30 Years Means Nothing
"Has been working with dogs for over 30 years"
"Spent several decades working with dogs in the rescue world"
"Has been training since 1978"
All of these are phrases that I have seen written on the marketing materials of other local trainers, on their websites, business cards, and pamphlets. All of these phrases are meant to tell potential customers that the business they are looking at have years of expertise, that the customers should trust them to know what's best, trust them with their best friend, their dog. At the risk of sounding rude, I say: 30 years means diddly-squat. It means nothing. Nothing at all.
Without continuing education.
Imagine if your doctor introduced himself to you, and proudly proclaimed that he went to med school 30 years ago and is still using the same techniques and medications recommended back then. He doesn't really see the point in changing his methods because so far they've worked just fine with him. I don't think I'd be returning to that doctor, and I think most people would agree. The number of enhancements in the medical field in the last decade alone are staggering, I can't even imagine the difference between 30 years ago and today.
The dog training field is similar to the medical field (and many others!) in the fact that things have changed exponentially in the last 30 years. In the last 5 years even. There is serious, PhD level research being done with pet dogs now that we never had decades ago. 30 years ago it was considered standard in training to yank and choke dogs to train them (unfortunately this still isn't all that rare). "Helicoptering" a dog (which is stringing the dog up by it's collar, often a choke chain or prong collar, and swinging them in a circle to get the dog to submit or to correct the dog) was par for the course. At one point in time (I kid you not) it was considered normal to fill a hole that your dog dug with water and to hold their heads under the water as a way to teach them not to dig again. Waterboarding for dogs, who would've thunk? (Sadists, that's who). I've worked with dogs after they've gone to training classes with trainers who've spouted the "decades of experience" line, trainers that my clients thought they could trust because they've been in the business for so long. Many of the dogs didn't learn anything other than what it feels like to have their butt pushed on, and some were traumatized because the trainer is still using methods that were prevalent 30 years ago.
So, the point of this long, rambling post is to say: if a trainer says they have years or decades of experience, don't take that as a sign that they know what they're doing! Just because someone started training 30 years ago doesn't mean they are up to date on best practices and methods for dealing with behavior. If a trainer has 30 years of experience, make sure they've done their due diligence to pursue continuing education with the greats in this field, including but not limited to Pat Miller, Jean Donaldson, Karen Pryor, Ken Ramirez, Turid Rugaas, Dr. Susan Friedman, Terry Ryan, Patricia Mcconnell, and Suzanne Clothier. There are PLENTY of fabulous trainers out there with both decades of experience and up to date education, I've worked with several of them, but you have to look, you have to think critically, and most of all you have to ASK QUESTIONS. When you are trusting a professional with your beloved dog, don't hesitate to ask as many questions as you can, and listen to your gut. Your dog trusts you.