Positive Dog Training in the Deep South

My name is Lauren Tsao and I have been training dogs using positive methods for 11 years. I started training dogs in Nashville, TN. Eleven years ago, trainers in Nashville were using positive methods to train dogs. Clicker training was highly recommended and you rarely saw a prong collar on a dog. Fast forward to today, I am training dogs in Mississippi.

Mississippi is known for many things. Most of those things are negative, like having obese citizens, having lax animal cruelty laws, and being the most corrupt state in the nation. We are known as being backwards and behind on the times.

Most of the people I know who live here dream of a way to escape here. Do not get me wrong, Mississippi is known for a lot of wonderful things too. The truth is, however, we are behind in many areas and any change is considered the enemy. The rest of the country laughs at our mistakes and our accomplishments are rarely considered.

Mississippi surprisingly is nothing like its close neighbor.

I held a job as a web designer a few years ago and I had a friend say, “Wow, I cannot believe you were a female web designer and in Mississippi no less!” That is the attitude I am talking about. The attitude that succeeding in anything outside of the norm is great, but succeeding at it in Mississippi is even more exciting.

Now that I am a professional positive-method dog trainer in Mississippi, I am surrounded by that attitude and I understand the reason our state has that reputation. I am currently Mississippi’s only Certified Professional Dog Trainer –Knowledge Assessed. Sure, that doesn’t seem like a big deal because surely trainers are just being certified by other organizations, right? Wrong.

Our trainers in Mississippi not only lack any certification, they lack the knowledge of why certification is important. Worse yet, our clients lack the knowledge that there are certified dog trainers who pass exams, study hard, and are educated in the science behind dog training. They think we are all one in the same – until now.

When I set up my business, I knew that I wouldn’t be staying in Mississippi forever. I knew I wanted to leave an imprint on this state though. I wanted to change things for my clients, dogs in Mississippi, and Mississippi dog trainers. However when you shake things up in a state that has remained the same for decades, there is often a price to pay.

I am removing the prong collars and e-collars, and stripping down dominance theory. I am changing the mindset of my clients from “rule over your dog” to “be your dog’s partner”. I do not have trainers I can refer to because no one else is certified and I cannot tell who is educated and who isn’t.

I have had clients in tears over the phone because they think I am going to tell them to “dominate” their dog and they simply love their dog too much to alpha roll them. I have been told horror stories of using cattle prods, debarking, and even waterboarding to address dog behavior here in Mississippi. It is a heartbreaking situation.

In fact, Animal Rescue Fund of Mississippi (ARF) acquired information about a dog named Bubba that was sent to a local trainer for training. The dog’s muzzle and eyes were taped over, so the dog couldn’t see. The dog was reportedly stacked on top of boxes and if the dog fell off onto the concrete floor below, he received “lashings” from the trainer.

My idea is to raise awareness of dog trainer certification, especially certification from the Certification Council of Professional Dog Trainers because they have a computerized exam that must be taken at a testing facility and certificants are held to ethical standards. We need Mississippi trainers to be held to ethical standards and to prove their knowledge. Someone has to hold them accountable because our state laws do not.

Since I got my certification, my client base has tripled and I am booked weeks in advance for my services. I am not saying these things to brag, but to prove my point. Most of my clients found me on the CCPDT website and hired me because I was certified. There is a difference and that difference is security for my clients that I am educated, my education has been tested, and I use humane training methods.

We need standards for dog trainers in the country, so our clients know they can trust us with their dogs.

If you are a client and you want to help, suggest to your dog trainer that they get certified and explain to them why it is important to you. Ask the trainer you are considering hiring about their education, not just their years of experience. I wouldn’t hire a doctor, personal trainer, or therapist without proof of their educations and that is what a good certification is. Not all certifications are treated equal, so take the time to look up the organization they claim to be certified by.

Keep in the mind that anyone can use the term, Certified Professional Dog Trainer, they must have the Knowledge Assessed or Skill Assessed addition on the end of their name to be a true certificate of the CCPDT. There are other good certifiying bodies out there, so do your research and stay on your toes.

If you are a Mississippi dog trainer, I challenge you to sit for the CPDT-KA exam and get your certification. Help us make a change in our state and give clients the proof that we are knowledgeable and our profession should be taken seriously.

Mississippi doesn’t have to be last in animal welfare and progressive dog training.


If you are looking for a CPDT-KA (Certified Professional Dog Trainer – Knowledge Assessed), please contact me at LaureneTsao or (769) 251-4104 to set up an in-home training session today!