A Cheshire dog trainer has warned pet owners about what he calls the ‘epidemic of dog trainers’. Steve Moran has been working with dogs for more than 30 years and currently runs Stublach Training and Boarding Kennels in Byley.
He first started training gun dogs – dogs used to hunt and fetch game as part of a shoot – before he began working with other pet owners. His customers over the years have included footballers, television personalities and other high-profile figures.
But Steve got in touch with Cheshire Live to raise his concerns about the state of the dog training industry. He believes customers are being ‘ripped off’ by trainers taking advantage of the lockdown boom in pet ownership, with some claiming to be accredited despite there being no official governing body in the UK.
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He also believes trainers are using methods that are doing little to stem the rise in dog attacks. He particularly criticised those using a one-size-fits-all approach, including ‘force-free training’.
Steve said: “How I train a German Shepherd may not be how I train a Labrador. How I train a Labrador might not be how I train a chihuahua. But now they’re all doing things like ‘tricks for treats’ – it’s not dog training.
“What it is, is a licence to print money. It’s a scam and this scam is getting bigger and bigger.”
He spoke of how dogs, particularly working dogs like German Shepherds and Border Collies, have a prey drive – the natural instinct to hunt down prey. Steve said activities like throwing a ball activate that prey drive and encourages the dog to chase.
And he said this was part of why some dogs remain out of control when they chase after things like sheep or other dogs while let loose. He said: “Anything moving activates its prey drive and its already been trained to chase. This is where the epidemic of dog trainers is coming from – they’re not dog trainers, they’re not qualified. What they are doing is cashing in on a cash cow after lockdown.
“A lot of this comes under ‘force-free training’. Basically you can’t put a dog on a lead or can’t shout at a dog but these people have no knowledge of working dogs.
“And if you’ve been throwing a ball to get the dog’s attention – when you let that dog out in a field and there’s a herd of sheep, bingo you’ve got two dead sheep.”
He also explained why he believes the ‘tricks for treats’ method doesn’t work for all dogs either: “If you hold a titbit for the dog and it starts barking, the people training think ‘oh they’re enjoying it’ when in fact the dog is frustrated and is actually saying ‘give me the titbit, I don’t want to sit’.
“So what happens? The dog, especially something like a German Shepherd or Border Collie, nips the hand of the person feeding it to get to the titbit because it doesn’t want to do the trick.
“They are training with these techniques that are no good when you let them loose. They have no recall whatsoever, so the dog won’t come back when you call them unless you have a titbit.”
While he criticised trainers for using force-free training only, he said this does not mean he uses force. He repeated his belief that there is no single method that works for every dog and trainer.
“It’s subjective – there are no ‘experts’ and I’ve been doing this more than 30 years. It’s about being able to read the dog but instead there are trainers saying that this one way is the right way,” he added.
“People are looking for a dog trainer and if you go online, you’ll find more dog trainers than pebbles on a beach. Many say they’re an ‘accredited’ dog behaviourist. There’s no such thing but people will see that and think ‘they must know what they’re doing’.
Asked what advice he had for customers, he said to make sure they carefully research trainers. One thing Steve said he does is post before-and-after videos of dogs that have come into his care.
Steve’s concerns come after dog ownership figures rocketed during the pandemic and ensuing lockdowns. The percentage of households owning dogs jumped to 33 per cent in 2020/21 having remained consistent at around 22 per cent for the preceding 10 years.