A lot of dog trainers get very frustrated when their clients don’t complete training. Within the training community, we hear a lot of venting about a lack of commitment, owners wanting a quick fix, or a wave of a magic wand. I do understand that this seeming lack of commitment can be very frustrating to trainers, (as well as affect our dog trainer salary), but I have some thoughts on the topic I’d like to share. I’d love to hear back from trainers about what they think.
So, let’s start with the basics – what is a dog trainer, exactly? A dog trainer is a consultant – we consult on behavior and behavior problems. The definition of a consultant is “a person who provides expert advice, professionally.” But I think a better definition is “a person who provides expert advice professionally, but has no control over the outcome.” I think this is a better definition, because all we can do is determine the problem, give our best advice on how to resolve it, and hope our client agrees with us.
I actually think the biggest reason owners don’t go as far with training as we think they should is because our expectations are too high and they consider the problem fixed before we do.
Let’s start with dog trainer expectations. We like to train, we think training is fun and worthwhile. That’s why we’re trainers. Owners, on the other hand, don’t particularly like to train. Owners simply want a well-behaved family member, and sometimes need help accomplishing that. These are adult learners, and adult learners generally have a very specific goal in mind. Once that goal has been accomplished, they see no reason to continue – they have better things to do with their time and money.
To illustrate this point, I’d like to talk about a client I had a few weeks ago. These are nice people with two small dogs that they adore. They’ve recently moved from a suburban situation with a fenced back yard to a rural area where they are building a house. They have a business and are living in a large room within that business while their new house is being built. When they first moved, they let the dogs out off-leash, and one of them was attacked by a coyote.
The veterinarian referred them to me, and we decided to work on the following issues:
- Desensitization to harness & leash
- Housetraining for one dog
Prior to the move, the dogs didn’t go out, so they weren’t used to wearing a harness and leash, although they had worn them years earlier. One of the dogs was not house-trained, so we decided to work on that, since they were moving into a new house. And, of course, the recall was important because of the living situation.
My main goal for our first session was to get some management in place so the dogs would be safe during the training process. Once I arrived, I realized that they did have a small, fenced area which their exit door opened onto, so that really solved the problem of the dogs having to go outside the safe area to potty. We spent an hour discussing basics – free-feeding, house-training, how to get the dogs used to their harnesses, and how to potty the dogs until they were reliable.
After a couple of days, I texted them to see how things were going and if they had any questions. The text I received in return. The wife then called me and said things were going great. The dogs had adjusted to their harnesses almost immediately, so they were today able to walk them on-leash; they were working on house-training the smaller dog (I left them with a handout, so they pretty much had what they needed); and they were either walking the dogs on-leash or letting them out into the fenced area. And, they didn’t really have time to train, as their schedules were already over-loaded running their business and building a house, but they’d call me once the house was done.
I don’t really expect to hear from them, but that’s okay because the truth is, their problem is solved. Would I have like to work on other issues, such as the recall? Sure. But again, once that house is built, they’ll have a big, fenced yard that is coyote-proofed, and they probably won’t leave it except for occasional vet visits.
So ultimately, I consider this a successful consultation. They don’t want to do everything I recommended, but their problem is solved to their satisfaction, and that’s my job!
Susan Smith, CPDT-KA, CDBC is the owner of Raising Canine, LLC, which provides remote education for professional dog trainers and dog behavior consultants, as well as business and marketing educations and consulting to help their businesses, including an intensive course for those wanting to become professional dog trainers. Sue is also the co-author of the book “Positive Gun Dogs: Clicker Training for Sporting Breeds.” Sue is certified through CCPDT and IAABC. She is an ex-Board member for the CCPDT, an active, professional member of CCPDT, APDT, and IAABC, and was named APDT Member of the Year. Sue also owns East Valley Dog Training in the San Tan Valley of Arizona.