Defining the “C” in PCT-A

Aug 15, 2015 | Advocacy, Business Development, Pet Guardians, Training

Force-Free trainers offer cues to dogs, rather than "commands" and give them rewarding consequences in return for the choices they make. Image © Can Stock Photo

Force-Free trainers offer cues to dogs, rather than “commands” and give them rewarding consequences in return for the choices they make. Image © Can Stock Photo

The Pet Professional Guild and force-free training are on my mind on a daily basis and I often think about the trainer certifications I have worked for. I have always been introspective and try to understand things on a deeper level in a world that seems to grow more superficial with every internet post.

Lately I have been thinking about the deeper meaning PCT-A credentials have for me, and how that may extend to the community of professional trainers at large. Specifically, I wish to define the “C” in PCT-A as I interpret it.

The easiest way I can understand this is to compare and contrast between trainers who use force, and those who do not. I have observed a number of “dominance theory” trainers and it seems to me that “C” means to them commands, compulsion and, sadly in some cases, contempt for dogs. For dog owners who seek guidance from such trainers I have witnessed confusion and conflict between dogs and owners.

Pet Professional Accreditation Board has given us another path: PCT-A. Those who follow PPG and PPAB know those initials mean Professional Canine Trainer – Accredited, but I find even deeper meaning in the “C”.

Among the scores of force-free trainers I have observed in person, in seminars, webinars and workshops…the following concepts always seem to follow.

First, many of us identify as cross-over trainers. At some point we switched from forceful to force-free methods. Continuing education is important to us and we challenge old concepts in favor of current scientific data. We choose to offer cues to dogs, rather than commands and give them rewarding consequences in return for the choices they make.

Communication with pet owners is clear and is based upon convincing evidence. We also form a support network that favors collaboration, instead of competition. Our goals are held in common, and share one over-riding principle: compassion.

It is my sincere hope PCT-A will become common among professionals, creating a higher standard among trainers and a clearer distinction so pet owners may make better choices.

We find it easy to feel compassion for the dogs we work with because we see them as innocent animals who need not suffer the harm of aversive methods, but I see two other interpretations of compassion.

When I work with families that have used aversive methods I see them as people who are desperately trying to resolve a problem they are clearly unable to cope with. They love their dogs and wish to keep them in their homes, but have often been influenced by poor advice and live in a society that values quick fixes to complex problems.  As a consequence they may have made poor choices, as I once did.

They remind me of how I felt 35 years ago when I knew nothing of dogs and had a (first-time) puppy to raise. I made every mistake in the book. When I meet a family for the first time I am often reminded that they resemble my former self and I feel compassion for them.

That enables me to communicate with them in a manner that does not condemn, criticize or demean them for doing what I have done.

The final aspect of compassion is how I look upon myself. Since the tragic demise of Dr. Sophia Yin nearly one year ago there has been an increasing awareness of compassion fatigue among animal caregivers, and trainers in particular. Clearly, we must exercise compassion for ourselves too.

(Upcoming PPG Seminar: Learn How to Manage and Prevent Burnout & Compassion Fatigue While Working with Animals with Dr. Linda Harper Live Webinar
Date: Tuesday, September 22, 2015 (EDT) 7:00 PM EDT)

When I read the credentials on my business card I see “Professional Compassionate Trainer – Accredited”.  This is how I market myself and I believe this sets me apart from those who use force, fear, intimidation, pain and compulsion with animals. We can choose a different path without demeaning others and thus invite both pet owners and trainers to join us, but only if we feel compassion for them.

How do you define yourself as a professional dog trainer?

To learn more about dog training the force-free way, register for the Pet Professional Guild’s inaugural educational Summit in Tampa, Florida on November 11-13, 2015.