What Do You Pay Me For?

At the classroom with student McKenzie!


A lot of times, there are misunderstandings and discrepancies between trainers and clients related to obligation – what are the responsibilities of each party in the training relationship? Is a dog trainer actually a “dog trainer,” and if so, what limits apply to this descriptive phrase?

Here’s a simple breakdown of “my jobs” (the trainer’s responsibility). Tomorrow, we’ll explore your jobs” (you chose to live with this dog, here are your responsibilities in raising it well).


Here are the services my clients pay me for:

  • establishing a safe and comfortable learning environment for people and their dogs
  • teaching you to read your dog’s body language
  • teaching you mechanical and observational skills which will make you a better trainer
  • helping you create a learning environment which sets you and your dog up for success
  • teaching you to use reinforcement effectively
  • teaching you to transition from a clicker to a verbal marker and from a continuous schedule of primary reinforcement to a reinforcement protocol which includes variety (in type) and variability (in terms of delivery)
  • provide supportive materials
  • effectively identify weaknesses, tears, potholes and speedbumps in the training journey and to help you past them
  • help you be a better dog owner
  • give you feedback on your skills – if your dog is not working for frozen peas, it’s my job to teach you about the benefits of stinky liverwurst and tripe. Hey, anyone that ever said “a dog trainer’s job is easy!” has obviously never tried to teach someone about the benefits of carrying something that smells like diluted cow manure around your waist to reinforce your dog for a desirable behavior! (Tripe is generally not necessary, but is unfortunately, despite the smell, both very healthy and high value for most dogs!)

My responsibilities also include:

  • Not making false promises/”guarantees” – much like a kindergarten teacher cannot “guarantee” your five year old will be a neurosurgeon at sixteen, I cannot “guarantee” your dog’s behavior ten years from now. Individual personality, consistency of all family members in the maintenance of training protocols, continued practice and enrichment, lifestyle choices (in terms of diet, exercise, exposure, etc.), will determine the long term effectiveness of your training.
  • Being honest – you can be my friend for free. You pay me for expertise and honesty. I am not doing you any favors if I tell you, “I can fix your dog (who has bitten over 2 dozen times and sent 1/4 of his victims to the hospital for some variation of treatment or plastic surgery),” in a single one hour session. It’s not going to happen. Some problems may take weeks, months, or years to fix. Others may take a lifetime of management. If I tell you these things about your dog’s prognosis, it’s only because I don’t want to trick you into drowning by throwing you in the deep end when you don’t care to learn how to swim.
  • Breaking bad news – sometimes I have to be the bearer of bad news. There are some problems even I can’t fix. When people who define “daily exercise” as walking to and from the mailbox purchase puppies from working lines that need hours of physical and mental engagement, stimulation, and challenge each day, I can’t wave a magic wand and fix this lifestyle discrepancy. No matter how much you love your dog, you may still be unwilling or unmotivated to invest in a lifestyle change – much like I can’t FORCE someone to quit smoking cigarettes, I can’t turn a couch-potato into the triathlete dog owner an active dog may require. Some people are never able to provide a dog with what the dog needs because they are so poorly matched. I hate this part of my job. Whoever said, “the truth hurts” was so right. I hate telling my clients, “this is the wrong dog for you. Unless you are willing to make dramatic changes to your lifestyle, this can’t work.” I have a client that adopted a dog that has bitten multiple children. She wants a family. I wish I could give her a fairy tale, but the truth is that raising a fear biting dog and raising an infant are individually very challenging. Ensuring the psychological and physical welfare or dogs and kids in this situation quadruples the work. Happily ever after? Maybe not.

I love my job, but there are many days when I pray for an easy answer and one is not to be found.

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