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Humane dog trainers at the core of BC SPCA’s special accreditation program

The AnimalKind program audits trainers to ensure they offer humane training techniques
Vanessa Kursan, owner of Evolve Dog Training in Vancouver, with her dog Spencer. (BC SPCA photo)

Many people may be surprised to find out that dog training is unregulated in B.C.

Trainers like Vancouver’s Vanessa Kursan, the owner of Evolve Dog Training, use reward-based methods that focus on improving dogs’ quality of life along with their behaviour.

“I became inspired to understand how dogs learn and embarked on a new educational journey to become a dog trainer myself. As an educator, I always believed that any punishment or stress inhibits learning, and that realization led me down the positive reinforcement learning path.”

But not all trainers subscribe to Kursan’s philosophy.

That’s why the BC SPCA created the AnimalKind accreditation program. The program helps dog owners get connected with trainers who use science-based methods, have high animal welfare standards and skilled trainers who only use humane training methods.

Through AnimalKind, trainers undergo annual audits where the SPCA evaluates their training methods.

“We go and watch how they train to make sure they’re actually following humane training practices,” said Nicole Fenwick, BC SPCA manager of research and standards. “The first two years is a more detailed audit and by the third year is a little bit less. We touch base with the company, find out what’s changed, if they’ve hired new staff, and review how they train.”

Fenwick said that even for folks who cannot access services from an AnimalKind trainer, the SPCA offers tips on what pet owners can look for to ensure their trainer is using proper techniques.

The SPCA says to be wary of trainers who do not allow dog owners to participate in or observe training. They also warn against trainers who preach ‘dominance’ tactics, shock collars, or punishment. Instead, they recommend trainers who offer rewards like treats and food, encourage owners to participate and have smaller class sizes.

“Our ultimate goal is to make people aware of the importance of reward-based training and how to choose a trainer to benefit all animals.”

Many of the accredited trainers offer services online so dog owners can practice training techniques at home with their pets.

AnimalKind also offers accreditation for pest control companies. Pest control businesses that focus on prevention and exclusion techniques are highlighted by AnimalKind.

“The three companies we have accredited do not use rodenticides because of the secondary harms they do to other wildlife,” Fenwick said.

The BC SPCA hopes to expand the AnimalKind program to other pet care services like dog daycares, dog walkers, kennels and groomers. They have draft standards that have been reviewed by academic experts and business owners and they plan to bring that program forward later this year.

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