As much attention as writing this column has brought to me over the decades, my life as a dog trainer has been far from glamorous.
It can be a wonderfully rewarding career. When a dog's behaviour is transformed, not only is the dog/ owner relationship saved, but the dog's life as well. But most of the time it involves coming home exhausted, covered in something that came from a dog, be it fur, saliva, urine or feces. Thankfully it has mostly been saliva and fur.
The challenging and exhausting part of this profession has very little to do with working with dogs. Regardless of their issues, they are always a joy to work with. They are such willing creatures, ready to let go, learn and do the right thing when they trust the person they are with.
The challenging part is working with the owners. Unlike dogs, humans are rarely ever ready to let go, trust, learn and do the right thing. There can be a lot of weeding through personal baggage to get to a place mentally where successful training can take place. That weeding often makes training sessions unnecessarily long and difficult. And I, as a dog trainer, don't want that any more than you as a dog owner.
So here are some tips to help you, as a dog owner, make the training sessions far more rewarding for yourself, your dog and your trainer.
First off, be honest. I have been in far too many situations where a dog owner has said, "Oh he nips at me when I put the leash on," only to find out, while sitting in emergency waiting to get stitches, that the nip is actually an aggressive bite. Being in denial or embarrassed about your dog's issues only perpetuates the problem and does not allow the trainer to approach the situation properly.
Tell the truth when your trainer asks if you did your homework. A seasoned dog trainer can tell whether an owner has done their homework or not because we are used to seeing results in a dog's behaviour once training
begins. If there are no results, then we change the training protocol. If the owner has not done the homework, yet says he has, and we change things because we think there is something wrong with the training method, this just makes things confusing for the dog and prolongs the training process costing the dog owner more money and time.
Be considerate by being on time. You are not our only client that day. If you are, it is because we have a really busy day doing other things in our lives. This "having a life" thing also applies to phone calls and texts after business hours. If we don't respond right away, it is because we are living our lives, or sleeping.
Be prepared. When you come to training, have some treats with you - preferably ones your dog loves and won't get sick from eating. A handful of kibble is not considered a training treat. Trainers do carry treats, but because of food sensitivities that you probably didn't tell us about, we could be carrying something unhealthy for your dog. Be present. This means that when you are working with your dog, be with your dog. Don't be with your phone checking to see how many "likes" your latest post got. You are paying your trainer to work with you and your dog, so give them your undivided attention. I've started charging an extra $10 every time my clients check their phones when they are with me. It adds up and my ranch in southern Alberta is now within reach!
Finally, leave your drama at home. Arriving to training with stories about the family chaos at your niece's wedding over the weekend is not something we want to know about. We are not counsellors or psychologist. We are dog trainers. But we do understand that dogs are often in our lives as portals to healing. We can show you that if you are prepared, present, honest and aware that your dog will help you conquer whatever personal demons you may be struggling with.
Joan Klucha has been working with dogs for more than 15 years in obedience, tracking and behavioural rehabilitation. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.