top of page

Internet dog trainers - Experts or marketeers?

A German Shepherd wearing a muzzle strains against a lead as it barks furiously and lunges at the person opposite. Someone walks into frame against a caption telling us that "every other trainer has failed this dog", but today, this trainer is perform magic. In a short three minute video the trainer shows us their remarkable journey taming this reactive beast in one 60 minute training session. The trainer removes the muzzle and strokes the reformed dog's head - it's a miracle. We've all seen the videos, as have millions of others who subscribe to this content and digest it every single day. But, can this content be trusted? Are these people truly experts, or are they just fantastic marketeers?

Tik Tok Logo
TikTok is the fastest growing social media platform in years.

In the UK and in many other places around the world the dog training and behaviour modification field is not regulated. I've seen with my own eyes how 'Mr Smith' lost his job to Covid and subsequently started training dogs the following week, citing how he "has had dogs all [my] life" under his credentials. While we can brush Mr Smith under the carpet and hope that he either studies formally or stops offering this service, individuals like him are now charging £200 an hour due to millions of followers on Tik Tok.

A 2024 study by Philpotts et al showed that 42.3% of dog owners use social media for their canine advice, and 35.1% trust the television. Now, as a trainer and behaviourist myself (with 7 years of academic study and counting), I am terrified. I have seen the content that is shared on these platforms. At best, the advice gives false hope to owners who have no chance of solving their problems with a 30 second video clip. At worst, I have seen arthritic dogs being called a "diva", I have seen dogs screaming in pain as they are shocked with an E-Collar, and I have seen dogs swung by the neck from the end of a slip lead or prong collar. It sounds exaggerated; I promise you it is true.

So how has social media given these people so much success?

I have noticed a few common themes about the individuals that run their businesses from Tik Tok. They are usually (not always) male, they proudly sport a "no bullshit" attitude, and they create 3 minute videos that promise people the world. I can see why it sells, particularly in a society that wants instant validation and convenience, and that associates men with authority.

They are also fantastic marketeers. They post regular content and they brand everything. They write books, wear branded content and even sell dog training equipment (more on this later). Anyone in marketing will tell you that a strong, consistent brand is a great way to generate leads. I'll admit, I can't fault them on this. They love money, and they are great at making it.

But Jade, why are you so upset?

The complexity of this issue truly runs deep in our world. Yes, of course I am upset that unregulated 'professionals' popping up promising quick fixes jeopardises my ability to get clients on board. But so much more than that, I look at the dogs and my heart breaks for them.

Here is what I regularly see on social media:

  1. Slip leads up behind the ears on the sensitive part of the neck, pulled tightly upwards (called a correction) when the dog does something undesirable.

  2. Dogs shut down because they are so despondent or terrified.

  3. Dogs punished for behaving like dogs, destroying any semblance of free spirit or confidence.

  4. Dogs with abnormal gait showing clear signs of pain and the 'behaviourists' who have neglected to get a vet referral.

Finally, I am upset because it is almost always complete nonsense. There are very few training and behaviour issues that can be fixed in one session. Any video shown to claim otherwise is suppressing the dog's emotions so much that they are shutting down right in front of us; this is known in the field as 'learned helplessness'. Now I don't know about you, but I'd rather my dog was feral and allowed to express himself than have him in such a state of depression he cannot even function.

Not only that, the individuals in question don't even understand basic canine learning theory. One of them is now selling a clicker and explaining how to use it in completely the wrong way. Honestly, they teach you that on day one of dog trainer school. Another charges thousands of pounds for his own online course to be accredited by - you guessed it - himself.

Further studies to the one previously mentioned have shown the numbers of people who hold social media in such high regard as an information source and the numbers are worrying. Brand et al (2024) comments:

"Given dog training in the UK is currently unregulated, and behaviour/training information included on social media and TV is similarly unregulated and frequently raises concerns within the behavioural community regarding the promotion of aversive training methods, this is of high concern if it is promoting a wider culture of aversive training techniques in the UK."

What is the solution?

  1. See these people for what they are, salesman.

  2. Delete them from your social feed and tell others why they should too.

  3. Protect your dog from people who want to exploit them by working with accredited trainers and behaviourists only.

  4. Platform your favourite science-based trainers and behaviourists by supporting and sharing their content.

  5. Support regulation of our industry and force the cowboys to shape up or ship out.

Reference: Brand, C. L., O’Neill, D. G., Belshaw, Z., Dale, F. C., Merritt, B. L., Clover, K. N., Michelle Tay, M., Pegram, C. L., Packer, R. M. A (2024) Impacts of Puppy Early Life Experiences, Puppy-Purchasing Practices, and Owner Characteristics on Owner-Reported Problem Behaviours in a UK Pandemic Puppies Cohort at 21 Months of Age, Animals, 14, 336.

Philpotts, I., Blackwell, E. J., Dillon, J., Tipton, E., Rooney, N. J (2024) What Do We Know about Dog Owners? Exploring Associations between Pre-Purchase Behaviours, Knowledge and Understanding, Ownership Practices, and Dog Welfare, Animals, 14, 396.

10 views0 comments


bottom of page