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The Pet Professional Guild Summit Tears Down Dog-Industry Myths

I joined hundreds of professional trainers at the summit this year -- here are my favorite takeaways from the latest in dog training and research!

Annie Phenix, CPDT-KA  |  Nov 18th 2015


Have you heard the old joke about dog trainers that goes: What’s the one thing two dog trainers can agree on? That the other trainer is wrong!

There is a broad and serious split among dog trainers (for many reasons), which often leaves pet parents feeling like a ping-pong ball being battered back and forth. Trainers tend to fall into two camps: one group that believes force and fear are never necessary to train a dog, and the other that is willing to use force and fear if, in their opinion, the dog “needs it.”

I fall into the first camp, although that’s not what this column is primarily about. It’s about turning the dog industry into a true profession. The Pet Professional Guild (PPG) is a world leader in this charge.

Tyler, an 11-month-old service dog in training, enjoyed a week at the Pet Professional Guild’s Summit. Handler and trainer Mary Owens is training Tyler to be a PTSD dog for a U.S. veteran.

Tyler, an 11-month-old service dog in training, enjoyed a week at The Pet Professional Guild Summit. Handler and trainer Mary Owens is training Tyler to be a PTSD dog for a U.S. veteran. (Photo by Annie Phenix)

I joined 330-plus professionals from around the world (mostly trainers, behaviorists, and veterinarians) in Tampa, Florida, last week for the PPG’s first-ever summit. Over the years, I’ve attended countless conferences for dog trainers, as well as gatherings for public relations professionals, writers, and members of the travel industry. This is the first one I have been to at which every person I interacted with was beaming!

Turning trainers and other dog industry workers into true professionals has been a long time coming, and the happy folks I met in Tampa were grinning because it is becoming a reality at long last. This group — 4,000 members strong from every state and 27 countries, according to PPG President Niki Tudge — pushes for trainers to be properly credentialed for bonafide training experience. The PPG unveiled its certification credentialing requirements this year, and they are among the most rigorous a trainer can earn.

A 19-month-old Neapolitan Mastiff named Glaukos was a HUGE hit at the PPG Summit. He has his Canine Good Citizen title, does obedience trials, and knows many tricks.

A 19-month-old Neapolitan Mastiff named Glaukos was a HUGE hit at the PPG Summit. He has his Canine Good Citizen title, does obedience trials, and knows many tricks. (Photo by Annie Phenix)

And — importantly — the PPG professionals are globally informing owners and trainers (through scientific discovery and research) that every animal can be successfully trained without the use of force and fear. I particularly enjoyed watching a video this week of a small fish being positively reinforced for putting itself into a small container for a transfer to a different tank. Similar videos showed all kinds of zoo animals calmly presenting a leg for routine veterinary care — something that until very recently required stress for the animals and ample use of dart guns. All members of the PPG have committed to training animals without force, fear, or pain.

There were also many dogs in attendance at the PPG Summit. Trainers brought their personal dogs, and there were some service dogs in training as well. The relationships between dogs and their handlers were extraordinary, and it was a delight to see happy, confident dogs in all of the sessions. Dogs walked calmly beside their owners in flat collars or harnesses, and never once was a dog subjected to harsh treatment. Many of the dogs had been rescued from bad situations, and some even had bite histories or had been in fights with other dogs — something a causal observer would never imagine, as the dogs were so well behaved. The dogs were also happy, even though for some it was the first time to experience a week-long conference.

Me and trainer Angelica Steinker’s Papillion named Mo. (Photo courtesy Annie Phenix)

Trainer Angelica Steinker’s Papillon named Mo and me. (Photo courtesy Annie Phenix)

I wanted to share with you some of the cutting-edge information attendees were privy to this week. There is SO MUCH happening in the world of research surrounding dogs! Here are some takeaway quotes:

From keynote speaker Dr. Karen Overall, Ph.D, DACVB, CAAB:

  • “Dogs are not wolves, and they haven’t been for a long time.”
  • “Dogs can think of the future and the past because they grieve and can suffer from PTSD.”
  • “Dogs get PTSD exactly in the same proportions as humans.”
  • “When we say that an animal isn’t as smart as we are, we ask another species to learn something that mimics our language and communication style instead of learning their system.”
  • “Data supports that dogs are observational learners.”

From Dr. Soraya Juarbe-Diaz, DVM, DACVB, CAAB:

  • “I’ve never seen an animal not want to get better.”
  • “Normal dogs keep sending calming signals that get ignored by the abnormal dog, and frustration grows, and it affects everyone in the home.”
  • “No animal is stupid.”
  • “The line between brilliance and crazy [in a dog] is thin.”

From Janis Bradley, director of communications for the National Canine Research Council:

  • “Q: How many dogs growl, snarl, and snap at people? A: Most of them.”
  • “Q: Why do dogs bite people? A: Dogs are animals, and animals bite.”
  • “Q. Why do dogs growl snarl snap at and bite people? A: To drive away a threat.”
  • “Q: How many dogs injure at all when they bite people? A: Not so many (about 1 in 100 annually).”
  • “Q: Which dog is likely to bite hard enough to seriously injure? A: One who already has.”
  • “A growl is not a slippery slope to assault.”
  • “Aggression is a natural expression of behavior both in dogs and humans.”
Jake is a 9-year-old Poodle mix who helps Laura Clawson from Unleash the Pawsitive at their classes in Carrollton, Georgia. (Photo by Annie Phenix)

Jake is a 9-year-old Poodle mix who helps Laura Clawson from Unleash the Pawsitive at their classes in Carrollton, Georgia. (Photo by Annie Phenix)

From trainer and canine aggression expert Diane Garrod:

  • “Stress is a needed life function.”
  • “Stress is defined as a lack of fit between perceived demands of environment and perceived ability to cope with them.”
  • “[There are] two types of stress: in the moment (acute) stress and ongoing, I-am-constantly-worried (chronic) stress.”
  • “Studies shows the amount of oxytocin (the “love” hormone) built correlates with how much eye contact owners make with their dog.”

From “Dog Psychologist on Call” Linda Michaels, M.A.:

  • “Dogs manhandled with choke chains/prong collars often have laryngeal, esophageal, thyroidal, and tracheal damage.”
  • “Behavior changes post-punishment indicate an animal spends more time engaged in escape, hiding, vigilance, scanning.”
  • “FDA study finds that shock collars present a substantial and unreasonable risk of illness and injury.”
  • “Introspection – dogs cannot self-report (however, their body language doesn’t lie).”

The summit was an experience I’ll never forget. If you want to learn more, check out The Pet Professional Guild website.

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About the author: Annie Phenix, CPDT-KA, is a force-free professional dog trainer enjoying her mountain-filled life in Colorado. She is a member of the Pet Professional Guild and the National Association of Canine Scent Work. She is also working on a book due out in spring of 2016: The Midnight Dog Walkers, about living with and training troubled dogs. Join Annie on her dog-training Facebook page.