In my training contract, I have a clause that states that, without 100% cooperation from the dog’s owner in training, that the dog will not get trained. When I go over this part of the contract, I discuss the importance of being compliant and following instructions, and providing feedback to ensure we have success, but I also like to add, “You always have the right to ask me why we’re doing something.”
I’m a trainer who believes in empowering the human client as much as the dog client. I want my clients to feel good about the methods that we’re using—that we aren’t going to hurt or harm their dog, and that we’re going to achieve their training goals as effectively and efficiently as possible. I’ve also inherited some clients who have undergone training with other trainers, and some of these experiences have been good for them, while others have been quite negative.
In the end, some clients hired professionals who sounded good on the surface, but ended up having them use methods they weren’t comfortable with at all. Some stopped training because of it, while others felt they had no choice but to do what they were told. Many didn’t achieve the results they hoped to have, and others ended up as traumatized as the dogs who were subjected to the rough handling “training” the trainers instructed. There is no good reason to pin down, choke, hang, scruff, throw, kick or do ANYTHING physical to a dog to achieve results in training, especially in matters concerning fear, reactivity and possible aggression.
Trainers will probably never quite work exactly the same way amongst each other, that’s true. There are so many of us on the spectrum, and it’s an unregulated industry. There is an alphabet soup of possible initials when it comes to certifications or diploma programs, and the marketing language is always just as confusing. “Balanced” sounds great but can be misleading. Positive reinforcement only may be a bit of a stretch, as how many of us use environmental aversives like anti-chewing spray? Then there are the traditionalists who believe a dog should work for no rewards, just because a dog is expected to want to please us. It can get tricky choosing a professional trainer.
I think it’s a part of my job to talk about these things, and help clients and potential clients gain some footing in their understanding. I also provide referrals if I can’t help the person so they can find quality professionals much easier. Most of the great trainers I know do these things too. I just also feel it’s important we empower our clients to ask, at any time: “Why?”
That simple question can hopefully enable people to gather information from their trainer as to why they adhere to a certain philosophy, align with a certain professional organization, completed the certification program they chose, and why a technique is being used, and how it will work to achieve their goals. If a trainer can’t give a good answer, then it can be a flag to ask more questions to understand more about whether or not the trainer is a good fit, or even qualified.
Of course, asking why may also open a window into seeing how a trainer reacts when questioned. If they take offense, aren’t sure what to say, or handle it with professionalism and fun, it can help a client gain insight into their character and whether or not they’re a fit in terms of personality and communication styles.
Asking “why” may not completely solve the problem consumers face when choosing trainers, but it can help us all be better—better at answering questions, making sure we have a solid toolbox that doesn’t stop growing, and helping clients feel empowered and good about the trainers they hire.
And have a happy holiday season—I can hardly believe it is around the corner!
Owner, Delightful Doggies