Why Dog Training Franchise Trainers Might be a Bad Idea for Dog Owners


This episode of Dog Works Radio discusses the boom in the dog training industry and the lack of skill in many dog trainers. The tragic story of Knox, a dog trained by a franchise trainer, is shared to highlight the consequences of inexperienced trainers. The episode also explores the certification issue and the industry’s lack of regulation. Tips for selecting a trainer and advice for aspiring trainers are provided. Overall, the episode emphasizes the importance of doing research and choosing a qualified and experienced trainer for your dog.


00:00: Introduction and Sponsorship

01:16: Boom in the Dog Training Industry

02:15: Robert Forto’s Journey as a Dog Trainer

03:12: Lack of Skill in Dog Trainers

04:28: The Tragic Story of Knox

08:16: Certification and Lack of Regulation

09:12: Tips for Selecting a Trainer

13:02: Advice for Aspiring Trainers

14:00: Reflection and Conclusion

Here at Alaska Dog Works, we are a homegrown, family business that has built our reputation from the ground up. We literally live with a pack of dogs every day. It is not a job or a career, it is a lifestyle. Our pro trainer Nicole has been training dogs literally since she was nine years old when she took on her first client, two huge Rotties that the owner could not walk down the street. She is 26 years old now.

All this being said we have decades of experience, but there is a reason why so many dog trainers have come on the scene since COVID-19, even here in Alaska. There is a boom in the dog training industry for “trainers” to open up franchises. In short, there is a low barrier to entry into this profession. If you have a hefty checkbook and a desire, or shall we say, love, to train dogs all day, then there is a business opportunity for you.

Our own Robert Forto tells the story of how he got started as a dog trainer way back in 1994. He says he showed up at the local parks on Saturday mornings in Portland, Oregon, with a business card, a leash, and a smile.

He quickly learned that he needed more education because the stay-at-home moms from the wealthy neighborhoods had more questions than he had answers. Less than three months after taking on his first client, he went to one of the first nationally recognized (reputable) dog training schools.

In the thirty years as a dog trainer, he has trained thousands of dogs and practically every breed. In the late 1990s, he met Michele, and as they say, the rest is history. Each year, they spend time researching the latest scientific-based dog training trends, going to seminars, conferences, and webinars to keep their knowledge up to date, and much more.

Why are we covering this on the podcast today? Well, simply, most dog trainers these days cannot train their way out of a wet paper bag.

What sparked this episode was one of our dog training colleagues, Mark Connolly, who posted a story on his Facebook page about one of these “franchise dog trainers” and how it went very badly for one of the franchise clients.

Let’s kick this thing off…

Hello and welcome to Dog Works Radio. I am your host, Michele Forto, and the lead trainer of Alaska Dog Works. Here, we have been training dogs for a very long time, and I bet you will call us after you go to one of the franchise trainers or one of the wet-behind-the-ears folks who jumped into this profession in the last couple of years.

I don’t usually partake in “trigger warnings,” but even this story is a little tough.

Let’s start off, right off the bat that owning a dog training business is hard work. It’s not signing up for some essential oils whoo-hoo crap and selling it to your friends. You are dealing with real-life problems and sometimes life-altering issues.

As we mentioned at the top of the show, a story is making its rounds because of two things—the New England Patriots coaching change and franchise dog trainers. What do those have in common?

Well, a few years ago, a dog trainer that owned a franchise from one of the low to no-barrier-to-entry dog training franchises was hired to train a dog for a famous client, Jerod Mayo at the time, a player on the New England Patriots football team. His dog, an English bulldog, Knox, was found dead in a closet in the home of his trainer, Amelia Ferreira.


More than a month after Knox was reported missing by his dog trainer, the beloved pet was discovered dead in a closet in the trainer’s home; the trainer eventually faced a charge of obstruction in Knox’s death because she lied about what happened.

The incident — which dragged on for weeks after Ferreira claimed Knox had run away while on a walk — was resolved when his body was found in a plastic bag in a closet in Ferreira’s residence in Cranston, Rhode Island.

The dog trainer is quoted as saying, “I just want everyone to know that I’m so sorry I lied,” she says, “and I’m so sorry that he died and I wish I knew how he died and I wish that the Mayo’s didn’t have to go through this.”

The story from 2018 says she found Knox lifeless in his crate on the afternoon of June 22, about seven weeks earlier, several hours after leaving him in an air-conditioned room with water. One possibility, she thinks, is that he might have been allergic to something such as a protein in his food.

She goes on to say, quote “Ultimately, it’s my fault, but I didn’t hurt him in any way; I would never do that — especially to him; he was such an awesome dog.”

This lady worked or was a franchise trainer for one of the largest operators in the country.

After she found Knox dead, she “panicked,” in part due to her client’s fame but largely because she had never had a dog die in her care before.

She says that motivated everything she did next.

“If this had been any other dog, any other person, I can almost promise that I would have handled things the correct way,” Ferreira says. “But when you have a dog that belongs to somebody like this, it’s like I couldn’t do anything but panic and not — like, what the frick do I do?”

She was eventually “fired” from the franchise and pled guilty to the obstruction charge. I wonder if she is training dogs today.

Yep, that is a lot to unpack.

So, after the break, we will dive deeper into this and discuss what a lot of dog training franchises hang their hat on, as well as what a lot of new trainers go after, certification.

It is a little-known fact that there is no formal dog trainer certification. Remember that business card, leash, and a smile? Yep, that is all that is required but many claim this certification to sound legit to their unsuspecting clients.

So…when you choose a “certified” dog trainer, you may assume you have selected a dedicated professional who has taken it upon themselves to invest in their knowledge, skills, and experience. This is usually a safe assumption but requires a little more research on your part to ensure you AND your dog are in safe, educated hands.

Currently, no governing body oversees the certification, rules, or regulations for dog trainers in the USA, and no state requires that dog training professionals be certified.  At the same time, multiple (and a growing number of) organizations will grant these “certifications.”  Not all require the same amount of hands-on experience or knowledge of dog behavior. 

 It is easy and simple to obtain a certification by taking an online course. The only requirement is that you pass open book examinations with very little to no experience with hands-on dog training. Other organizations only require you to pass a written test (with no course study). You pay an annual fee to become “certified,” which allows you to place the organization logo on websites, business cards, etc.

These “certified” trainers go into the dog training profession with minimal experience!  This is a very hazardous situation.  Inexperienced trainers tend to apply various training techniques that can do more harm than good.  Without the proper knowledge and experience, new behavior problems can appear where there were none before. 

Unfortunately, it is up to the owner to research what certifications trainers have and what those certificates mean. Some trainers are certified through schools with state accreditation that require graduates to meet strict requirements, both written and hands-on. However, it is very difficult for dog owners to differentiate between certifications.

Below are TIPS when selecting a trainer:

  • Google their certification and what was required to achieve it
  • Ask trusted friends/pet professionals for recommendations – Online reviews (good or bad) aren’t always accurate.
  • Before your initial consultation, make a list of questions. Example: What training tools/methods do they use or don’t use? If any of the answers isn’t clear or feels confusing, ask for clarification – if that doesn’t help, run
  • Ask for referrals (at least 2) and contact them
  • What is their experience with your dog(s) age, breed, behavior, and known history, if applicable
  • Will the person you are speaking work direct with your dog and if so, in what context?
  • If it is a “board & train,” – where will your dog stay, how many do they train at a time, do the dogs interact, and if so, in what ways?
  • Read contracts CAREFULLY – any mention of “nondisclosure” is a red flag
  • Are deposits required – if so, what is the refund policy should something come up or you decide to go another route?
  • Be careful with the “Lifetime Guarantee” – get clarification on what this requires of you and the trainer/company.

So what does this all mean? Firstly, dog owners, do your homework.

Secondly, dog trainers with pie-in-the-sky dreams of training dogs and la-la-land of rainbows and unicorns pay your dues and train dogs. Lots of dogs. Hundreds of dogs before you plop down tens of thousands of dollars for one of these franchises. Thirdly, take care of your clients. Who cares if they are big-time clients like NFL players or just the soccer mom with the unruly Lab? They both are coming to you for help. They are coming to you to build a better relationship with their dog.

Oh, before we go. Here is a fun fact. We had a client once who came to us to train her dog. We did the work, and almost immediately, she opened a shop, calling herself a professional dog trainer with years of experience.

Yep, don’t be like her.

So, what do you think? Did you learn anything new about your new K9 buddy?

Before we end the show, let’s press pause for a second…maybe ask yourself, why did this resonate with me? What aspect of my relationship with my K9 buddy could I apply this to? And what am I going to do differently this week to make my dog’s training a little easier? So, take time to mull it over, talk it out with a family member or trusted friend, put some ideas down in your training journal, and then check back next week for our next episode.

And, as always, I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this episode. So, reach out over on X at firstpawmedia, and let’s spark a conversation. Until then, keep going! You are doing great! It is time to create the relationship with your dog that you always dreamed of.

Thanks for listening to Dog Works Radio. Find the show notes for this episode and all others at Alaska Dog Works (dot)com and don’t forget the freebee…We are offering our very own 100 dog training tips, just go to ak.dog/100tips and get yours today.


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