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Working towards a transparent and high-quality training environment for Dutch dogs

                                                                                                                                    Afstudeeropdracht van Tamara Giesen. (klik op de titel)


                                                                                                                                    Bachelor presentatie over blaffende honden. Verslag.   Powerpoint presentatie.

                                                                                                                                    Studie door Tamara Giesen.


























Working towards a transparent and high-quality training environment for Dutch dogs

Joyce Broekman, Tamara Giesen, Mei Lin Go and Marjolein Poelman



In order for dogs to fit into today’s society, training is an essential part of a dogs and owners life. A number of different training courses for canine instructors and dog-handler combinations have been developed over the years. However, it is not clear whether these trainings are of high quality. The aim of this research is to find out if and how a transparent and high quality training environment for dogs, owners and instructors could be achieved in the Netherlands. The focus is on hobby training, e.g. puppy training and general obedience training, not on training for working dogs, e.g. police dogs or guide dogs. Currently, there are international organizations that are dealing with the same issue. They have assembled regulations regarding educational, experiential and ethical standards that have to be met in order to get a certificate that guarantees well qualified professionals. Renewal of this certificate ensures that instructors keep improving their knowledge. By certifying the instructors, dog owners can distinguish well-educated people that give high quality training from merely well-meaning people. In order to improve quality of training methods, the use of positive reinforcement and secondary reinforcement via the clicker should be increased and use of negative reinforcement and punishment should be decreased. Moreover, social learning can be included in the training. However, more research should be done.




Historically, domesticated animals always had a purpose. They were there for consumption or to help humans during their work. Dogs have been widely used for different purposes like hunting, guarding, transportation, herding and so on. The people that needed the help of the dog trained the dog to perform their tasks (Serpel, 1995). An example are sled dogs. Around 4000 years ago, the first appearance of sled dogs occurred (Mushing Holland, 2011). They were used for transportation and they were trained by the musher. These days, they are still being used, but mostly in competitions for sled dogs. Although the original principle of transport has gone to the background, the principle of pulling the sled as fast as possible has stayed. Nowadays, dogs are very common in our society. Besides being used for sports, recreation and companionship they are still being used to fulfill a role during work. Examples of the latter are police dogs or service dogs, which help their owners a lot during the day.


For the owner and the dog live together in good understanding and harmony, an appropriate training of the dog is necessary. A number of different training methods have been developed over the years. These training methods, however, can differ greatly from each other. The quality of those different training procedures is sometimes not very clear. The education of the dog trainer is also important in this respect. It is not always very transparent if the trainer is well-qualified or merely well-meaning. Certification of the trainer should reflect the level of qualification.


The aim of this study is to find out how working towards a transparent and high-quality training environment for dogs in the Netherlands, with the focus on training for recreational purposes, could be achieved. In order to be able to do this, knowledge is needed about training methods and their effectivity. The popular principles and methods that are currently being used are also of importance. Next, information about the current situation regarding the training of dogs, and also about the education and certification of the trainers is given. A comparison between the scientifically based effective training principles and the popular methods is necessary to assess the quality of the currently used training procedures. Based on this comparison an  ideal (future) situation will be described. Finally, recommendations will be provided about a transition process to improve the quality and transparency of dog training in the Netherlands in the future.


Training methods


General learning principles

There are several general learning principles, for instance habituation, sensitisation, classical and operant conditioning and social learning. In training, classical and operant conditioning are the most important forms of learning. Classical or Pavlovian conditioning refers to a scenario in which an animal that is exposed to a neutral unconditioned stimulus associates this stimulus with another stimulus which elicits an unconditioned autonomic (involuntary) response (Pavlov, 1927 in Price, 2008). Operant conditioning refers to the increase or decrease of the operant (voluntary) response rate (the frequency at which a behaviour is exhibited) following reinforcement or punishment during or immediately following the response (Price, 2008). There are several forms of operant conditioning, including punishment and reinforcement. These are highly used in training. Reinforcement refers to factors, events or experiences which increase the likelihood that a behaviour will occur. Punishment refers to factors, events or experiences which decrease the likelihood that a behaviour will occur. Of both this concepts negative and positive forms exist (table 1).


Table 1. Forms of operant conditioning.


Positive (add something)

Negative (remove something)


(increase in behaviour)

Positive reinforcement
(adding something the animal wants)

Negative reinforcement
(removing something aversive)


(decreases in behaviour)

Positive punishment
(adding something aversive)

Negative punishment
(removing something the animal wants)


Social learning, a form of observational learning, is generally considered a category of operant learning. It can be divided into three levels. The first level is local or stimulus enhancement, which means that an animal directs its behaviour and attention towards those parts of the environment that other animals are directing their attention to. The second level is social facilitation, which means doing what another animal does, like eating when everyone else is eating. The highest level is true imitation. This means learning new behaviour by imitating the behaviour of a demonstrator. It is however debated whether imitation behaviour should always be new. All these levels interact and there are different processes going on at the same time. Differences between the three types of social learning are not always clear (Price, 2008).


Training methods and their effectivity

It has been shown that dogs can learn by habituation (e.g. Rooney et al., 2007), sensitisation (e.g. Mills, 2005), classical (Pavlov, 1927 in Price, 2008), operant conditioning (e.g. Salzinger and Waller, 1962) and social learning (e.g. Slabbert and Rasa, 1997).


Superior performance in one task does not necessarily predict superior performance in a different task. General learning ability cannot be compared between breeds. A training method is designed to work for all the dogs, but individual and breed-specific differences must be kept in mind during training.


There are some general learning rules for dogs. An important one is that training in different situations in space as well as in time can avoid overshadowing (Braem and Mills, 2010). Moreover, giving additional verbal information to the dog or focussing its attention prior to the command can decrease its obedience (Braem and Mills, 2010). Arhant et al. (2010) found a correlation between consistent treatment and obedience. And precise timing of rewards and punishment is essential for the dog to link the negative or positive consequence with the behaviour (Greenebaum, 2010). After training a certain behaviour many times, it becomes a habit (Dickinson, 1985). Also, dogs have less difficulty generalizing a well-established command (Braem and Mills, 2010). Furthermore, a dog performs better when the alternative behaviours for a certain command are limited (Lit and Crawford, 2006) and being able to predict and control things is a behavioural need for the dog (Taylor, 2007). Luring dogs with a treat in order to get a wanted behaviour achieves this, unlike being pushed or pulled. This is called the hands-off method.


Operant conditioning is used extensively in dog training. Training methods differ mainly in the way the four forms are used and this comprises many aspects. Several rules apply to reinforcement. The use of a secondary reinforcer like the clicker gives slower extinction (Smith and Davis, 2008). Reinforcement of unwanted behaviour is positively correlated with aggressiveness in dogs (Arhant et al., 2010).


There are also several important rules that apply to punishment. The effect of punishment depends on when and where (physical) punishment is given and how severe the punishment is (Fowler and Miller, 1963). Moreover, there is a correlation between obedience and frequency of rewards, but not punishment and there is a correlation between problem behaviour and frequency of punishment, but not rewards (Hiby et al., 2004; Arhant et al., 2010). There is also a link between the use of punishment and separation-related behaviour and over-excitement (Hiby et al., 2004). Furthermore, a dog must be able to predict and control being punished in order to avoid stress (Schalke et al., 2007).


Social learning from conspecifics as well as from humans is a form that is studied more and more in dogs. However, the question is what levels of social learning a dog can achieve and on which factors it depends.

Social learning is very dependent on breed, individual, demonstrator, number of demonstrations and task. For example, Pongrácz et al. (2008) has shown that dogs with a higher dominance rank perform worse when the demonstrator is a dog, while their performance is almost similar between dogs when the demonstrator is a human. Range et al. (2007) has shown imitation of dog demonstrators in an object manipulation task. Also, puppies can already learn from their trained mothers (Slabbert and Rasa, 1997) and from same-age puppies (Adler and Adler, 1977). The study of James (1953) suggests that dominant pups show less social facilitation and are probably less dependent on and affected by it. It seems though that dogs, even when highly trained, fail to copy familiar actions demonstrated by a dog that are not targeted to an object (Tennie et al., 2009). Social experiences as well as genetic preference probably contribute to the dogs sensitivity to human demonstrations. Even without reinforcement dogs learn to synchronize behaviour with their owners (Kunbinyi et al., 2003).


The quality of a training method does not only depend on the results it gives in terms of obedience, its consequences for the welfare of the dog is important as well. Welfare can be very much impaired when using training methods that, at first sight, seem to work. Burch and Bailey (1999) have described the punishment controversy (Figure 1).


Figure 1. The Punishment Controversy (Burch and Bailey, 1999)


The scale in figure 1 addresses the question which forms of operant conditioning should be used. Training methods fit somewhere on this scale. The dominance-based method and reward-based method fall more to the right respectively left site of the scale (Greenebaum, 2010). There is a tendency of the training of hobby dogs more towards the positive left site and training of working dogs (except guide dogs for the blind and dogs to detect illegal substances) towards the negative right site, but also well-known trainers like Cesar Milan use a lot of aversive techniques (Greenebaum, 2010).


Welfare is the balance between positive and negative affective states (Spruijt et al., 2001). Welfare might be negatively affected when aversive stimuli are used. It is thought to cause suffering (Beerda et al., 1998), pose health risks because of stress, is related to an increase in aggression towards other dogs (Roll and Unshelm, 1997) and humans, stereotyped behaviour and fear and when they are used for correction-based training dogs are less obedient and show an increase in excitement behaviour (Hiby et al., 2004). The more you go to the negative part on the scale, the more welfare is impaired.

When looking at welfare implications one should not only look at welfare when training, but also on how severe the problem is, what the long-term welfare implications are and the long-term effect on welfare of a successful training. Only then a suitable method can be chosen. This method might be using collars like the Gentle Leader or head collar (Ogburn, 1998), while they might be impairing welfare at the time of training. When reinforcement and punishment counterbalance each other or when positive reinforcement exceeds negative reinforcement and punishment, no behavioural differences are seen (Spruijt, 2001).


Currently used training principles and methods

Classical and operant conditioning are the basic training principles used in practice. The types of operant conditioning that are mainly being used are positive reinforcement and negative punishment. In positive reinforcement a toy or a treat is used as a reward. The clicker device is increasingly used as a secondary reinforcer in positive reinforcement. First the dog has to learn to associate the click with a reward through classical conditioning. Then the clicker is used to let the dog know at an exact moment that he is performing the wanted behaviour and that his reward will be coming soon. Training with a toy as a reward is also a popular method. Another method that is used in training is ignoring unwanted behaviour with the right timing and also the hands-off method is used.


Current situation: organizations and methods

Nowadays, the number of dog schools is very high (www.raadvanbeheer.nl). This is not surprising considering that around 1.9 million dogs are present in the Netherlands (Cornelissen & Hopster, 2010) and each year 400 people  take a obedience course at local dog schools (Forum Dierenwelzijn, 2006). Dogs deserve a proper education just like human beings and that is why there are special organizations, which will be described below, that facilitate dog training. These trainings are as much as important for the dogs as for the owners.


Training the trainers

Several education institutes offer education of the people that train the dog-handler combination. The education of these instructors can vary. It can range from only general obedience training to addressing problem behaviour as a behavioural therapist. The quality of the training methods that are being taught can also differ between the education institutes.  Here, a few of the education institutes will be examined that, according to the Dutch kennel club, deliver high quality canine instructors (www.raadvanbeheer.nl).


Nederlandse Vereniging voor Instructeurs in Hondenopvoeding en –opleiding (O&O) offers courses to become a canine instructor. They focus on dog behaviour, learning process of dogs, didactic skills, communication skills, training methods, dog health, safety and general knowledge about for example dog breeds. Theoretical and practical skills are combined to become a professional instructor. O&O teaches students positive training methods i.e. positive reinforcement. When teaching exercises, a ‘hands-off’ method is used. The most used tool is the clicker. When dogs show unwanted behaviour students are taught to ignore this or if a certain limit is reached, then negative punishment could be used. In their opinion, positive punishment is focused on the symptoms only and damages the relationship between human beings and dogs. They are against this type of punishment (www.hondenopvoeding.nl).


DogVision is a canine consultancy and education institute, which develops and provides education in the field of dogs and their behaviour. Their main focus in every activity is the ethological perspective. According to them, this is essential in studying and understanding dog behaviour (www.dogvision.nl). The courses for becoming a professional canine instructor are facilitated in cooperation with O&O. They use the same methods as described above, but students are also taught the theoretical background of aversive stimuli and their use.


The Martin Gaus Academie is an education institute where trainers and behavioural therapists can be (re)educated.  In their philosophy, they describe that a good understanding of the learning processes and the essence of the animal will lead to better interaction with animals. Therefore problem behaviour could not only be prevented but could also be permanently solved. Students gain professional knowledge, social skills and didactic skills. In continuation courses, the skills needed to perform and interpret behavioural tests are trained (Martin Gaus Academie, 2011). Mostly they teach positive reinforcement. A commonly used tool is the clicker. They do not want to use force and punishment to evoke startle responses or fear.  (Martin Gaus Hondenscholen, 2011).






Table 2. The training methods and principles that are taught by several education institutes which are acknowledged by de Raad van Beheer op kynologisch gebied (www.c-ki.nl)

Education institute


Taught methods of dog training

Koninklijke Nederlandse Kennelclub Cynophilia


Kynologisch Instructeur Module A, B en C

Operant en classical conditioning

Nederlandse Vereniging voor Instructeurs in Hondenopvoeding en –opleiding


Opleiding Algemene Vorming en Omgang Hond


Operant en classical conditioning

Positive reinforcement, Negative punishment

Use of aversive stimuli in positive punishment is taught theoretically


Nederlandse Vereniging voor Hondensporten

Opleiding Kynologisch instructeur Gehoorzaamheid en Kynologisch instructeur Agility


Operant en classical conditioning



Module Ethologie van de Hond en Kynologisch instructeur


Operant en classical conditioning

Positive reinforcement, Negative punishment

Use of aversive stimuli in positive punishment is taught theoretically



Algemene Basis opleiding voor Africhters en Kynologisch Instructeur


Operant en classical conditioning

Positive reinforcement, negative punishment


Martin Gaus Academie

Instructeur I, II en IIa


Operant en classical conditioning

Positive reinforcement

Use of aversive stimuli in positive punishment is discouraged


Quiebus/Cursuscentrum Dierverzorging Barneveld

Kynologisch Instructeur Module A en B1


Operant en classical conditioning

Positive reinforcement only

Use of aversive stimuli in positive punishment is discouraged.


Certification of the instructors

Currently, there are no explicit rules for instructors and there are differences in the quality of education institutes. Many of the certificates that can be obtained have no academic validation and the level of qualification is thus not always clear. In an effort to develop a certification system that should guarantee the proper education of an instructor, several parties, including representatives from the largest suppliers of educational programs for canine instructors and the Raad van Beheer op kynologisch gebied in Nederland (The Dutch kennel club) (www.hondenopvoeding.nl), came together to discuss how to achieve this. The process of assessing standards about qualities for instructors took many years. The different parties have yet to agree on the final list of standards. Nevertheless, in 2010, on behalf of the Raad van Beheer, the Commissie Kynologisch Instructeur (CKi) assembled regulations with regard to theoretical and practical attainments of an instructor (see appendix A). The CKi had to take care of the organization and implementation of the exams that must be passed in order to become a canine instructor. One must meet the attainments to be able to pass these exams. The CKi acknowledges seven organizations of which they state that the student should be able to acquire those attainments and that they educate the students in a proper manner and teach high quality training methods (table 2).


Raad van Beheer made a first step in the process of determining certain regulations with regard to the qualification of canine instructors. The aim is to distinguish well educated instructors from merely well-meaning instructors, but to what extent are these regulations objective? O&O, and others, have serious concerns about these final attainments and the value of the diploma from the CKi. They doubt if the exams test the proper knowledge and have enough depth, because this is not properly investigated. This could lead to education institutes not acknowledging the diploma and thus to limited opportunities for the people that want to do continuation courses. With the diploma from the CKi one is only allowed to be active within dog schools that are acknowledged by the Raad van Beheer, which also limits ones opportunities (O&O, 2011). There also exists doubt, for instance within the involved parties, about if the acknowledged education institutes really are the best training facilities in the Netherlands and if they really provide enough knowledge.


Training the dogs

For pet-dogs to fit into today’s society, puppy training is advisable (www.martingaushondenscholen.nl). Besides puppy training there are numerous other types of dog training: advanced obedience training, flyball, agility, training for hunting dogs and working dogs and more. In the Netherlands dog training is offered mainly by local dog schools. There are at least 75 local dog schools of which the Raad van Beheer acknowledged 70 (www.raadvanbeheer.nl). These schools have at least one instructor that is certified by CKi. Most likely irrespective of what training methods they use.  Besides these dog schools there are also other dog schools, for instance the Martin Gaus dog school. When dogs show problem behaviour (aggression, separation anxiety, excessive barking, etc.) owners can contact organizations that offer advice and help of behavioural therapists. It is important to treat this and reeducate these dogs (and owners) because when there is nothing done about this, the pet-owner relationship may weaken and could result in relinquishment or euthanasia (Hiby et al., 2004).


Nearly all dog schools offer puppy training, obedience training and agility training. Most of them also have other types of training, but this varies quite a bit. The training methods used and the quality of the training differs between the dog schools and there is no official control or inspection on this. Basically everyone is allowed to start a dog school. De Raad van Beheer is the only covering organization that acknowledges certain dog schools. The only criterion they use to acknowledge a certain dog school is that they have at least one instructor that is certified by the CKi (www.raadvanbeheer.nl). Most likely irrespective of what training methods are used, because there is no inspection from Raad van Beheer. The consequence is that it is very hard for dog owners to determine the quality of the training and the qualification of the instructors.


The Martin Gaus dog schools are quite well known in the Netherlands. They acknowledge twelve dog schools in the Netherlands (www.martingaushondenscholen.nl). The dog school owners all have completed canine instructor courses at the Martin Gaus Academie and after that, they have followed an education program that focuses on didactic skills and training skills. The dog schools are under constant control of the mother company and every six weeks the owner has a whole day of obliged education to keep knowledge up-to-date. They receive a certificate every three years, only if they meet all the obligations. They focus on associative learning and only use positive reinforcement with the aid of a clicker device. The owner learns to time his or her rewarding so a dog knows when it has performed the right behaviour. Eventually, knowledge about the dogs and the owners own behaviour and body language is obtained (www.martingaushondenscholen.nl).


Various dog schools focus on other types of training, like training defense, guard, race and hunting dogs. In these dog schools there is also no official control or inspection on the quality of the training or the methods used. Kringgroep Slingeland in Gaanderen is an example of one of these more specialized dog schools. They train dogs to become defense or guard dogs. They teach them to listen to their owners commands, how to attack on command on sleeve and trace certain objects. The dog training is seen as a way to educate the dog and to optimize the handling of the dog. Kringgroep Slingeland considers it very important that the dog enjoys the training. They use classical and operant conditioning with mainly positive reinforcement, with a toy as a reward. A dog has two drives; prey drive, where the dog conquers the catch like a sleeve or dumbbell and defense drive, where the dog is threatened in such a way that it feels inclined to defend. Trainers take advantage of this. Unwanted behaviour is ignored and only sometimes, when the dog crosses a certain limit or really does not listen, they receive a punishment (Kringgroep Slingeland, 2011).

There are also dog schools specialized in for instance hunting dog training and rescue dog training. Like stated earlier there is no control on the training methods used and there are also dog schools that use aversive stimuli in positive punishment techniques. There is no guarantee that the people that use these aversive stimuli have been properly educated to really know the impact of these instruments on the dogs welfare, because there is no control on the education or qualification of these people.


Quality of current training procedures

In scientific literature several ways of operant conditioning are mentioned i.e. positive/negative reinforcement and positive/negative punishment. Positive reinforcement is associated with higher levels of obedience, fewer problematic behaviour and shows the best results in terms of the dog’s welfare. As a result, the owner-pet relationship is strengthened (Hiby et al., 2004). The dog shows behaviour that is associated with a happy state of mind and the dogs also learn faster unlike while using positive punishment or negative reinforcement (www.debolster.be). Nevertheless, it has to be taken into account that a dog’s training history, the experience of the dog handler and the familiarity of the dog with its handler also influences obedience (Braem, 2010). Currently, in practice, positive reinforcement is commonly taught in education institutes for canine instructors and it is commonly used in dog schools. This is a positive aspect. 

Positive punishment is mostly being avoided in the education institutes, because fear and aggression can be generated. A dominance-based relationship is created which is unnecessary for most of the behaviours owners want to see (Greenebaum, 2010). Besides that, punishment could have serious welfare implications (Hiby et al., 2004). About the use of positive punishment in dog schools not much can be said right now, because each individual dog school should have to be investigated and this is beyond the scope of our research. What we can say is that there is no official control on the methods they use, so it is possible that positive punishment is being used.

There is not much said about negative punishment, besides that some of the education institutes use it, but only if necessary. It may occur more frequently than people think but then maybe in an unconscious way (www.debolster.be).

Negative reinforcement is barely mentioned at all, but it could be very likely that dog schools that use positive punishment, if there are any, also use negative reinforcement.

In conclusion, it appears to be quite difficult to say whether training procedures that are currently being used in dog schools have a good quality. This is because, first of all it is not known in detail which training procedures every dog school uses and second of all it is not scientifically proven what the optimal dog training method should look like. However, a trend towards positive reinforcement is seen.






The ideal (future) situation


Dog training

The question is, what is defined the ‘best’ training method. Must training results and welfare implications be evenly balanced?

The present way of training containing positive reinforcement and possibly negative punishment seems to be a relatively good way of training dogs. When looking at the continuum of Burch and Bailey (1999) the training methods used now mainly fall somewhere in the middle when it comes to welfare. Positive reinforcement should at least counterbalance negative reinforcement and punishment. Since punishment is not the most effective method, dogs trained exclusively using the reward-based methods were more obedient than those trained using either punishment or a combination of reward and punishment and moreover, using rewards achieves a higher level of welfare, reward-based training can be seen as a better method. When obedience increases, the chance that he will be relinquished or abandoned is much smaller, so in this way his welfare is increased indirectly (Hiby et al., 2004). The rapid spreading of the clicker device in obedience training is a positive thing, because it is mainly used in positive reinforcement.

In the future, the concept of social learning has to be more incorporated into training of dogs, especially young dogs. Besides socializing with other dogs and humans, puppies can learn through observing older dogs in specific situations. Observing other dogs do tricks will not fasten the training, but social learning can be used in object manipulation tasks. However, more research should be performed on this topic.


Educating and certifying the trainers

There are a few international certification systems that could act as an example for a certification scheme in the Netherlands. In the UK in July 2002, the Association for the Study of Animal Behavior (ASAB) has approved the establishment of an Accreditation Committee, consisting of people from several parties*, to set up and run a Certification Scheme for animal behaviourists, focusing specifically on those treating behavioural disorders of companion animals, i.e. Clinical Animal Behaviourists. The accreditation contains a list of requirements for educational, experiential and ethical standards that Clinical Animal Behaviourists have to meet to get a certificate. Also every five years, certified individuals are required to submit a record of the annual activities they have undertaken as part of their continuing professional development and a detailed summary of their ongoing experiences of clinical work. Although the certification of canine instructors is mainly discussed, this can act as an example, because the certification ensures professionals that are well qualified and the accreditation is said to be objective. Also the renewal of the certificate ensures that the individuals keep improving their knowledge (www.asab.nottingham.ac.uk).


In the United States of America there were no general certification requirements for canine instructors. Many education institutes had their own list of attainments and offered their own certification. The Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) started creating a test program for pet dog trainers because a credible and high quality certification for the profession was needed. For three years, 20 nationally known dog training professionals and behaviourists have worked on developing a written exam and in cooperation with the Professional Testing Corporation it was ensured that the process met professional testing standards. For managing accreditation and future development the independent organization Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT) was founded. Since 2001, the CCPDT administers tests two times a year at 700 sites throughout the US. People who pass the examination earn the title: Certified Professional Dog Trainer-Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA). To maintain this title they have to renew their certification every three years and must adhere to the strict Code of Ethics in their dog training practices (ccpdt.org).


In order to create more transparency in the certification and to ensure high quality of the education of the canine instructors in the Netherlands a general and objective certification system must be developed. There have to be strict rules and requirements for those who are interested in becoming a certified canine instructor, so well educated instructors are distinguished from others. An independent, objective organization should provide requirements that every canine instructor in practice has to meet. They should develop standards about the minimum content of a program for becoming a canine instructor and this should be based on training methods that use mainly positive reinforcement and, if necessary, negative punishment. The content should cover aversive stimuli used in positive punishment, but only to discourage the use of it. The independent organization has to examine the content of the programs of all the education institutes to make sure that they meet the standards. Only those that meet the standards will provide access to the exams. Furthermore, unexpected inspections could be arranged to see whether facilities really meet the standards set by the organization to keep the quality at a constant level. Next to this, they should also provide standardized tests to examine the students and they should develop a code of practice for canine instructors.  A system of experience certificates could be incorporated in terms of exemption of certain parts of the education program. The organization also needs to develop tests for canine instructors in practice to renew their certificate every three years to stay up-to-date. The independent organization should base all this on scientific information as much as possible and the final outcome should be reviewed by several involved parties, for instance the Martin Gaus academie, O&O, behavioural scientists, and it should take comments from the involved parties into consideration.

A transition process needs to be developed for currently active canine instructors. This could involve an exam in which their knowledge is tested and, if necessary, a retraining program to bring their knowledge up to the required level.


A possible ideal situation for the long-term could be a globally acknowledged certification scheme with national organizations for the implementation of the policy with regard to course content and testing. This is of course very difficult considering the enormous amount of stakeholders in this industry, but it could be a long-term goal.


Creation and distribution of knowledge

More research has to be done regarding different training methods for different dogs and their handlers. Universities and knowledge institutes could perform this research and it could be funded by the ministry or by (non-governmental) organizations that deal with, for instance animal rights and welfare.

The information generated by this research should be incorporated into daily practice. To improve the effectiveness of the instructors it is important to inform them about the results and conclusions of the research that is performed. Obliging them to do a period of retraining every half-year in which they learn about the new scientific insights should cover this. Also the knowledge about the certification system should be brought to the dog owners, so they know where they have to go for professional help with dog training.





Conclusion and recommendations


It is clear that there is no independent and objective organization that guarantees the quality and inspection of training on dog schools or education of the instructors. There is also no certification system that guarantees well-qualified instructors.

It is recommended that a code of practice for canine instructors and a set of standards for education and training should be developed by an independent and objective organization. In addition, they need to verify that these standards are being met.





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Other sources

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       certification scheme (January 2011)

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Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT), General information, ccpdt.org, About us,

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Kringgroep Slingeland, interview, 2011 (appendix B)

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Trainingsmethode (January 2011).

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bibliotheek (January 2011)

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                Lecture given at Wageningen University, Wageningen on January 1st, 2011



Appendix A - Regulations with regard to theoretical and practical attainments of an instructor assembled by the Commissie Kynologisch Instructeur (CKi)*


Regulations theoretical exam

1.       The candidate knows and recognizes the most common breeds, breed groups, breeding goals and possible behavioural consequences.

a.       The candidate knows about dog behaviour, the causes and consequences. The candidate knows influencing strategies regarding normal and non-prolematic behaviour of dogs.

b.      The candidate knows and recognizes the (problematic) interaction between handler/owner and dog.

2.       The candidate recognizes types of personalities of people who possibly influence the behaviour in the group and knows influencing strategies regarding possible disturbing behaviour within the group.

3.       The candidate knows the principles of didactics, instruction, feedback and evaluation.

4.       The candidate knows the resources that are used in educating dogs.

5.       The candidate knows the overall principles of first aid for human beings and animals.

a.       The candidate knows the current vaccination schemes for dogs and is familiar with the different views / opinions upon this subject.

b.      The candidate is familiar with the most common genetic disorders in dogs and knows the consequences regarding dog welfare and the participation in classes.

6.       The candidate generally knows about the cynologic organization in the Netherlands, laws regarding cynology and is aware of where to find information.

7.       The candidate knows circumstances that may influence the safety of the handler/owner and/or dog.

8.       The candidate knows the prevailing opinion about socially acceptable dog behaviour regarding daily routines.

9.       The candidate knows the prevailing opinion about acceptable dog handler behaviour related to aspects of dog welfare.

10.   The candidate knows the basic principles of dog care.

11.   The candidate knows the limits regarding knowledge and skills of his industry (=werkgebied?) en knows when to refer to a specialist of another discipline.


Table A1. Weight and number of questions in theoretic exam for cynologic instructor


Weight (%)

Number of questions

1a, 1b












5a, 5b





















Regulations practical exam

Dogs do not wear choke collars or corrective harnesses with carabiner on the back and have a leash of 1.20 to 1.80m long at the exam.

The candidate is assessed for the total process from the moment the examination starts. This is indicated by one of the examiners. Also the end of the examination is indicated by one of the examiners.



-       The method must not cause fear, aggression or excessive stress in dogs and must be easy to perform by the dogs.

-       The method must not cause fear, aggression or excessive stress in handlers/owners and must be easy to perform.

-       The method must prevent mistakes and unwanted behaviour en must reward wanted behaviour.

-       The method consists of a stepwise structure.

-       The method is always adapted to the combination.

-       The method is safe regarding the level and behaviour of the dogs.



The candidate provides a 30-minute course to a group of a minimum of 4 and a maximum of 6 people who are designated by the training facility.

Examination exercises comprise:

-          Walking without pulling.

-          Waiting/stopping with movement.

-          Sitting.

-          Laying down.

-          Laying flat on side.

-          Coming to owner.

-          Giving attention.

-          Standing up.

-          A pulling game.


The examination exercises will be determined in advance and is randomly linked to a candidate.

The candidate exercises at least one new exercise and repeats an already known exercise with the whole group.


Final interview

After the practical examination, the candidate is interviewed by 2 examiners in which he is asked about choices he made. In this interview (approx. 15 minutes) the examiners may ask clear questions about observed facts and acts of the candidate.


Assessment and standards

Besides standards through grades granted by the examiners, it is important that the candidate is able to guide the group in a way that a pleasant and safe environment is created in which owners and the dogs can learn and practice and also that every dog-owner combination gets progressing guidance at the right level.


Appendix B - Interview Kringgroep Slingeland


On January 12, we visited Kringgroep Slingeland in Gaanderen. They train German Shepherds to become defense dogs. We attended a training and asked some questions to chairman/instructor Gerard Besselink and track layer Harry ten Have. Below you can find the interview.


How many years have you worked with dogs?

G:           Since 1970, I started working with and training of German Shepherds.

H:           In 1959, I got my first German Shepherd and I’m busy with training them for around 40 years.


How did you start with training dogs? What was your motivation?

H:           I inherited the love for dogs from home and I wanted to start training/working with them.

G:           I was interested in learning certain things to animals, like ‘how far can you go?’ and finding
                It is very important you pay attention to your body language; like posture and legs.


When did you came to the decision to become an instructor? And how did you do that?

G:           Out of ‘need’ actually. I started in Germany to train youth groups (7-13 years) and their dogs.
                25 years ago, Kringgroep Slingeland was founded and we started without any
                training/education. To gain more insight and information, I ran along with another instructor.
                Then I came in contact with the VDH (Vereniging van fokkers en liefhebbers van Duitse
                Herdershonden) and after that I followed a course for Canine Instructor at Tinley.
                Besides that course, I visited a lot of seminars.


How long did this course last?

G:           Throughout the year, there were several days, in total 10, and an internship was obligatory.


When did you came to the decision to become a track layer? And how did you do that?

H:           I do everything by, as to say, feel. I took a few courses for track laying at the provincial
                department of VDH Gelderland.

G:           ‘Fingerspitzen gefuhl’. He is very good in reading the behaviour of a dog.

H:           It is also very important to understand why a dog does something.


What is training of dogs precisely?

H:           Education/nurture of dogs. Be consistent.

G:           It is a way to optimize the utilization of a dog.


What is the overall structure of the training?

H:           On average you start with the training of a defense dog when it is about 1.5 years.

G:           An instructor looks at the dog-handler combination and depending on this the moment of
                starting the training is determined. When both the dog and the handler are ready (mentally
                and physically) the training is started.

H:           The basis of the training must be made between 0-1 years of age of the dog. Thinking of
                making a team of the handler and his/her dog (deal with each other day and night)  and of

G:           When you want to teach a dog something, you have to be consistent.



What different parts are there in the training of defense dogs?

Part A: Tracking

A track layer lays a trail in a meadow / field and after one hour the dog has to follow that exact trail and refer to different objects on the track.

Part B: Obedience

The main points are: concentration of the dog, correctness of the dog (straight, active and fast), appearance of the dog and its handler (show that it is fun). It is about a way of learning

Part C: Protection work

A dog is taught to defense his / her handler by protecting them from an ‘attacker’ (in the training a helper) by biting on their sleeve (this is a special, hard sleeve, which protects the arm of the helper). It is necessary to generate the impulse to bite on the sleeve (which has to be present in the dog (genetically)).


G/H:      It is harder for the dog to let go than to bite the sleeve. Their reward is the sleeve.
                Their natural drive is necessary, otherwise they won’t bite.


What kinds of training methods are used in the training?

G:           The main goal is to train target-rewarding. Erroneous actions deliver the dog nothing, while
                good actions deliver the dog a reward. The most commonly used training method is operant
                conditioning, mostly positive reinforcement.

H:           You can also see that the dog gets a better / more positive appearance when using positive

G:           Only when necessary, negative punishment is used. Because at a certain point you draw the


Further comments:

H:            In training, two main drives of the dogs are used. These are: prey drive (buitdrift) to get something nice, like a ball and defense drive (verweerdrift) to get some food.

                It is important to match the reward to something the dog really likes, otherwise it will not do
                the things you want it to do (correctly).


G:           No dog does something for fun, only for a reward. In training this property is frequently used
                in training.


G:           The German Shepherds which are used for defense training are bred from working lines.
                These dogs have a high ‘will to please’ and their hocks are well developed.



Appendix C - Summary


An appropriate training of dogs is essential. A number of different trainings methods have been developed over the years, however, these can differ greatly from each other. Besides the training methods, the education of the instructors is also important. Certification of the trainer should reflect the level of qualification.

General learning principles are habituation, sensitisation, classical and operant conditioning, including social learning. Negative/positive reinforcement and punishment are forms of operant conditioning. Currently used training principles and methods are operant and classical conditioning, positive reinforcement, clicker training, toy training, negative punishment, ignoring unwanted behaviour and the hands-off method. Several education institutes such as  Koninklijke Nederlandse Kennelclub Cynophilia,  NL Vereniging voor Instructeurs in Hondenopvoeding & - opleiding, DogVision and Martin Gaus Academie offer education of the people that train the dog-handler combination. All these institutes use both classical and operant conditioning, mainly using positive reinforcement and when necessary negative punishment. These are good ways of training the dogs. This should be continued in the future. Also, social learning should be more incorporated. There exist numerous types of dog training including puppy training, advanced obedience training, flyball, agility, training for hunting dogs and working dogs. When dogs show problem behaviour (aggression, separation anxiety, excessive barking, etc.) owners can contact organizations that offer special courses or behavioural therapists.

Currently, there is no general certification system for instructors and there are differences in training methods and quality of education institutes. In 2010, the Raad van Beheer op kynologisch gebied made a first step in the process of determining certain regulations with regard to the qualification of canine instructors. On behalf of the Raad van Beheer, the Commissie Kynologisch Instructeur (CKi) assembled regulations with regard to theoretical and practical attainments of an instructor. It also acknowledges 70 kennel clubs and certain dog schools with one criterion that obligates them to have at least one instructor that is certified by CKi. Most likely irrespective of what training methods they use and there is no official control or inspection. Consequently, it is very hard for dog owners to determine the quality of the training and the qualification of the instructors. Unfortunately, it is still difficult to say whether current dog training procedures have a good quality for it is not officially known what the optimal dog training should look like. However, a trend towards positive reinforcement is seen. Methods using social learning could be included. More research is needed.

The Association for the Study of Animal Behavior (ASAB, UK) and the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT, USA) are international certification systems that could act as an example for a certification scheme in the Netherlands. An independent organization should provide requirements that every canine instructor in practice has to meet. Unexpected inspections could be arranged to see whether facilities really meet the standards set by the main organization, to keep the quality at a constant level. Next to this, they should also provide standardized tests to examine the students and they should develop a code of practice for canine instructors. Every five years, renewal of certification is needed to stay up to date.

More research, by for instance universities and knowledge institutes, has to be done regarding different training methods for different dogs and their handlers. The information generated by this research should be incorporated into daily practice i.e. inform instructors so they learn about new scientific insights. In addition, dog owners should know about the certification system so they know where to go for professional help with dog training.

In conclusion, it is clear that there is no independent and objective organization that guarantees the quality and inspection of training on dog schools or education of the instructors. There is also no certification system that guarantees well-qualified instructors.

It is recommended that a code of practice for canine instructors and a set of standards for education and training should be developed by an independent and objective organization. In addition, they need to verify that these standards are being met.


* Including representatives from the British Psychological Society, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, the Association of Pet Behavior Counsellors, the UK Registry of Canine Behaviorists, the International Society for Applied Ethology, the Companion Animal Behavior Therapy Study Group and the Kennel Club (www.asab.nottingham.ac.uk).

* Translated from Dutch to English from www.c-ki.nl, 2010.


































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