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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.
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.
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
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.
The use of dominance and pack theory in explaining dog behavior has come under a great deal of scrutiny in recent years. The Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT) would like to inform the dog owning public about the ramifications of a reliance on dominance theory as it relates to understanding dogs, interpreting canine behavior, and living harmoniously with our canine companions.
Theory and Misconceptions
Contrary to popular thinking, research studies of wolves in their natural habitat demonstrate that wolves are not dominated by an “Alpha Wolf” that is the most aggressive male, or male-female pairing, of the pack. Rather, they have found that wolf packs function in a way that is similar to how human families are organized, and there is little aggression or fights for “dominance.” Wolves, whether it be the parents or the cubs of a pack, depend on each other to survive in the wild. Consequently, wolves that engage in aggressive behaviors toward each other would inhibit the pack’s ability to survive and flourish. As Senior Research Scientist L. David Mech recently wrote regarding his many years of study of wolves, we should “once and for all end the outmoded view of the wolf pack as an aggressive assortment of wolves consistently competing with each other to take over the pack.” (Mech, 2008)
In addition to our new understanding of wolf behavior, study into canine behavior has found that while dogs do share some traits with their wolf cousins, dogs and wolves are different in many significant ways. In other words, 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 human behavior. Unfortunately, the idea that dogs are basically “domesticated wolves” living in our homes still persists among dog trainers and behavior consultants, as well as breeders, owners, and the media.
One of the biggest misconceptions we find ourselves faced with is the definition of “dominance.” Dogs are often described as being “dominant,” which is an incorrect usage of the term. Dominance is not a personality trait. Dominance is “primarily a descriptive term for relationships between pairs of individuals.” and moreover, “the use of the expression ‘dominant dog’ is meaningless, since ‘dominance’ can apply only to a relationship between individuals” (Bradshaw et al., 2009).
Dominance comes into play in a relationship between members of the same species when one individual wants to have the first pick of available resources such as food, beds, toys, bones, etc. Even between dogs, however, it is not achieved through force or coercion but through one member of the relationship deferring to the other peacefully. In many households the status of one dog over another is fluid; in other words, one dog may be the first to take his pick of toys, but will defer to the other dog when it comes to choice of resting places.
Dogs that use aggression to “get what they want” are not displaying dominance. They are displaying anxiety-based behaviors, which will tend to increase if the dog is confronted with verbal and/or physical threats from the human owners. Basing one’s interaction with a dog on dominance is harmful to the dog-human relationship and leads to further stress, anxiety and aggression from the dog, as well as fear and antipathy of the owner.
Living with Dogs: What’s Important?
When it comes to living and working with dogs, the concept of dominance is largely irrelevant. This may come as a surprise to many dog owners. The truth is that when working with dogs that have a training or behavior issue, the goal of the dog professional is to develop a behavior modification or training plan that addresses the problem at hand. For the most part, this does not require understanding a dog’s motivation and emotional state. Instead, the training or behavior modification plan should focus on what the dog is doing (behavior), what we want the dog to do instead, helping the dog understand how to perform the desired behaviors, and then reinforcing him for doing so.
Far too many times, dog owners have been given advice to “show the dog who’s boss” and “be the alpha.” The unfortunate side effect of this thinking is that it creates an adversarial relationship between the owner and the dog, due to the belief that the dog is somehow trying to control the home and the owner’s life. Such misinformation damages the owner-dog relationship, leading to fear, anxiety and/or aggressive behavior from the dog. Dogs cannot speak our language, so they can be thrust into situations in our homes that they find difficult to comprehend when owners try to behave as they mistakenly believe “alpha” wolves do.
Rather than dominance, it is most often a lack of clear interspecies communication that leads to behaviors we find troubling. It is the human’s responsibility to teach the dog the behaviors that we find appropriate, and reward the dog for doing things we like. Just as importantly, it is our role to show dogs which behaviors are not appropriate in a constructive and compassionate manner that does lead to further anxiety on the dog’s part.
Aggression is Not the Answer
Actions such as “alpha rolls” and “scruff shakes” have no basis in the science of wolf or dog behavior. In fact, they actually create unnecessary fear in the dog, fear that can ultimately lead to aggression because the frightened dog knows no other way to protect itself than using its teeth. We all owe it to our dogs to see the world from their point of view, in order to create a more harmonious relationship.
Whether we are looking at a dog or a wolf, actions such as grabbing the animal and forcing it into a down, growling at the animal, and other aggressive behaviors directed toward the animal will only lead to the animal developing a “fight-or-flight” response, because the animal fears for its life. In this situation, the dog will either freeze out of fear, flee from the threatening animal or person if there is an opportunity to get away, or fight to save itself. When we engage in confrontational behaviors such as alpha rolling our dogs, we are not telling the dog we are “boss.” Instead, we are teaching the dog that we are dangerous creatures that should be avoided or fought off. There is no “dominance” in these scenarios – only terror and the instinct to defend oneself against attack.
If Not Dominance, Then What Do We Use?
Fortunately, many trainers and behavior professionals now use techniques that focus on building a caring and happy relationship with dogs, instead of relying on dominance. What these trainers have in common is a desire to promote effective, non-confrontational and humane ways of living successfully with dogs. These educated approaches aim to strengthen the bond between owner and dog and teach owners more effective ways of communicating with another species.
For dogs with behavior problems, trainers employ programs such as “Nothing in Life is Free (NILIF),” which works on the principal that the dog must do something to earn what he wants (i.e. sit to get dinner, walk on a loose leash to move forward, etc.) These programs are effective because the dog has a structured set of rules that are consistently reinforced, so the dog learns what he needs to do to get the things that he wants, such as food, petting, playtime, etc. Because dogs do not have the power of human speech and language, behavior problems and anxiety often result when dogs are left to fend for themselves in deciding how to live in our world, without guidance that makes sense. This is the same for people; we behave better, and ultimately thrive, in a world that makes sense to us and has clear, consistent boundaries and rules.
The myths that resonate in “dominance theory,” such as not allowing the dog to sleep on the bed, eat first, or go through doorways first, have no bearing on whether or not the dog will look to the owner for guidance. The specific rules of the relationship are up to the owner and are based on what the owner wants in the household. Humane, educated trainers should strive to teach owners to positively and gently influence and motivate their dogs to act in a manner that befits their own home, and tailor the rules to each individual. There is no scientifically validated data to uphold the belief that you must eat before your dog, or keep them from sleeping on your bed, or prevent them from walking in front of you. Owners should not be led to believe these ideas or any others like them, since that may cause them to live in a state of fear and anxiety over their dog’s possible takeover of their home. In fact, the vast majority of dogs and owners have wonderful, mutually-rewarding relationships—even if the dog is allowed to sleep on the bed, eats alongside the owner, and does many other things erroneously labeled “dominance.”
To address some of the myths about dominance, we have prepared a related document, “Dominance Myths and Dog Training Realities.”
When choosing a trainer or behavior consultant to work with you and your dog, keep in mind that philosophies and methodologies vary among trainers. The Association of Pet Dog Trainers recommends interviewing potential trainers to determine their thoughts regarding dominance and the use of physical force and intimidation to train a dog, whether for obedience or for behavior problems. An educated canine professional should be well-acquainted with the latest scientific understanding of dog behavior, and be willing to openly discuss their training methodologies with you.
For further reading:
American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior 2007. AVSAB Position Statement – Punishment Guidelines: The use of punishment for dealing with animal behavior problems. http://www.avsabonline.org/avsabonline/images/stories/Position_Statements/Combined_Punishment_Statements.pdf.
American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior 2009. AVSAB Position Statement on the
Use of Dominance Theory in Behavior Modification of animals. http://www.avsabonline.org/avsabonline/images/stories/Position_Statements/dominance%20statement.pdf.
Bradshaw J.W.S., Blackwell E.J., Casey R.A. 2009. Dominance in domestic dogs – useful construct or bad habit? Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, May/June 2009, pp 135-144.
Herron M.E., Shofer F.S., Reisner I.R. 2009. Survey of the use and outcome of confrontational and non-confrontational training methods in client-owned dogs showing undesired behaviors. Applied Animal Behavior Science, 117, pp. 47-54.
Mech L.D. 2008. What ever happened to the term alpha wolf? International Wolf. (http://www.wolf.org/wolves/news/iwmag/2008/winter/winter2008.asp).
Yin S. 2009. Dominance vs. unruly behavior. The APDT Chronicle of the Dog, Mar/Apr 2009, pp. 13-17.
Yin S. 2009. Low Stress Handling, Restraint, and Behavior Modification of Dogs and Cats. Cattledog Publishing. Davis, CA.
Revised: March 12, 2019
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.
“LIMA” is an acronym for the phrase “least intrusive, minimally aversive.” LIMA describes a trainer or behavior consultant who uses the least intrusive, minimally aversive strategy out of a set of humane and effective tactics likely to succeed in achieving a training or behavior change objective with minimal risk of producing aversive side effects. LIMA adherence also requires consultants to be adequately educated and skilled in order to ensure that the least intrusive and aversive procedure is used. 1
LIMA does not justify the use of punishment in lieu of other effective interventions and strategies. In the vast majority of cases, desired behavior change can be affected by focusing on the animal’s environment, physical well-being, and operant and classical interventions such as differential reinforcement of an alternative behavior, desensitization, and counter-conditioning.
LIMA requires trainers/consultants to work to increase the use of positive reinforcement and eliminate the use of punishment when working with animal and human clients. In order to ensure best practices, consultants should pursue and maintain competence in animal behavior consulting and training through continuing education, and hands-on experience. Trainers/consultants should not advise on problems outside the recognized boundaries of their competencies and experience. 2
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, avoidance, and fear in learners. 3
Only the learner determines what may be reinforcing. It is crucial that the trainer/consultant understands and has the ability to appropriately apply this principle. This fact may mean that the trainer/consultant assesses any handling, petting, food, tool, and environment each time the learner experiences them. Personal bias must not determine the learner’s experience. The measure of each stimulus is whether the learner’s target behavior is strengthening or weakening, not the trainer/consultant’s intent or preference.
The trainer/consultant is responsible for ensuring learner success through a consistent, systematic approach that identifies a specific target behavior, the purpose of that behavior, and the consequences that maintain the behavior.
A variety of learning and behavior change strategies may come into play during a case. Ethical use of this variety always depends on the trainer/consultant’s ability to adequately problem solve and to understand the impact of each action on the learner, as well as sensitivity toward the learner’s experience.
We seek to prevent the abuses and potential repercussions of inappropriate, poorly applied, and inhumane uses of punishment and of overly-restrictive management and confinement strategies. The potential effects of punishment can include aggression or counter-aggression; suppressed behavior (preventing the trainer/consultant from adequately reading the animal); increased anxiety and fear; physical harm; a negative association with the owner or handler; increased unwanted behavior; and, new, unwanted behaviors. 5
LIMA guidelines require that trainer/consultants always offer the learner as much control and choice as possible. Trainer/consultants must treat each individual of any species with respect and awareness of the learner’s individual nature, preferences, abilities, and needs. 6
We focus on reinforcing desired behaviors, and always ask the question, “What do you want the animal to do?” Relying on punishment in training does not answer this question, and therefore offers no acceptable behavior for the animal to learn to replace the unwanted behavior. These LIMA guidelines do not justify the use of aversive methods and tools including, but not limited to, the use of electronic, choke or prong collars in lieu of other effective positive reinforcement interventions and strategies.
When making training and behavior modification decisions, trainers/consultants should understand and follow the Humane Hierarchy of Behavior Change – Procedures for Humane and Effective Practices, 7 outlined in the diagram.
For these reasons, we, strongly support the humane and thoughtful application of LIMA protocols, and we applaud those individuals and organizations working with animals and humans within LIMA guidelines.
The Humane Hierarchy serves to guide professionals in their decision-making process during training and behavior modification. Additionally, it assists owners and animal care professionals in understanding the standard of care to be applied in determining training practices and methodologies and the order of implementation for applying those training practices and methodologies.
Hierarchy of Procedures for Humane and Effective Practice
|1.||Health, nutritional, and physical factors: Ensure that any indicators for possible medical, nutritional, or health factors are addressed by a licensed veterinarian. The consultant should also address potential factors in the physical environment.|
|2.||Antecedents: Redesign setting events, change motivations, and add or remove discriminative stimuli (cues) for the problem behavior.|
|3.||Positive Reinforcement: Employ approaches that contingently deliver a consequence to increase the probability that the desired behavior will occur.|
|4.||Differential Reinforcement of Alternative Behavior: Reinforce an acceptable replacement behavior and remove the maintaining reinforcer for the problem behavior.|
|5.||Negative Punishment, Negative Reinforcement, or Extinction (these are not listed in any order of preference):|
|6.||Positive Punishment: Contingently deliver an aversive consequence to reduce the probability that the problem behavior will occur.|
Intrusiveness refers to the degree to which the learner has counter control. The goal of LIMA is for its trainers/consultants to determine and use the least intrusive effective intervention which will effectively address the target behavior. In the course of an experienced trainer/consultant’s practice, he or she may identify a situation in which a relatively more intrusive procedure is necessary for an effective outcome. In such a case, a procedure that reduces the learner’s control may be the least intrusive, effective choice. Additionally, wellness is at the top of the hierarchy to ensure that a trainer/consultant does not implement a learning solution for behavior problems due to pain or illness. The hierarchy is a cautionary tool to reduce both dogmatic rule following and practice by familiarity or convenience. It offers an ethical checkpoint for consultants to carefully consider the process by which effective outcomes can be most humanely achieved on a case-by-case basis. Rationale like, “It worked with the last case!” is not appropriate. The evaluation and behavior change program of every animal should be a study of the individual (i.e., individual animal, setting, caregiver, etc.). Changing behavior is best understood as a study of one.
1 Steven Lindsay, Handbook of Applied Dog Behavior and Training Vol 3 pgs. 29 & 726.
2 Per the IAABC, APDT and CCPDT Joint Code of Conduct
3 “[The] use of positive reinforcement alone was associated with the lowest mean scores (attention- seeking score 0.33; fear (avoidance) score 0.18; aggression score 0.1). The highest mean attention-seeking score (0.49) was found in dogs whose owners used a combination of positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement. The highest mean avoidance score (0.31) was found in dogs whose owners used a combination of all categories of training method. Owners using a combination of positive reinforcement and positive punishment had dogs with the highest mean aggression score (0.27).” Emily J. Blackwell, Caroline Twells, Anne Seawright, Rachel A. Casey, The relationship between training methods and the occurrence of behavior problems, as reported by owners, in a population of domestic dogs, Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, Volume 3, Issue 5, September–October 2008, Pages 207-217, ISSN 1558-7878, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jveb.2007.10.008.
5 See avsabonline.org • Hutchinson RR. 1977. By-products of aversive control. In: Honig WK, Staddon JER, eds. Handbook of Operant Behavior. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall: 415-431.• Azrin NH. 1960. Effects of punishment intensity during variable-interval reinforcement. J Exp Analysis Behav 3: 123-142.• Azrin NH, Holz WC, Hake DR. 1963. Fixed-ratio punishment. J Exp Analysis Behav 6: 141-148. • Pauli AM, Bentley E, Diehl AK, Miller PE. 2006. Effects of the application of neck pressure by a collar or harness on intraocular pressure in dogs. J Am Anim Hosp Assoc 42(3): 207-211. • Drobatz KJ, Saunders HM, Pugh CR, Hendricks JC. 1995. Noncardiogenic pulmonary edema in dogs and cats: 26 cases (1987-1993). J Am Vet Med Assoc 206: 1732-1736. • Azrin NH, Rubin HB, Hutchinson RR. 1968. Biting attack by rats in response to aversive shock. J Exp Analysis Behav 11: 633-639.
6 Brambell’s Five Freedoms, used as animal and human welfare guidelines:
• Freedom from hunger or thirst by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigor
• Freedom from discomfort by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area
• Freedom from pain, injury or disease by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment
• Freedom to express (most) normal behavior by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind
• Freedom from fear and distress by ensuring conditions and treatment that avoids mental suffering
7 S. Friedman, What’s Wrong with this Picture? Effectiveness is Not Enough, APDT Journal March/April 2010
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.
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.”[i]
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. For example, a small breed dog is not an appropriate 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 such as aggression and 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, which may also 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. In keeping 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 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 also maintain that trainers have a higher ethical obligation to avoid making such a fraudulent representation, or encouraging or aiding others to do so.
[i] Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990, Pub. L. No. 101-336, §35.104 and §36.104, 104 Stat. 328 (1990).
Adopted: August 1, 2017
Revised: March 12, 2019
The Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT) recognizes the need to protect the public from dangerous dogs, and that the public safety goal can be achieved in a way that respects all parties involved – from the person or animal who was attacked, to the dog owners and dogs who are the subject of dangerous dog or reckless owner proceedings.
Dangerous dog laws must focus on the actual behavior of a dog in a particular incident. Laws that discriminate based on breed or breed type, rather than the behavior of the individual dog, are neither effective nor reasonable. Studies have shown that breed discriminatory laws do not reduce the incidence of dog bites.[i] Given this evidence, APDT takes the position that dangerous dog laws must be breed neutral.[ii] Additionally, dangerous dog laws in the form of statewide statutes (rather than ordinances that vary from locality to locality) provide more consistency.
APDT believes the following components make for a well-crafted dangerous dog statute:
APDT points to the dangerous dog laws in Illinois and Virginia as examples of well-crafted dangerous dog laws that contain most if not all of the above components:
Dangerous dog laws are only one aspect of the issue. Dangerous dog cases often involve dogs with behavior issues. However, even the “best” dog may be placed in an unfair scenario due to the actions or inactions of his or her owner or handler. “Reckless owner” laws target individuals who are more likely to place dogs in unsafe circumstances, and allow courts to restrict or even prohibit ownership and possession of companion animals. Most commonly, these restrictions or prohibitions are imposed upon conviction of certain felonies[viii], animal cruelty[ix] or animal fighting[x], or a finding of repetitive negligence[xi]. These “reckless owner” laws complement dangerous dog laws by targeting individuals whose actions or inactions can put even the “best” dog in a scenario that could lead to a dangerous dog proceeding.
[i] See ASPCA Position Statement on Breed Specific Legislation and cited references at https://www.aspca.org/about-us/aspca-policy-and-position-statements/position-statement-breed-specific-legislation.
[ii] For a good example of breed neutral language in a state dangerous dog code, refer to Va. Code § 3.2-6540(G): “No canine or canine crossbreed shall be found to be a dangerous dog solely because it is a particular breed, nor is the ownership of a particular breed of canine or canine crossbreed prohibited.”
[iii] As an example, see Va. Code § 3.2-6540(F) (stating that dangerous dog proceedings are governed by procedure for appeal and trial as provided for criminal misdemeanors, including allowing for trial by jury).
[iv] See Va. Code § 3.2-6540(F) (applying beyond a reasonable doubt standard to civil dangerous dog proceedings).
[v] As an example, see Va. Code § 3.2-6540(C) (“If the animal control officer determines that the owner or custodian can confine the animal in a manner that protects the public safety, he may permit the owner or custodian to confine the animal until such time as evidence shall be heard and a verdict rendered.”)
[vi] For example, see Helmers v. City of Des Moines, No. 17-0794 in the Court of Appeals of Iowa, filed April 4, 2018 (finding undefined phrase “vicious propensities” unconstitutionally vague).
[vii] For example, see 510 Ill.L.C.S. 5/15, §15(a), and 510 Ill. L.C.S. 5/15.1, §15.1(a), allowing for testimony of a certified applied behaviorist, board certified veterinary behaviorist, or other recognized expert as relevant to the court’s determination of whether the dog’s behavior was justified, and 510 Ill.L.C.S. 5/15.1, §15.1(d)(1), allowing for an evaluation of the dog by a certified applied behaviorist, board certified veterinary behaviorist, or other recognized expert in the field, and completion of training or other treatment.
[viii] For examples, refer to 20 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/12-36 (restricts felons from owning unsterilized dogs); 510 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5 et seq. (making it a misdemeanor for those convicted of forcible felonies, felony gun violations, drug violations, or felony violations of the Humane Care for Animals Act to own an unsterilized dog or a dog previously declared “vicious”).
[ix] See Va. Code §3.2-6570(G).
[x] See Va. Code §3.2-6571(D).
[xi] See Tacoma, Washington “Problem Pet Owner” ordinance (Section 17.01.010 through 17.06.050) that allows for a declaration of an individual as a “problem pet owner” if the individual commits three or more animal control violations in a twenty-four month period and allows animal control to seize the individual’s companion animals.
Adopted: March 12, 2019
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
APDT POSITION STATEMENT
DOG TRAINING TELEVISION SHOWS
TV shows have rightfully elicited criticism about the lack of a scientific basis for the methods used in those shows. The Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT) would like to take this opportunity to highlight critical facts about dog training and methodology, and the importance of the dog’s welfare during training.
The APDT is unwavering in its support of science-based methods of training and behavior modification, as well as the requirement that the animal’s welfare be paramount during training sessions. The APDT adheres to the concept of LIMA—“Least Intrusive, Minimally Aversive”—which requires trainers to use the most humane and effective tactics to achieve behavior change. For more information on this topic, please consult our LIMA Position Statement.
Science dictates that dogs learn through operant conditioning and classical conditioning.i Training “methods” that claim the dog learns by your energy or by your feeling the dog’s energy are simply not based on science. Similarly, training that suggests that you take on the role of a “leader” harkens back to dominance-based theories that have been disproven by research.ii For more information about the myths of dominance and “pack theory,” see our Position Statement on Dominance and Dog Training and the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) Dominance Position Statement.
A red flag with these types of television programs is the disclaimer “Don’t Try This At Home.” Placing animals in situations that are meant to elicit problematic behavior so that the behavior can be “corrected” or “resolved” does not set the animals up for success, and places the animals at serious risk of injury. What’s more, research has shown that exposing an animal to something the animal fears without allowing the animal to move away if uncomfortable (a procedure known as “flooding”) has the potential to make the animal even more fearful or aggressive in the future.iii
Ultimately, these types of shows do not give a realistic view of proper training. They fail to address the need to craft a science-based training plan and implement that training plan in the most humane and effective way. Behavior research in the field of animals, and dog training in particular, has greatly expanded in recent years, and our understanding of behavior continues to grow thanks to continuing scientific studies. Shows of this kind do not reflect the results of that research.
Progressive training and behavior professionals keep up-to-date on the progress in research and science in order to provide the most effective and humane services possible to their clients and the animals in their care. APDT recommends that you choose a trainer who stays current with developments in the field of animal behavior, and who understands and uses operant conditioning and positive reinforcement, classical conditioning, desensitization, and counter conditioning methods to modify behavior.
Adopted: Amended March 4, 2020
i See: (1) M.R., Bailey J.S. 1999. How Dogs Learn. New York, NY: Howell Book House; (2) Yin S. 2004. How to Behave So Your Dog Behaves. Neptune City, NJ: TFH Publications; (3) Chance, P. Learning and Behavior. Australia: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, Ch. 3 (on classical conditioning), Ch. 5 (on reinforcement), Ch. 8 (on punishment).
ii See AVSAB Dominance Position Statement, citing: (1) Benowitz, E.A. 2001. CliffsQuickReview: Principles of Management. New York: Hungry Minds (scholars in human-related fields of business management and sociology, where leadership is studied extensively, recommend against use of coercion and force to gain leadership); (2) Yin, S. 2007. Dominance Versus Leadership in Dog Training. Compendium Continuing Education for the Practicing Veterinarian, 29:414-432 (leadership is established when an owner consistently sets limits and effectively communicates the rules by immediately rewarding desired behaviors and preventing or removing rewards for undesired behaviors before those behaviors are reinforced or practiced); (3) Yin, S. 2009. Dominance vs. Unruly Behavior. In Low Stress Handling, Restraint and Behavior Modification of Dogs and Cats. 52-73. Davis, Calif.: CattleDog Publishing (emphasizing the ability to influence dogs to perform behaviors willingly, which is one accepted definition of “leadership”). See also website for Dave Mech, at https://davemech.org/wolf-news-and-information/.
iii See: (1) Overall K. Manual of Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Dogs and Cats. 1 Pap/DVD edition (July 9, 2013); (2) Leitenberg, H. 1990. Handbook of Social and Evaluation Anxiety. Springer. pp. 300-2. ISBN 978-0-306-43438-9. (3) Implosive Therapy. Donald J. Levis. Binghamton University, New York.