisa: I would let them know that we don’t have to agree. Everyone is entitled to their opinions and, just like how they gave their opinion, I have given my opinion.

#5 – Dog training is a very emotional industry. What would be an appropriate response when you discover someone is bad mouthing you within your service area?

Kat: Ignore it, unless it takes the form of fake reviews and infiltration of your social media accounts, in which case seek legal counsel.

Liz: Again, I won’t argue back or badmouth back. I take the higher road and let it go. I let my training speak for itself.

Lisa: I would need to find out what they were bad mouthing me about, and try to explain the situation to them. If they persist, then I would send a lawyer supported letter to see if I could get them to cease and desist. Or it just might not be worth the hassle, so I just ignore them completely.

Join in the conversation! What would you do in these situations? Leave your response in the comments below.


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