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Position Statements

Official APDT LIMA position statements.

Breed Specific Legislation

The following statements reflect the opinion of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers.

The Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT) supports the adoption or enforcement of a program for the control of potentially dangerous or vicious dogs that is fair, non-discriminatory and addresses dogs that are shown to be dangerous by their actions.

The APDT opposes any law that deems a dog as dangerous or vicious based on appearance, breed or phenotype.  Canine temperaments are widely varied, and behavior cannot be predicted by physical features such as head shape, coat length, muscle to bone ratio, etc.  The only predictor of behavior is behavior.

The solution to preventing dog bites is education of owners, breeder, and the general public about aggression prevention, not legislation directed at certain breeds.
As an organization comprised of dog trainers, behaviorists and other animal professionals, the APDT is fully aware that any dog can bite, any dog can maim, and any dog can kill.  A dangerous or vicious dog is a product of a combination of individual genetics, upbringing, socialization, and lack of proper training.  The solution to preventing dog bites is education of owners, breeder, and the general public about aggression prevention, not legislation directed at certain breeds.

Singling out and publicly demonizing certain breeds as dangerous is unfair, discriminatory, and does an immense disservice to those breeds and the people who care about them.  Even more chilling, breed specific legislation encourages the faulty public perception of other breeds as being inherently safe.  This can lead misguided individuals to engage in unsafe conduct with other breeds that can result in injury or death by individual representatives of those breeds mistakenly perceived as safe.  Also, designating certain breeds as inherently dangerous implies to the public that behavior is not effectively influenced, positively or negatively, by training.  This misconception will likely produce a growing number of dangerous dogs as misinformed, complacent dog owners fail to practice responsible aggression-prevention measures.

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Breed Specific Homeowner's Insurance

The following statements reflect the opinion of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers.

The Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT) supports the adoption of a program of homeowner’s insurance risk assessment of potentially dangerous or vicious dogs that is fair, non-discriminatory and addresses dogs that are shown to be dangerous by their actions.

The APDT opposes any risk assessment or premium differential that deems any dog as dangerous, vicious, or an additional liability based on appearance, breed or phenotype.  Canine temperaments are widely varied, and behavior cannot be predicted by physical features such as head shape, coat length, muscle to bone ratio, etc.  The only predictor of behavior is behavior.

As an organization comprised of dog trainers, behaviorists and other animal professionals, the APDT is fully aware that any dog can bite, any dog can maim, and any dog can kill.  A dangerous or vicious dog is a product of a combination of individual genetics, upbringing, socialization, and lack of proper training.  The solution to preventing dog bites is education of owners, breeders, and the general public about aggression prevention, not by forcing homeowners of certain breeds to choose between their home and their pet.

Singling out and publicly demonizing certain breeds as dangerous is unfair, discriminatory, and does an immense disservice to those breeds and the people who care about them.  Even more chilling, a breed specific insurance program encourages the faulty public perception of other breeds as being inherently safe.  This can lead misguided individuals to engage in unsafe conduct with other breeds that can result in injury or death by individual representatives of those breeds mistakenly perceived as safe.  Also, designating certain breeds as inherently dangerous implies to the public that behavior is not effectively influenced, positively or negatively, by training.  This misconception will likely produce a growing number of dangerous dogs as misinformed, complacent dog owners fail to practice responsible aggression-prevention measures, thereby increasing insurance claims.

Approved 2001

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Crate Training

The following statement reflects the opinion of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers.

The Association of Professional Dog Trainers recommends the use of crates for puppies and dogs as a short-term training tool and as safety equipment throughout the dog’s life.

Crates are a valuable tool for house training, as well as for managing the environment so dogs avoid developing problem behaviors such as destructive chewing and counter-surfing.  Crates also provide safe restraint in the car, and make it easier to travel with your dog by providing short-term confinement options in a hotel or anywhere else you might visit. Crate training also helps minimize stress during times of emergency, while boarding in a kennel or while spending a night at the vet clinic.  When introduced properly, a crate becomes a safe place that many dogs seek out when they need a break from a hectic home environment.

Introduce dogs to the crate gradually and make sure that it’s a pleasant experience.  It is important to choose a crate of appropriate size and adjust confinement times as the dog matures in order to build long term success.  Avoid using the crate as punishment, and avoid crating a dog who is experiencing anxiety, whether that anxiety stems from the confinement itself, separation from a loved one, or from environmental factors like a thunderstorm or other dogs.

The APDT does not recommend the use of crates as a confinement tool for extended periods – this is a tool best used in conjunction with a comprehensive training and socialization program guided by a professional dog trainer. To find a trainer in your area visit the APDT trainer search page.

For detailed tips on choosing a crate, introducing your dog to it, and appropriate crating schedules, see this article on our website.

Approved October 2012

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Law Enforcement Use of Lethal Force against Dogs

The following statement reflects the opinion of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers.

The APDT recognizes that in the course of their duties, law enforcement officers may come into contact with dogs who exhibit aggressive behavior or what may appear to the officer(s) on the scene to be aggressive behavior. These situations are often fraught with tensions that go far beyond those raised by the presence of the dogs – officers are frequently dealing with aggressive humans as well. We also recognize that in such situations, human safety is of the highest priority to the officers – their own as well as the safety of members of the public.

The APDT believes that it is unreasonable to expect law enforcement officers to have a thorough understanding of dog behavior and/or ability to read dog body language and make split-second decisions while under stress and duress, that will necessarily result in the best possible outcomes for the dog or dogs in question. It takes years of hands-on experience for dog training professionals to accurately read and appropriately respond to dog body language in high stress environments.

However, the APDT does encourage law enforcement agencies to provide their officers with training in the areas of dog behavior and defensive dog handling in order that those officers are as well-equipped as possible to handle such situations with reasonable force. For example, in some cases, the simple closing of a door or gate to keep a dog safely contained may be able to ensure the safety of the officers and the public, and can make the difference between life and death for that animal.

The APDT also encourages its appropriately-experienced members to make their services available to law enforcement and other public service agencies to provide such training, and urges all APDT members to educate their clients about the importance of taking proper and responsible restraint measures such as fenced yards or leashes while at home, and seat-belts or crates when traveling in vehicles, to keep their dogs as safe as possible at all times.

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Dominance and Dog Training

There has been a resurgence in citing “dominance” as a factor in dog behavior and dog-human relationships. This concept is based on outdated wolf studies that have long since been disproven. Contrary to popular belief, research studies of wolves in their natural habitat demonstrate that wolves are not dominated by an “alpha wolf” who is the most aggressive pack member. Rather, wolves operate with a social structure similar to a human family and depend on each other for mutual support to ensure the group’s survival.

Dogs are not wolves. The idea that dog behavior can be explained through the application of wolf behavior models is no more relevant than suggesting that chimpanzee behavior can be used to explain the intricacies of human behavior. While wolves and dogs share some similarities in behavior, there are many more significant differences. Dog training and behavior modification strategies that rely primarily on misinterpretations of wolf behavior are therefore irrelevant, ineffective and can lead to serious negative complications.

While dominance is a valid scientific concept, the term “dominance” itself is widely misunderstood, such as when it is used to describe the temperament of a particular dog. Dominance is not a personality trait but a description of a relationship between two or more animals and is related to which animal has access to valued resources such as food, mates, etc. It should not be used in any way to support the belief that dogs are out to “dominate” us, especially as that misunderstanding causes some people to respond with force and aggression. This only serves to create an adversarial relationship filled with miscommunication and even more misunderstanding. The unfortunate result is often anxiety, stress and fear in both dogs and humans towards each other. The use of techniques such as the “alpha roll” on dogs, which is based on these mistaken beliefs about dogs and wolves, has no place in modern dog training and behavior modification. Dogs often respond to this perceived threat with increased fear and aggression, which may serve to make a behavior problem worse and ruin the dog-owner relationship.

The APDT’s position is that physical or psychological intimidation hinders effective training and damages the relationship between humans and dogs. Dogs thrive in an environment that provides them with clear structure and communication regarding appropriate behaviors, and one in which their need for mental and physical stimulation is addressed. The APDT advocates training dogs with an emphasis on rewarding desired behaviors and discouraging undesirable behaviors using clear and consistent instructions and avoiding psychological and physical intimidation. Techniques that create a confrontational relationship between dogs and humans are outdated. Modern scientifically-based dog training should emphasize teamwork and a harmonious relationship between dogs and humans that fulfills both species’ needs. Most of all, it should be a fun and enjoyable experience for everyone involved.

The Association of Professional Dog Trainers encourages and supports continued trainer education in order to promote gentle, effective, fast, and fun ways to train dogs using the most up-to-date information and sound, scientifically-based methods.

Approved 10/20/09

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Fireworks and Other Loud-Noise-Producing Events

The Association of Professional Dog Trainers recognizes that some dogs are extremely sound sensitive.  These dogs may suffer a high level of fear and stress when exposed to loud noises such as fireworks, gunshots, thunder and vehicle backfires.  In their panic, such dogs may jump through plate glass windows, scale fences that are otherwise normally adequate to safely contain them, and find other ways to break free from their usual confinement systems.

These panicked dogs, once free, are subject to all of the hazards faced by free-roaming dogs, and also present an increased risk to the safety of humans, given that fear can cause dogs to exhibit a higher degree of aggression than normal, and can also induce them to dart into traffic on major streets and highways, heedless of oncoming traffic. Such behaviors can result in egregious and sometimes fatal injury to dogs and humans alike.

The Association of Professional Dog Trainers recommends that dog owners stay informed and be aware of events in their communities that are likely to generate organized or random fireworks displays and take steps to protect their dogs from and or desensitize them to loud noises such as fireworks and thunder. Possible suggestions for protection include bringing the dog indoors, staying home during celebratory events, and/or consulting with a veterinarian regarding the use of appropriate medications. Effective desensitization often requires the assistance of a trainer/behavior consultant, and we encourage dog owners to check the APDT Trainer Search List to find an APDT member who is qualified to help them.

The Association of Professional Dog Trainers also urges their members to educate and remind their clients of the dangers of fireworks and thunderstorms and to provide suggestions and assistance for helping sound sensitive dogs cope.

Approved 1/17/03

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Least Intrusive, Minimally Aversive (LIMA) approach

What Is LIMA?

LIMA requires that trainers and behavior consultants use the “least intrusive, minimally aversive technique likely to succeed in achieving a training [or behavior change] objective with minimal risk of producing adverse side effects.”  It is also a competence criterion, requiring that trainers and behavior consultants be adequately trained and skilled in order to ensure that the least intrusive and aversive procedure is in fact used. 1

LIMA Is Competence-Based

LIMA requires that trainers/behavior consultants work to increase the use of positive reinforcement and lessen the use of punishment in work with companion animals and the humans who care for them. LIMA protocols are designed to be maximally humane to learners of all species. In order to ensure best practices, consultants/trainers should pursue and maintain competence in animal behavior consulting through education, training, or supervised experience, and should not advise on problems outside the recognized boundaries of their competencies and experience.2

Positive Reinforcement and Understanding the Learner

Positive reinforcement should be the first line of teaching, training and behavior change program considered, and should be applied consistently. Positive reinforcement is associated with the lowest incidence of aggression, attention seeking, and avoidance/fear in learners. 3

Only the learner determines what is reinforcing. It is crucial that the consultant/trainer understands and has the ability to appropriately apply this principle. This may mean that handling, petting, various tools and environments are assessed by the handler each time the learner experiences them, and that trainer bias not determine the learner’s experience. The measure of each stimulus is whether the learner’s target behavior is strengthening or weakening, and not the consultant/trainer’s intent or preference.

Clarity and Consistency in Problem Solving

It is the handler’s responsibility to make training and modification of behavior clear, consistent and possible for the learner. We recognize that a variation of learning and behavior change strategies may come into play during a learning/teaching relationship, and can be humane and a least intrusive, effective choice in application.4 However, ethical use of this variation is always dependent on the consultant/trainer’s ability to adequately problem solve, to understand his or her actions on the learner, and requires sensitivity toward the learner’s experience.

Preventing Abuse

We seek to prevent the abuses and potential repercussions of unnecessary, inappropriate, poorly applied or inhumane uses of punishment. The potential effects of punishment can include aggression or counter-aggression; suppressed behavior (preventing the consultant/trainer from adequately reading the animal); increased anxiety and fear; physical harm; a negative association with the owner or handlers; and increased unwanted behavior, or new unwanted behaviors.5

Choice and Control for the Learner

LIMA guidelines require that consultants always offer the learner as much control and choice as possible during the learning process, and treat each individual of any species with respect and awareness of the learner’s individual nature and needs.6

What Do You Want the Animal TO do?

We focus on reinforcing desired behaviors, and always ask the question, “What do you want the animal TO do?” when working through a training or behavior problem. Relying on punishment in training does not answer this question, and therefore offers no acceptable behavior for the animal to learn in place of the unwanted behavior.

Punishment should never be the first line of treatment in an intervention, nor should it make up the majority of a behavior modification program. Further, it should be discontinued as quickly as possible once the desired behavior change has taken place.  In cases where the application of punishment is considered, best practices of application and next steps can best be determined by understanding and following the Humane Hierarchy of Behavior Change – Procedures for Humane and Effective Practices, outlined in the diagram attached.

For these reasons, we strongly support the humane and thoughtful application of LIMA protocols, and applaud those working with animals and humans in a humane and thoughtful manner.

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Limit Laws

The following statements reflect the opinion of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers.

The Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT) supports the adoption or enforcement of a program for the control of nuisance dogs that is fair, non-discriminatory and addresses dogs that are shown to be a nuisance by their actions.  The APDT also supports the adoption or enforcement of laws for the maintenance of a minimum of care for a dog’s existence.

As an organization comprised of dog trainers, dog behaviorists and other animal professionals, the APDT is fully aware that a single dog can be as much of a nuisance as a group of dogs.  Whether a dog is considered a nuisance or not is dependent on the owner’s commitment level, living arrangement, and the dog’s level of training or lack of training, not by the number of pets an individual owns.

Likewise, a single dog can be housed in sub-standard living conditions as well as a group of dogs.  The quality of a dog’s care is dependent on the owner’s commitment level, available time and other lifestyle factors, not by the number of pets an individual owns.

Approved 2001

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Service Animals

APDT POSITION STATEMENT ON SERVICE ANIMALS

The Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) defines “service animal” as “any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.”

The APDT supports this definition of “service animal,” including the requirements that the individual have a disability recognized under the ADA and that the dog be trained to work or perform tasks directly related to that disability.  We also support the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) decision to limit “service animals” to dogs, and in some cases miniature horses.

We advocate for the careful selection of service animals, and urge that service animals be provided humane and responsible care throughout the animals’ working life and into retirement.

The APDT applauds the DOJ’s refusal to impose breed restrictions on service dogs.  However, we note that at times some dogs may be inappropriate for certain tasks, such as a small breed dog being an inappropriate candidate for mobility and stability assistance.  The APDT also commends the DOJ for its focus on the individual animal and circumstances, requiring that the animal be under control and calm while working and allowing exclusion of an animal for issues like aggression or soiling.

We agree with the DOJ’s refusal to impose requirements regarding sourcing, training, and documentation that may have the unintended consequence of restricting access to service animals.  However, the APDT finds great value in private organizations setting standards for their specific organization and that may serve to guide others in training service animals.  Additionally, while we agree that the law should not impose specific training and certification requirements for service animals, the APDT strongly encourages individuals to work with a professional trainer who is knowledgeable and experienced with service animal training.  Consistent with APDT’s Code of Ethics for companion dogs, APDT supports the use of humane methods, using a Least Intrusive, Minimally Aversive (“LIMA”) approach, to train service animals.

The APDT agrees that service animals should be granted broad access in our society, in contrast with emotional support animals, who are not required to be trained to perform tasks related to a disability.  While emotional support animals can serve a crucial purpose that may necessitate access in housing and transportation settings, those animals should not have the same broad level of access as service animals.

The APDT supports penalizing and/or criminalizing an individual who fraudulently represents that an animal is a service animal.  We maintain that trainers have a higher ethical obligation to avoid making such a fraudulent representation, or encouraging or aiding others to do so.

Adopted:  August 1, 2017

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Model Dog Law

The Association of Professional Dog Trainers recognizes the need to protect the public from dangerous dogs. We also recognize that the need for public safety should also respect the rights of dog owners. The determination of whether or not a dog is dangerous needs to be based on the behavior that the individual dog exhibits.

The Association of Professional Dog Trainers has recognized the need for a model dangerous dog law that addresses the concerns of public safety and also respects the rights of dog owners. The Association of Professional Dog Trainers believes that the actual behavior of an individual dog should be the sole determination of its potential danger. We have included behavior rankings to better help determine if an individual dog should be considered potentially dangerous and/or vicious.

Our organization’s primary purpose is education. This is an area in which we feel particularly qualified to educate, given our members’ unique skills and qualifications in the area of assessing and understanding canine behaviors and their impact on a community and its citizens. This is why we are offering this proposal for a dangerous dog law that effectively protects both the public and the rights of dog owners.

This legislative proposal includes clauses of existing laws that we have found to be fair and effective and our inclusion of the above mentioned behavior rankings that further define the types of canine behavior that indicate the differences between a less dangerous and a more dangerous dog. These rankings will aid in the decisions that lead to the determination of an individual dog as not dangerous or potentially dangerous and/or vicious.

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Surgical Debarking

The following statement reflects the opinion of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers.

New Jersey recently joined the growing list of state and local jurisdictions that have introduced and/or passed legislation prohibiting the surgical debarking of dogs. The New Jersey measure (A-1586) will allow surgical silencing to be performed by a veterinarian only in cases to protect the life or health of a dog. Government interest in debarking rises from the belief that the surgical technique has been employed for criminal purposes to silence attack dogs so they will not bark and warn their intended victims.

APDT’s interest in debarking rises from a behavioral foundation, not a criminal one.

The APDT recognizes that dogs bark for a reason, frequently because they are bored, lonely, threatened, or otherwise distressed. Debarking silences the dog without addressing the environmental issues that are causing the stress and the barking. The owner then has less reason to be aware of the environmental stressors, and little or no motivation to reduce or correct them, thus leaving the dog still distressed, but silent.

Therefore, the APDT encourages the implementation of dog-friendly behavioral solutions to barking problems, and is opposed to the debarking of dogs except as a last resort and unless and until all appropriate behavioral solutions have been explored and exhausted.

Approved 1/17/03

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Licensure of Dog Trainers

APDT POSITION STATEMENT ON LICENSURE OF DOG TRAINERS

Recent allegations of animal abuse against two individuals have spawned proposed legislation on a statewide level in New York and in Hillsborough County, Florida.  As with any issue, APDT cautions against reactive legislation, and encourages a careful and in-depth consideration of the pros and cons of imposing a licensing requirement on dog trainers.

In order to allow full and fair consideration of the necessity and pros and cons of licensing, APDT strongly recommends that states or localities establish a study group or work group that will elicit public comment and input from professionals and stakeholders and public comments prior to adopting legislation that would require dog trainers to be licensed.

Some of the benefits to requiring dog trainers to be licensed include:

• Imposing standards for dog training that will protect public, consumers and animals
• Identifying trainers for the public
• Identifying disqualifying conditions for trainers, which should include convictions for animal related offenses

Some of the cons of requiring dog trainers to be licensed include:

• Licensing may give dog owners the impression that a particular trainer is competent when that may not be the case
• Inadvertently detracting from the need to zealously prosecute abuse or neglect, or other animal related offenses
• Added expense to state or locality, trainers, and the public
• Risk that licensing is seen as a revenue resource for the state or locality without achieving the goals of welfare, health and safety
• Allowing easy identification of trainers for improper purposes, including for spamming and blast marketing efforts

If a state or locality carefully weighs these pros and cons and decides that licensing of the dog training profession is appropriate, APDT sees the following as vital components of a successful licensing structure:

• Implementation and oversight by a proper state or local agency with experience in licensing of other professions and trades (for instance, the New York Department of Education, which is the agency that oversees licensing for other professions, rather than the New York Department of Agriculture)
• Ethical standards, including adherence to Least Intrusive, Minimally Aversive (LIMA) methods of training
• Minimum education and training to qualify for licensing
• Continuing education and training requirements
• Disciplinary system
• Legal prohibition from practicing dog training without meeting the licensing requirement
• Legal prohibition from eligibility for a license (or revocation of the license if already licensed) for individuals convicted of cruelty, neglect or abuse of humans and/or animals, as well as other animal related offenses including abandonment and animal fighting.
• Protection of the identity of licensees to protect companies and individuals using identity and contact information for improper purposes, such as exemptions from Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and similar laws.

Adopted:  April 10, 2017

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