We talked yesterday about some of my responsibilities to my clients – the expectations they should have of me as their coach. If you paid close attention, you’ll notice that never did I mention, among my responsibilities, “I will train your dog.”
The phrase “dog trainer,” can be misleading in that most dog trainers do not train dogs (other than their own) very often. Most of us train dog owners.
Do I actually train dogs? Yes. You can even have me train your dogs! Let’s look at some sample situations:
SITUATION: TOILET PAPER STEALING/CHEWING/DISSECTING DOG
Predicament – toy breed dog (adolescent, age 1 year) is “stealing” the TP from the bathroom, dragging it through the house, and tearing it up into approximately 12,000,000 hard-to-clean pieces scattered throughout your home.
TRAINING OPTION A: I TRAIN THE DOG
Approximate number of sessions – at least three or four, approximate cost $275 – $350+
Basically, rattlesnake avoidance training “light.” You want the TP to be a cue to back away, default impulse control, and to be able to leave the dog unmanaged and unsupervised around a trigger for bad behavior.
Time investment on your part – minor. You will have to follow through on the protocols that I show you consistently, but you won’t need to train the initial behavior.
TRAINING OPTION B: YOU PREVENT THE BEHAVIOR THROUGH MANAGEMENT
Approximate number of sessions – none.
Basically, close the door.
Cost to you – FREE!
Approximate time investment on your part – 1 second multiple times/day
TRAINING OPTION C: YOU TRAIN THE DOG
Approximate number of sessions – 2+, approximate cost – one basics class ($150) or a couple of private lessons ($175)
Your job – train auto-leave it with TP as cue, train alternative behaviors in bathroom, give other stuff for “legal destruction,” management
Approximate time investment on your part – multiple sessions of 1 – 2 minutes/each, usually less than two hours of training total
If the cost for you to train your dog = x
Cost for me to train your dog to do the same thing = 10x
WHY? Because training a dog to reliability is a lot of work. You live with your dog and can work in multiple 30 second sessions throughout the day. I have to schedule an hour or half hour once a week or every other week, and because dogs learn best in short sessions, much of this time will be spent taking breaks and working on other things to keep your dog’s brain engaged.
Training should be fun for both of you, but it requires commitment, dedication, etc. Also, I’d venture that the VALUE of x is actually equivalent to or greater than (10x)2 despite my confidence that this equation makes little/no mathematic sense.
Why is the training you do with your dog so much more valuable than the training I do with your dog? Because there’s a caveat – if I train the dog, you still have to learn all the same skills you’d have needed to learn to train the behavior just to maintain the behavior! If I train the dog and you do no training with the dog, the dog will listen to me. Which is nice for me, but not very helpful for you and certainly not what you were likely hoping for when you hired me. Much to the chagrin of a number of my clients, I cannot come live at your house.
Even if a trainer trains your dog for you (you are not physically present for most of the training), the fact is that no matter how well they’ve trained your dog, if you don’t know how to maintain the training, it will decrease and die.
Any decent trainer will expect you to work with and challenge your dog. Not just for six weeks, but throughout his lifetime. Taking your dog to puppy class and then considering your training “complete,” is like having a child and considering him “fully educated” once he’s learned to use the toilet – it’s just not enough to help either succeed or obtain the skills necessary to thrive in human society. Training works, as long as you work at it!
As your instructor, I expect the following:
- For you to make working with your dog a priority and to be mindful of his real physical, emotional, nutritional, and biological needs.
- For you to have empathy for your dog (remembering that English is not a natural language for dogs, that dogs can be easily overwhelmed, that what we are asking them to do is often difficult and counter-intuitive for them, etc.)
- For you to try your best – make smart purchasing decisions (where did you get your dog? Did you consider your lifestyle when selecting your dog?), research and obtain the best veterinary care and nutrition you can provide, go beyond the bare minimum in dog care
- For you to trust me – I understand you may have had dogs since I was wearing diapers. The fact that you are seeking training class does not indicate to me a lack of experience on your part, it signals a commitment to learning new things and challenging yourself and your dog to become better together. It is not uncommon for a single dog to teach us that all the things we thought we knew just don’t apply across the board to all dogs. You will be expected to learn new skills. It may be frustrating or awkward, but you’ll get it! Don’t give up and keep your mind open. Basically, I expect you to TRY.
- For you to confide in me – my job on your coach should never be about one way communication. I need your feedback to help you! You must tell me what is working for you and what isn’t. You must realize that the exercises I assign in class may work for that dog and not this one. I never want you to feel frustrated, so ask me. If capturing isn’t working, we can try shaping. If your dog offers the behavior frequently, we may capture it instead of lure it. We can always try new things together until we find out what works for you – please don’t be afraid to tell me or ask me if something seems not to be working well or is otherwise unreasonable or not successful for you and your dog.
- And perhaps, I saved the most importance for last, I expect you to like your dog. It’s one of the first questions I ask a new client, “do you like your dog?” If they answer “yes,” there’s a good chance I can help them. If they answer, “no,” the prognosis turns considerably bleaker. I expect you to like your dog enough to want to build a relationship with him through reinforcement.
Much like my clients have expectations of me, I have expectations of my clients. All members of a team need to be able to count on each other for consistency, honesty, and clear communication. Can I count on you? If so, let’s get to work and start training!