When asked "Who Are You?" regarding our involvement in dog training, we often have a split personality.
Am I a training geek? Amazed by all the nuances in training? In awe of my dog's ability to learn complex skills and tasks? Learning all that I can about the "science of training"? Exploring around the edges, such as with concept training?
Am I a dog sport trainer? Working with my own dogs as well as my students' dogs in helping them reach their goals of a true partnership in training and their competition goals? Exploring the most up-to-date training methods for my sport? Always on the search to make myself more clear and more valuable to my dog? Creating a partnership that includes concepts such as consent?
Am I a pet dog trainer? Working with inexperienced handlers who have yet to learn how to communicate with their dogs effectively to meet their seemingly simple goals of a well-mannered pet? I say seemingly, because in reality the work of a laymen is often ten-fold the work of an experienced trainer. Much of what they must learn, we now do by rote.
In truth I am all three. That doesn't mean, though, that all three of my "personalities" view training or apply the same techniques in the same way.
When Each of My Dog Training Personalities Comes Into Play
As trainers we are lucky to live in an era where there is an explosion of information, methods, techniques and viewpoints on how to train a dog. Not all trainers or handlers are at a place in their understanding, skill level, needs or goals to utilize all that is available to us in terms of methodology.
My pet dog trainer personality is not going to teach a layman about concept training and is more likely to provide "user friendly" techniques, such as luring.
My Sport Dog Trainer personality is going to encourage my sport dog students to use shaping and other forms of "modern" communication.
My Training Geek personality is going to continue to seek out seminars, conferences, online courses, mentors and other opportunities to learn all I can about behavior and training and share that with those who have the same interests.
I understand the desire of some trainers to convert the world to a dog-centric form of training, utilizing only the most advanced concepts and techniques — why they want to put a clicker in every person's hand, teach the layman how to thinly slice criteria for a more robust behavior, focus on the process and not the end result. I am that trainer, too.
However, there is a time to put on the brakes and understand that not all handlers are in the same place. Not all are at a point in their understanding of learning theory and dog behavior where these concepts can take hold as higher priorities.
Guiding Others to the "House of Dog"
Most new trainers start their careers teaching owners of pet dogs. Pet dog owners really want a dog they can live with. The thought of sports likely hasn't entered their minds.
Owners are likely dealing with issues they have no idea how to solve, and that leaves little room for any desire to take on a career in dog training in order to learn all the things they need to know to help them change their dog's behavior.
So they hire a professional to help them do that, not to teach them all there is to know about training and behavior.
If we do our jobs right, we can create enough success that they choose to continue their journey into a more developed training relationship with their dogs. We can plant the seed, peak the interest, but first we have to focus on their goals.
If we overwhelm them with information, choices, and options, we could lose the only opportunity we have to introduce them to the amazing world that we so love.
As a teacher, instructor, trainer, it's important to get to know your students for who they are, where they are in their relationship with their dog and what their needs and goals are. Like our dogs, there is no cookie cutter approach. Each is an individual and each will need your expertise in helping them reach their goals, knowing and understanding that theirs are not the same as yours.
Preaching to the choir is one thing – we all love to sing the praises of modern dog training in all its glory. Getting someone to come to the "House of Dog" takes a bit more finesse.