2018 marks the 20th year of my professional dog training career. It has been a long, exciting and sometimes a dubious ride. It certainly has taken me places I didn’t ever expect to go to. I have made a lot of friends along the way from all over the world. I have grown personally beyond anything I ever expected to. If you had of asked me at 20yrs of age to where I was going to be now at 46yrs I certainly wouldn’t expected to be sitting here writing a blog about my journey as a professional dog trainer. Life is strange and is full twists and surprises.
When I meet people socially and I tell them what I do for a living, often the first response is ‘really you can make a living out that’ or ‘you’re so lucky to be a dog trainer. Luck had nothing to do with it and yes, I have made a very good living out of it. Don’t take me wrong there have been many struggles personally and financially but it has all paid off in the end.
I think being a dog trainer is an extremely unique profession and it takes a special person to be an exceptional dog trainer.
My love of dogs has grown so much over the years. Although I have had a dog since a young child, and often more than one, the more I have learned about them they have given my life structure and purpose. I am fascinated by them, almost obsessed about teaching humans how to treat and live with them properly. I know the value having dogs has given to my life, not to mention the opportunities they have brought me because of my love for the dog. They sleep on my bed, they share my food and they go most places with me. I don’t treat them like my children, but I am just as protective over them as I would be my own child. I value their company. They are my best friends.
For myself being a dog trainer isn’t just a job, it is a way of life. OK maybe some trainers don’t see it that way, but I know plenty who do.
Everyone has their story about how they got into this profession, especially if they have passion for it. I don’t know a good trainer that isn’t passionate about dogs. So, in saying that I’m not going to go down the road of how I got into dog training, rather my goal here is to give an over view of what I think it takes to not only survive but to thrive in this industry.
As with life we have many moments of realisation, especially when we really strive to be our best and stay on our path to inner happiness. I have always been my own person and have always had this need to beat my own path. Some people in my past have tried to talk me out of training dogs and have spent much energy trying to convince to not go my own way, well they failed and take my word for it I have questioned my choices a number of times and yet, here I am.
As with most dog trainers I have had a number of mentors, some better than others but all were very valuable in one way or another and I am extremely grateful to all of them. I highly recommend any young trainer have a mentor and not only having one or two, move around and check out other disciplines. Try your best to be open, listen and watch to all they have to teach. No one knows it all! Seminars, workshops, courses, the internet are also highly advantageous. I have seen people that have been doing this for decades that are so caught up in their emotions and passionate beliefs for the dog. This blocks their ability to have a proper understanding of what is most important for human and the dog to really learn and grow as a team. When I have questioned these people on their methodology they have become very defensive. I was to made to feel like I was attacking them and when I hear ‘I believe’ not ‘I know’ I instantly become aware it is emotional decision and motivation for their methods and not based on scientific fact. Dog training is a science not a religion, and because, as with all sciences, there must be theory and proof to validate any training methodology or technique. As this will help with your learning and ability to educate others. Compassion and empathy is of course always part of educating a living thinking being but the science must be taken into your training habits. Science teaches us that there is really only one way to be when training any dog. As with any industry there are hobbyists and there are professionals. Think about it like this when you are getting your car repaired, do you want a back-yard hack with no formal education or do you want a qualified experienced expert. One will be cheaper than the other, but you do get what you paid for.
The one thing I really appreciate is all the work and research that has been done and has created behavioural definitions that give us the ability to communicate to each other. It fully describes what we are working towards and any issues that we may be experiencing. As it gives us clear and defined reference points. By my ongoing study it has in fact deepened my knowledge and therefore my abilities. Without understanding the science, it will never become an art!
Einstein once said, “If you can’t explain to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself”
I have heard many long-winded explanations and for two reasons, one is they love the sound of their voice and the second is they don’t really know what they are talking about, often it is a combination of both. If you know your subject matter, you should be able to break it down into chunk style pieces of information. Information becomes truly valuable when that person can take it away and explain it to someone else who has little to no knowledge about that subject. Obviously, dog training can get very complex. Yet when I am teaching a client or trainer I use the same basic principle as when teaching a dog, less is more! So, if the client can walk away confident that they are able to repeat what you have taught them at home. You will be seeing them again and again.
There was a study done a number of years ago and it indicated that around 87% of people who bought a dog or pup and joined a dog school actually got the dog because they wanted to learn how to train a dog. Me being one of them.
Public speaking is on average a person’s number one fear!
I’ve been to many lectures/ talks in my life on various subjects, mainly dog training. I’ve seen some fantastic speakers and I’ve also seen some not so good speakers. Point being if this is an issue for you, get involved in a public speaking group as I am. Do some workshops and become proficient in it as it does make an unbelievable difference to the delivery of your content. I cannot speak highly enough of it.
The reality is every trainer needs to do their apprenticeship period so it’s either working in a boarding kennel, standing out in a field with blistering sun, wind, rain and the cold. Get all round year clothing and really good shoes that are water proof! Take my word for it as I hate standing out there with freezing feet that are water logged when all you can think about is getting home and having a hot shower. It can definitely take the fun out of it! The point being dog training should be fun, dogs are fun! Hence one of the many reasons I love my job so much. I don’t know many people that get to laugh at work as often as I do when I’m “working”.
When I am working with a client I always think about it like this, these people are like you and I in a number of ways. They love their dog as it is a member of their family and very much want to have a better relationship with him or her. They have taken time out of their busy lives and are spending their hard-earned money, so they can have what you and I have with our dogs. Just because their dog is a bit naughty, it’s just that they haven’t learned how to teach it how to behave appropriately. Hence why they are there standing in front of you. So please be patient, be genuine. I have made a number of real friends out of my clients. Some real salt of the earth types.
It definitely has been a long and sometimes a dubious ride as I said at the beginning, yet every dog trainer’s story is different. For myself when I first saw working dogs and for me a working dog is a protection dog, police, military, special forces etc. I had never seen this type of training before and remember this all pre-YouTube and so on. A bite sleeve, a bite suit were all brand new to me yet I was enthralled and exhilarated. I saw Rottweilers, German Shepherds doing bark and holds, room searches, car extractions and I knew then this was for me there and then. Being in a bite suit and having a big aggressive dog come hunt you down and shake you like a rag isn’t for everyone. Yes, I have numerous physical scars, but they also make for great stories. The point is find what it is what floats your boat and become as versatile as possible. It will only make you a better dog trainer. You will make many mistakes as I have but it’s the mistakes that really teach us.