FINAL UPDATE: In October, 2011, my certification was renewed.
3rd UPDATE: On August 4, 2011, the CCPDT Policy Statement on Training Practices was revised to no longer include the restriction against using an electronic collar on any dog under one-year-old. I am also told that policy discussions are once again allowed on the CPDT List.
2nd UPDATE: The CCPDT informed me on January 14th that they will be forced to allow my certification to elapse, as a result of my failure to sign their Code of Ethics.
UPDATE: I am told the matter of my concerns regarding the CCPDT’s Code of Ethics are slated for discussion by the Board on Thursday, January 13th.
Below is the bulk of a letter sent to the Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers.
December 31st was the deadline for renewing my CPDT-KA certification, which I earned three years ago by sitting for a mind-numbing 250-question multiple choice test on topics ranging from learning theory and ethology to animal husbandry and training equipment.
In 2009, the CCPDT released its Statement on Training and Behavior Intervention Practices, a copy of which follows my letter. I and a number of other trainers openly protested the policy on the CPDT-KA list, at which point the CCPDT coincidentally decided to ban all posts on CCPDT policy from that forum.
This letter was sent along with all the required materials to support my recertification, with the exception of a signed copy of their current Code of Ethics, which I will not sign due to its reference to the above mentioned policy statement.
I do regret not writing this letter a year earlier, as was my intention. However, the Code of Ethics did not include any reference to the offensive policy at that time, but appears to have been amended in September of 2010.
December 22, 2010
To the CCPDT Board,
I am writing regarding the CCPDT Policy on Training Practices, both as it affects my ability to maintain my CPDT-KA status, and out of concern for how certain claims made in the statement of that policy reflect on the CCPDT and its certification programs.
The policy refers to “certain practices which can in no way be considered humane or sound by scientific standards”, the implication being that some science exists which shows the enumerated practices to be irrefutably inhumane and unsound.
The problem is that no science exists that in any way addresses, much less refutes, the use of very low-level electronic stimulation as either a cue or a distinctly mild aversive as an element in a training program.
I understand the policy does not outlaw the use of electronic stimulation as a sort of last resort for certain adult dogs. But it does outlaw what to my mind is the more humane application of the tool, as a very mild aversive in the context of a mainly positive training program, at least in any dog under one year of age.
[….] while I have no formal training in the field of animal behavior, I like to think I have a more than passable ability to think critically, a skill I do my best to bring to bear both in my training practice (evaluating as objectively as possible the prudence and outcome of my choices at every step), as well as in my approach to any article, book, or scientific study I encounter.
I also take pride in being a humane and effective trainer, who attempts to take all available knowledge into consideration when making choices among the many different tools and methods at her disposal. I recognize the need for standards of ethics and practice in dog training, and hope to make some contribution to the effort to establish and maintain such standards.
So what does science have to say about electronic stimulation and training? Very little as it turns out, and what it does have to say is hardly definitive. Even the authors of Electronic Training Devices: A Review of Current Literature, in contemplating the body of relevant scientific research, admit that “most studies involving dogs have discernible methodological weaknesses”.
I’ve read each study surveyed in the above review fairly closely, by the way, and the authors of A Review of Current Literature could not be more correct in their appraisal. But the key thing to understand, is that there have been exactly zero studies using very low-level stimulation, such as one may achieve with a number of high quality units these days, and such as the vast majority of dogs tend to find only very mildly aversive. In other words, the research that has so far been done is incredibly limited in its scope, so much so that drawing broad conclusions, such as that voiced in the Policy on Training Practices, is illogical.
Extending scientific conclusions regarding stress and/or training effectiveness of high level shock, to the use of such low levels that a dog might only barely perceive them, is frankly unscientific. And treating all forms and intensities of electronic stimulation as by definition strongly aversive (as is implied by the policy to avoid using electronic collars “without first attempting alternative strategies [etc]”) is likewise unjustifiable.
So by what “scientific standards” does the CCPDT claim that low-level electronic collar stimulation need be either a last resort or reserved only for dogs over one year of age? If by none, then I suggest the CCPDT refrain from invoking such phrases, and consider substituting more accurate language, such as “practices that are politically awkward to defend, despite their being potentially more humane and less stressful than other allowable practices.”
I have enclosed the required materials for recertification, minus a signed copy of the Code of Ethics, as it would bind me to endorsing the above discussed policy.
I have enjoyed holding my certification up to now, and have honored its requirements, with the exception of never using electronic stimulation on any dog under one year old. I have broken that exactly twice, once with an eleven-month-old bullmastiff […] and once with a six-month-old pit bull [….] Both dogs remain happy and confident, and take low-level electronic stimulation in stride as a very mild aversive, used to remind them of what has mainly been taught through positive training.
According to the CCPDT statement on training practices, science has irrefutably determined that my work with the above mentioned dogs was both unsound and inhumane, because it involved the application of electronic stimulation on a dog under one year of age. If that is the case, I would appreciate your pointing me to that science.
I do not expect to be re-certified, though I would obviously prefer that to resigning the certification that I have taken some trouble to earn and maintain over the past three years. Either way, I hope you will respect my honesty and my concerns. [….]
Dog Training and Behavior Intervention Practices
Purpose: This policy serves to govern those practices that a Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT) certificant may not use during the practice of dog training or behavior modification. This policy will clarify for dog owners and dog care professionals those practices in which a CCPDT certificant may not engage.
The CCPDT recognizes that this policy does not address every practice under debate in the dog training industry. The goal of this policy is to ensure that CCPDT certificants no longer engage in certain practices which can in no way be considered humane or sound by scientific standards. It also acknowledges that certain additional practices remain under debate, such as the use of electronic stimulation collars. This policy is intended as a first step in ensuring that CCPDT certificants are not using practices that are potentially egregiously harmful to dogs, either physically or emotionally.
Policy: The following practices are never acceptable for use by a CCPDT certificant, for any reason:
• Helicoptering or hanging a dog (defined as lifting the dog off of the ground and either holding it off of the ground or swinging the dog off of the ground by the collar or leash for any period of time) or otherwise restricting the airway of the dog in any manner as a training measure.
• Applying a collar that delivers an electrical stimulation to a dog (with the exception of a vibration collar that does not have an electronic shock without first attempting alternative intervention strategies, including, at a minimum, positive reinforcement of alternative behaviors, changes in antecedent stimuli, and either negative punishment, negative reinforcement, or extinction.
• Applying a collar that delivers an electrical stimulation to a dog under the age of one year, with the exception of a vibration collar that does not have an electronic shock component.
• Applying more than one electrical stimulation collar to a dog at the same time.
• Applying an electrical stimulation collar to the genital region or abdomen area of the dog.
• Applying a toe or ear pinch (defined as applying a pinching pressure either with the hand or with a tool of any sort – including but not limited to a cord or wire – to a toe, ear or any other body part of the dog with the intention of causing the dog to perform or cease a behavior).
• Drowning (defined as submersion of the dog’s head in water for any period of time).
• Applying a cattle prod to any part of the dog’s body.
No trainer or behavior consultant who has been certified through one of the CCPDT’s certification programs shall engage in any of the above-named acts for any reason. To report any such conduct by a trainer or behavior consultant whom you believe has been certified through one of the CCPDT’s certification programs, please refer to the CCPDT’s Complaint Procedure or contact our administrator at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Adopted September 4, 2009. Effective Immediately.
Code of Ethics
The Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (The CCPDT) Code of Ethics provides The CCPDT certificants with a set of guidelines and goals designed to assist certificants in the ethical challenges of their work and elevate the level of professionalism in dog training and behavior consulting. Additionally, The CCPDT will apply the Code of Ethics as a set of enforceable standards which certificants must agree to abide by in order to retain certification by The CCPDT.
A certificant of The CCPDT affirms to abide by the following:
1. to operate as a certificant without discrimination on the basis of race, color, ethnicity, national origin, gender, disability, physical limitation, marital or familial status, sexual orientation, religion or political beliefs.
2. to assist clients in establishing humane, realistic training and behavior goals in accordance with The CCPDT Humane Hierarchy Position Statement.
3. to understand and fully comply with The CCPDT Training and Behavior Practices Policy.
4. to utilize training and behavior modification methods based on accurate scientific research, emphasizing positive relationships between people and dogs and using positive reinforcement-based techniques to the maximum extent possible.
5. to always provide for the safety of clients and animals in training programs and behavior consultations.
6. to act with honesty and integrity toward clients, respecting their legitimate training and behavior goals and the autonomy of their choice, provided they conform to societal and legal standards of humane treatment for their pet.
7. to refrain from public defamation of colleagues, respecting their right to establish and follow their own principles of conduct, provided those principles are ethical and humane according to The CCPDT Humane Hierarchy Position Statement.
8. to provide truthful advertising and representations concerning certificant qualifications, experience, performance of services, pricing of services and expected results; to provide full disclosure of potential conflicts of interest to clients and other professionals.
9. to refrain from providing guarantees regarding the specific outcome of training.
10. to use properly authorized logos and credentials provided by The CCPDT when marketing in print or electronic media.
11. to obtain written informed consent from any client prior to photographing, video or audio recording a dog training session.
12. to work within the professional boundaries of The CCPDT certifications and individual expertise and refrain from providing diagnosis, advice or recommendations in areas of veterinary medicine or family counseling unless certified to do so. This does not preclude referring the client to a veterinary or behavior consulting professional.
13. to maintain and respect the confidentiality of all information obtained from clients in the course of business; to refrain from disclosure of information about clients or their pets to others without the client’s explicit consent, except as required by law.
14. to be aware of and comply with applicable laws, regulations and ethical standards governing professional practices, treatment of animals (including cases of neglect or abuse) and reporting of dog bites in the state/province/country when interacting with the public and when providing dog training or behavior consulting services.
15. to keep accurate and complete records of clients, their animals and the training and behavior services provided; to ensure secure storage and when appropriate, confidential disposal of such records.
16. to refrain from accepting financial remuneration for referrals to other professionals with the exception of nominal gifts (such as a pen or coffee mug) and to refrain from other business relationships that may affect the scope and quality of services offered to clients.
17. to continue professional development as required for maintaining The CCPDT credentials in accordance with the policies of The CCPDT.
18. to maintain and respect the confidentiality of the contents of any and all certification examinations of The CCPDT.
I have read the Code of Ethics of The Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers and agree to abide by this code in my dog training and behavior consulting practice.
Adopted September 17, 2010. Effective immediately.