Ridgefield resident becomes certified professional dog trainer

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Ridgefield resident Stephen Foster recently earned a certification as a professional dog trainer from the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers.

To become certified, Foster had to complete over 300 hours of training and pass a comprehensive test of about 200 questions. He worked as a trainer at Petco for three years and trained for about 40 hours a month to get his certification.

“I’m excited,” Foster said. “It’s been three years in the making.”

While training dogs, the owners play an important role in their success as well, Foster said.

“I always joked with people that 90% of my job is actually training people,” he said. “(I have to) give them the skills they need to be able to work with their dog.”

Foster said that finding the way a person learns is the best way for him to teach them, which is broken down into audio, visual and kinesthetic learners. He can teach the owner in all three ways by explaining what he’s going to do, demonstrating his tactics, or by having them practice with the dog themselves. He noted teaching a dog is easier because treats are a powerful motivator.

In the modern day, dog training is much more humane than it was in the past.

“Training in the past was a lot  more aversive, like using shock collars, prong collars, and other corrective equipment like that,” Foster said. “Now, the science shows that positive reinforcement is the best way to train a dog, so using treats, toys, and whatever you can motivate them with will help. A lot of dogs thrive on pets and praise.”

He said he follows the current science as he trains, which is called Least Intrusive Minimally Aversive training (LIMA). LIMA starts with detecting any physical or mental issues a dog may have like a missing limb or a mental condition that requires medication first. Then the training is formed around that. 

Next, Foster has to find antecedent arrangement, which he says is how you can manage the environment to work with the behavior.

“For example, if the dog is digging in the trash, can we put a lid on it or under the sink? If the dog is eating shoes, can we put them in a closet or out of their sight?” he said.

The step after that is positive reinforcement, which involves using a motivator to get a dog to do something, but also taking away whatever is getting the dog to act a certain way. For example, if a dog keeps jumping on the owner and the owner says “no” or pushes them off, Foster said you have to simply not give the dog attention, as the attention the animal receives reinforces the dog’s behavior.

Despite his training, Foster is not experienced in facing aggressive dogs.

An important part of training, according to Foster, is learning not to cross a dog’s threshold, or whatever the dog is able to handle mentally. Certain triggers, like another dog barking or a moving vehicle, can cross that threshold, he said.

“When they’re outside of their threshold, you don’t want to try and do training because you can cause more harm than good because they’re already stressed,” Foster said. “So you just stop and let them get past whatever their trigger is.”

According to Foster, a dog just does what works. If a dog gets a person’s attention by barking at them, that’s what they’ll do, he said.

Foster currently works at All Natural Pet Supply in Battle Ground.

He is currently accepting new clients and is in the process of developing social media pages for his services.

Foster can be reached at stepfosterm@gmail.com or at 360-553-6561.

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