Please, Get Professional Help


I am not a regular reader of or contributor to But somehow I started receiving  “digest” emails concerning dogs – it’s possible I subscribed for some reason that I can’t remember. I guess I can unsubscribe; I hardly ever read them. But every so often, I see a “subject” headline on the email that tempts me into clicking on the digest. Things like:

“Is it possible?”

“Please help, I’m desperate.”

“My vet said she has never seen anything like this in 20 years of practice.”

But it never takes long to click away from the post and all the advice that is offered by (mostly) well-meaning Redditors. Again and again, I find myself mumbling, “Oh for dog’s sake, please hire a trainer!” or “Why are they asking ordinary humans? Why are they not taking that dog to a veterinarian (or another veterinarian)??”

I see this on Facebook, too – people asking for free advice about their dogs on pages devoted to dog training or health. And more recently, I’ve begun seeing dog trainers of unknown education or experience posting training advice for dog behavior problems on Tiktok.

There is a lot of terrific support to be had online and on social media sites – but advice concerning a specific dog’s health, behavior, or general well being that is offered by people without credentials or references should be taken with a block of salt. On any given post, you’ll find (at best) a mixture of (often) conflicting information: good advice (often badly described) side by side with terrible, potentially dangerous advice. Sometimes, commenters will weigh in, “voting” for which tactics seem best and arguing with people voting for the conflicting tactics. Yikes!

I would just like to say: Please don’t solicit advice from the general public about your dog’s health or behavior! It’s rare that genuinely qualified people will offer sound advice for free on the internet – and what’s more, a well educated, experienced professional wouldn’t be caught dead handing out advice to someone without a thorough and individualized intake process that includes many questions tailored to that specific dog and his situation.

If your dog has a mysterious lump or strange response to a food, it’s your responsibility to get him to a veterinarian! If his behavior isn’t what you’d like it to be, don’t ask your friends for advice, but for a referral to a canine behavior professional. Ask why they hired a trainer and whether the trainer’s approach worked to improve their dog’s problem behavior, and whether the dog liked the trainer and the tactics or exercises prescribed by the trainer. And then ask for the trainer’s professional qualifications and experience. It should be more than just professional affiliations; a good trainer will have actual credentials and/or certifications.


  1. Well said! I’m often just amazed that people seek advice from “whoever wants to reply” without knowing that individual’s background, training, education, etc. Especially for something as important as a family member’s health (dogs should be family members, right?) or serious behavioral issue. While there is a plethora of wonderful information available on line (much of it to be found right here), there is also a whole range of information that is misleading at best and harmful at worst available, too. And unless you have the background training and education to tell the difference, you can be so easily taken in and end up simply making the problem even worse. Please seek help from a licensed veterinarian if your dog (or other pet) has a medical issue. Please seek help from a trainer or behaviorist with proper credentials if your dog (or other pet) has a behavioral issue that you can’t “live” with. It may cost you more “up front” but could save you a lot of money in the long run (to go back and take care of the problems you created by following bad advice) and it could literally save your pet’s life.

  2. I’ve been getting those too. I did notice you are not allowed to reply, unless you are a veterinarian, for medical advice. Veterinarians are required to fill something out but I don’t know how they screen them. Maybe a license number. It looks like some people try to make suggestions but they don’t get posted.
    Anyway I have read a few of the posts and they generally tell the person to see a vet, although they do comment and they end up saying they can’t diagnose over the internet.
    I also noticed people who post how great the training is on their dog or ask for advice. I don’t have time to read those because they seem amateurish. It’s like people who try to sell their own house. It’s always best to either hire a professional or join a club. People seem to be just trying to get free advice. I wouldn’t condone that either.
    I always read your posts because you know your s——.
    You are also a good writer.

  3. Actually I disagree wholeheartedly. I find that many people cannot afford a Vet or a trainer and even if they could the advice from so called *experts* is horrible information and creates disharmony to the actual dogs. A certificate or degree in anything doesn’t make one an expert. It just makes them think they are……. More and more ridiculous advice is given by these self proclaimed gurus which causes more pain and misery to the dog and the owner. The gurus are most likely not in tune with the true nature of the wild kingdom nor the intuitive nature of the human. As a behaviorist, there must be telepathic communication with the dog to understand the issue and I don’t find that gift with trainers or vets.

    • Actually, having a certificate(depending upon what it is and who it is from) and especially a degree DOES make someone something of an expert. Certainly much more expert in their field of study than a lay person. This is particularly true of someone with a medical degree.

      I am inclined to say that people who take advice from someone claiming to be telepathic gets what they deserve and leave it at that, but then that would be unfair to the poor dog who will not receive the care that it should. I also want to point out that you are not a behaviorist. You are a pretend behaviorist. One could say a self-proclaimed guru. The only people who can legitimately lay claim to that title all have advanced degrees. Veterinary behaviorists certified by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, or certified applied animal behaviorists (CAAB).

      I have been a professional dog trainer since 2002 and I wholeheartedly agree with Nancy’s column. For any concerning physical or medical issue go see your vet. If your dog is exhibiting troubling behavior seek advice from a qualified professional with the knowledge and experience to give you the proper help and guidance.

  4. This sounds good but I have a question – as it concerns pet dog behavior and training – exactly what degrees or certifications should be looked for? Is there a school for training trainers of dogs to be good pets? Seems to me it’s more the owners who need training on how to handle their dogs.

  5. Here is why… Finding a local Positive Reinforcement trainer is REALLY difficult. I have resorted to working with multiple positive based trainers virtually. This is helpful but not the same as the person being able to see your dog.

  6. As a dog training instructor I have had numerous students who HAVE sought professional help. There are still veterinarians who advocate pinching the little puppies mouth shut for nipping. And “professional trainers” who insist on shock collars for on lead reactivity.
    And general practice vets who refuse to discuss anti-anxiety meds — or who offer no other options when the firs drug isn’t helpful. Or insist their dog “is fine” with only one blood test despite the owner feeling their dig is not acting right. (Or their cat.)
    It is important to find the right professional for proper diagnosis and then treatment. So we might counsel owners to be persistent — just like you would be with your own health concerns.
    Most continuing problems have complex solutions.
    Thanks for the article and many others. I frequently suggest to folks to check out WDJ’s website. You folks have great information.

  7. I have seen so many facebook posts that are like “My dog is bleeding and oozing pus, but I can’t get to the vet for a week. What can I do to help him?” I just want to scream, “take your dog to a vet, darn it, NOW, not in a week!” I’ve read even worse examples but for the life of me I don’t understand how people are not aware that their dog needs a real vet to tend to them. I’m very sympathetic to the lack of funds, my two elderly dogs were both costing me a lot in vet bills during their final years. It’s just something you have to budget for. Pets are going to need vet care.

  8. When I want to find out information about a problem for myself, I start by looking things up, asking around and obviously talk to a professional.
    People do the same thing for their animals.
    People are asking for advice / information so they can act accordingly.
    To simply state they are ‘looking for free advice’ is to condemn the information gathering process.

  9. I am grateful for a lay person’s advice. My 11 year old dog suddenly was nauseated and could not hold down food or water, could not stand or walk. She acted like she was drunk. I took her to the vet and he said, ‘it could be a stroke or a tumor’ and gave me prednisone. My pet sitter (also a vet tech) said it was classic vestibular syndrome. I read up on it. Some people said they had euthanized their dog because they thought it was a stroke and the dog could not recover. Other professionals said stroke is relatively rare in dogs and it was likely (drum roll) VESTIBULAR SYNDROME, also known as Old Dog Syndrome This condition doesn’t have a ‘cure’. It is an imbalance in the inner ear and the symptoms are treatable with Dramamine or Benadryl. I treated my girl with Benadryl and in a couple of days she was much better. I took her to holistic vet for acupuncture and cold laser therapy. She always had a slight head tilt after than but lived another 3 happy years. Now when someone asks about these symptoms with an older dog, I suggest it could be Vestibular Syndrome.

  10. We would ALL be racing to the best vet in the region with our complex issues IF WE COULD AFFORD IT!!!! Last time I had a blood-in-vomit ER visit they gave me a bill for $1300 before a diagnosis!?!!! Who can afford that??? My own health isn’t that great. On the other hand I recall years ago wishing someone had just told me to give my dog benedryl for the bee stings on his face. Instead it was $500 for anesthesia to cut the seams of her ears cuz they blew up. Thankfully that vet noticed diphenhydramine was working & nixed the surgery. But I still had to pay $500. Benadryl is 25 cents! Times are tough out here for a lot of people. Give ppl a break for asking if someone has ever seen this or that, or are trying to get info. Sometimes just knowing your dog isn’t the only one helps a ton. Thanks!

  11. What a minefield it is. Just like the horse world, the dog world is jam packed with ‘experts’ who know sometimes are brilliant and sometimes know diddly. I am very fortunate in that I know at least two extremely experience people who I trust to call on as well as reading a great deal from other behaviourists and trainers. I am also a relatively experienced dog owner. However, there are ‘behaviourists’ and so called trainers out there who are not only very young (sorry but I believe to be any use you have to have the experience of many years and many dogs under your belt) but who have done online training or very short courses without practical experience. I have also realised that vets vary and not always giving the best advice. There are good and bad ‘experts’ and all any dog owner can do is inform themselves, be intelligent about their dog care and use their own experience and understanding to make the best choices for their animals.

  12. That makes sense but I live in an area where there are not any dog behavorists. I’ve tried dog trainers and I feel they have made some of my dog’s issues worse. They don’t seem to get some behavior issues. I’m willing to put in the work I just can’t find the professionals. So what does one do?