As well as our obvious role in training dogs and helping overcome problem behaviours, one of our biggest roles is in communication with clients. We have to act as teachers of people far more than as trainers of dogs and a lot of our counselling is done with people rather than dogs, especially where the dogs are exhibiting behaviour problems such as reactivity towards other dogs or people or in cases of separation anxiety where the dog has been “trained” to be dependent on the owner.
Our role is not to be judgemental or superior to our clients. We have more knowledge in our field than our clients do and are generally ( I say generally because I’ve seen dog trainers who aren’t) better dog handlers than our clients because we have handled dozens if not hundreds of different dogs in different environments than our clients have. We should be supporting our clients and advising them. That is what we are being paid for.
Recently, I received a call from a family who had a 16 week american Bulldog puppy who had started to become aggressive. From their description, the dog did indeed seem to have genuine aggression issues which is very uncommon in a puppy. My advice immediately was to take the dog to the vet to have it examined. Following that, I see the owners options as being limited to two.
1.They keep the dog and work hard to resolve the issues with a good trainer/behaviour consultant. This could be a long road with a lot of heartache.
2. They have the pup put to sleep after examination by a vet and the opinion of a trainer/behaviourist if they feel there is little they can do for the dog.
Rehoming the dog is not an option I would consider as the family would be passing on the problem to someone else and in many instances like this, the full picture isn’t given to the person or rescue organisation who are taking the dog.
I frequently receive calls from or work with people who have the wrong dog for them, have bought dogs from puppy farms and/or are not willing to do the necessary steps for their dogs. It isn’t my place to make them feel stupid, embarrassed or guilty about the choices they have made. A conversation might go like this
Caller – I’ve got a 14 month old Akita boy who has started objecting to the kids jumping all over the top of him. He growls at them and I tell him off for doing it
Me – Are you able to stop the kids from jumping on the dog? Or allow the dog to go out of the room when the kids get excited like that?
Caller – we want the dog to be in the room and get used to being with the kids.
I can’t and don’t say what I’m really thinking. I know some trainers who do. Unfortunately, if I do, I might alienate the client, making them less likely to listen to me and in return, more likely that their dog bites their child.
It’s out job as trainers to work with our clients with the dogs they have and keep our opinions to ourselves when they aren’t in the clients or the dog’s interest. We need to break down clearly what needs to be done and adjust our training protocols on the client’s ability to implement them, not on the dog’s ability to learn them. we can’t bamboozle the client with lots of information and procedures which they are going to find it difficult to do. we might feel we are giving good value by working with the clients once or twice and giving them loads of information and ideas for training, but if the client can’t remember it all or finds it hard to do, there is greater value in picking one or two things to work on per session and working with the client over three, four or five sessions. The value to the client is on what they are able to do not in the amount we are bale to provide.