Matsi has a minion!

You Deserve the World the I Love You Puppy

Legacy Name: Matsi

The Chibi Kumos
Owner: Faune

Age: 14 years, 7 months, 1 week

Born: November 6th, 2009

Adopted: 7 years, 5 months, 1 week ago

Adopted: January 3rd, 2017

Pet Spotlight Winner
June 7th


  • Level: 48
  • Strength: 66
  • Defense: 10
  • Speed: 10
  • Health: 11
  • HP: 11/11
  • Intelligence: 20
  • Books Read: 20
  • Food Eaten: 0
  • Job: Store Clerk

What Makes a "Good" Dog Trainer

When we think of a "good" trainer, we want to be able to replace the word "good" with words like "ethical", "humane", "welfare-driven", "educated and experienced", and "compassionate". Ask yourself what values you have when it comes to your dog. Your trainer should share those values!

A good trainer prioritizes your dog's welfare (complete wellbeing including mental and emotional health) during and after training

A good trainer prioritizes their continued education and remains up to date on science, methods, and ethics recommendations

A good trainer prioritizes your learning experience and leaving you with the knowledge, skills, and confidence to navigate behavior for life

A good trainer has a mission or purpose behind their business that isn't related to money or pride. They'd love to be out of work, because that means dogs and people are no longer in need of help!

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How Do I Tell The Good From The Bad?

Listen to the Learner
How do the dogs feel during and after working with them? One of the BEST things you can do is learn as much as possible about dog body language. What are stress signals? What are appeasement behaviors? Then, take this info and examine the photos and videos of the dogs shown on the trainer's page and social media. What does it tell you? If the dogs look stressed, avoidant, shut down, or scared - run.

Look for Quality Education and Experience
You can't skillfully apply a science if you don't understand it. Ethical trainers will have relevant education. Some will have degrees in fields like behavior, biology, and psychology. Others may have elected to do trade school programs. These are not all created equal, and it's important to learn more about the letters behind someone's name so you know which ones have true value! You should be able to ask them what kind of continued education they're working on at any time, and get an honest answer. It may be "I'm taking XYZ online course" or "I'm reading this new book XYZ" or "I've been reading new science papers in the field each week" or "I'm shadowing XYZ trainer next month". The point is, the education is there and it's always growing.
Education is very important but it isn't the whole picture. It's one third of the balanced creature that is a "good" trainer! You need the right ethics, education, and experience! Experience is another one that can be tricky to examine, but a great tip is to look up the places they list as past experience and apply the same questions to that facility! So examine body language and look at the values, education, and experience of the people your trainer learned from. Remember that one year learning and practicing good skills is much better than ten years learning and practicing bad ones!

Track the Facts
See if the information they're providing can be traced back to a scientific source such as a research paper or textbook, if it aligns with the information presented by other individuals you've already determined are qualified sources, and/or if it aligns with the guidelines presented by reputable organizations like AVSAB (The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior). Feel confident asking them what these recommendations are and what that means about their training choices.

Other Things to Check
When considering a "board and train", it's important that you can get a guarantee of daily updates including photos or videos. You should be able to SEE your dog every day, and should feel confident asking for updates! Don't ever be afraid to ask what the trainer would do if your dog was really stressed (for example, would they advocate for turning the program into just a boarding to focus on stress relief even though it's a lower cost? Would they advocate for your dog to return home instead even though it's a partial refund?) or how they would handle things if you felt uncomfortable and wanted your dog home sooner (for example what is their policy on refunds at certain points in the program and why).
Honestly, a trainer who is humble and prioritizes welfare won't bring aversive tools to the table but especially not at the beginning. It doesn't matter how many dogs they've trained or other trainers you've tried - they know that these tools are not in your dogs best interest. A huge red flag is if they try to gaslight you on this!
Beware the trainer who brags about how many dogs they train in a short period. Dog training isn't an assembly line, it's therapy and child raising. Qualified trainers know that it takes time to change behavior, and they can explain why. They will promote quick fixes that are safe and ethical (such as management) and make plans for long term change through a compassionate lense. Overloading their schedule means they're not able to provide you and your dog with the support necessary to truly succeed.


Acting Out
If your dog is "acting out"
there's something wrong in the system.

If you can't locate an external cause, it's internal.
And just because it's not easy to find doesn't mean it's not there.

Pain manifests in different ways, many of them behavioral such as aggression or "over arousal".

Stress manifests in different ways, many of them behavioral.
And stress has positive and negative valence.
Being in a state where your prefrontal cortex takes a back seat and the brain's swat team ("go go go") leads the charge happens if the stress comes from positive emotions or negative emotions.

We can't meet "naughty" (undesired, often natural but doesn't "fit" in "our" life) behavior with ego.
We just can't.
We can't center ourselves in the inner world of another living creature.
It's not about us.

And nine times out of ten, punishment is.
Punishment isn't constructive, it's suppressive.
Punishment isn't permanent, it needs to be escalated over time to maintain the same level of control.
Punishment doesn't serve the animal.
It doesn't "fix" what's going wrong in the system.

(The system is everything - all inputs and outputs related to behavior).

A dog "acting out" is a dog communicating.
Communication gives us information.
If we commit to listening and looking for answers, it tells us when something is wrong and often points to what that thing is.
And that empowers us to fix it.

Listen, I'm saying this to myself as much if not more than I am to anyone else.
Because it's hard sometimes.
Because our own systems may be out of whack, and our own behavior is impacted by that.

We've gotta try our best though.
Every day.
We've gotta proactively create options we can take when we're struggling.

Because "acting out" isn't acting out.
It's asking for help.
Even if it's not a conscious choice, but an instinctive action.
And we can't make that about ourselves.
We just can't.
We have to understand it's about them.
We have to choose to make our response also about them (take care of yourself too).

Love is works born from a deeply rooted, unshakable feeling.
We owe our dogs and ourselves love.

Love and Loss
I don't use the phrase "behavioral euthanasia" anymore.

I've been through a few.
I've been through discussions that went a different way.

And every time what I've learned is it's not just, and sometimes not even primarily, about behaviors.

It's about welfare.
It's about resources.
It's about health.

An individual with an unresolvable nervous system or physiological issue.

An individual with maladaptive behaviors that cannot be safely or fairly placed in any of the environments available.

An individual who has potentially treatable health issues causing severe aggression, but no access to the resources needed to continue trying to diagnose and heal them.

An individual who cannot be ethically rehomed and is in an environment where everyone's quality of life has significantly diminished to an unrecoverable point given the financial and time constraints.

It's just ... it's not that simple. It can't be called "behavioral" like it's an a + b = c formula, like it's just "they do x so we're euthanizing".

Sure, sometimes people make decisions I would not agree with. Sometimes people opt for euthanasia when there are other options that are reasonable to try.

But that isn't the norm. Certainly not if qualified professionals are involved.

Euthanasia isn't easy.
Euthanasia where you don't have every speck of information, where you feel like you still want to hope something could somehow change for the better, that's horribly difficult.
Euthanasia where if the resources were available things would be different is heartbreaking to face.

"Behavioral" euthanasia is rarely actually about a behavior. It boils down to welfare, to options, and to love.

Vilifying it, choosing to see it as a moral failing, is ignorant. It doesn't help anything. It prevents open and productive discussions about the many causes of euthanasia, discussions about individual and community health and how we can build something better together.

The label "Behavioral" doesn't fit. It doesn't tell the whole story. It chooses to ignore that the decision is based on welfare and that resources are often a huge factor, just like any other euthanasia.

Methods Matter
As animal behavior and welfare professionals, we talk a lot about methods.
You won't get through many conversations with us without hearing the terms reinforcement, punishment, or welfare.
But there's a reason for that.
It's because it matters.

Like, it really really really matters.

Because what method you use impacts the learner not just in that moment, or just that day, or just that week - it can set the tone for their life. It can change their underlying emotions, their relationships, and the way they see and understand the world.
Sure, we can talk about efficacy. Yes, punishment and reinforcement are effective methods (though studies show reinforcement is more effective).
But what we really need to understand is WHY they are effective.
What reinforcement methods do to emotions and behavior, what punishment methods do to emotions and behavior.

When we don't understand, we do harm.
When we don't understand, we may suppress behavior and look at an animal and say "oh wow, they're all better!" When in reality all we've done is created a situation where they choose not to express certain emotions because they are avoiding a punishment. That constant state of avoidance, it's rooted in fear and pain.
It feels better to us sometimes. It solves our human "problem". We no longer have to feel embarrassed or frustrated. We no longer have to work so hard to manage a situation.
But training isn't about solving human "problems".

Training is a method to understand, communicate, and help our animal companions.
Training is a welfare tool that we can use, and have a responsibility to use, to improve the lives of the animals in our care.

So yeah, I'd rather work way harder for much longer to reach a goal than get there quickly by being unkind.
Remember that good training is a love language.
And having animals in our lives is a blessing and a responsibility.
So if you commit, really commit. Commit to doing right by them. Commit to loving them fully, including in how you train.
Commit to being a good steward.
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