I’m seeing way too many new dog trainers out there who think that dog training is a quick and easy lifestyle change. I’m here to tell you that dog training isn’t the easy option you think it is. I get it. Life is too short to be stuck in a job you hate. You’re looking for new ways to make a living. You love dogs. Perfect, be a dog trainer/walker/[insert any dog related job]. What you’ve not factored in is learning to do said job.
Dog training isn’t like office work. It’s not something that you can pick up as you go. I’ve tried many jobs. One of them was as an office temp. So I know how easy it is to blag your way through the day. My go to method when someone asked me to do something I had no idea about was to get them to show me the way that ‘their’ company liked it to be done. And in those days I was a fast learner so it worked out great. But that’s not the case in dog training. You can’t be an electrician/garden designer/chiropractor (all real examples) one minute and a dog trainer the next.
Let’s be honest here. Many dog trainers have no idea about learning theory or the science behind learning or teaching. I see high profile trainers and newbies alike on social media giving out frankly outrageously bad advice. I shake my head when I see folks conflating rewarding with bribing, punishment with boundaries, quick fixes with long term change. I’m appalled when I see equipment used incorrectly, fitted badly or just being used at all when then only place for it is in the bin. I read posts on forums where new ‘trainers’ are looking for the answers to give to clients who have issues way above the skill level of the ‘trainer’. If a client comes to you with a request or problem that you don’t know how to solve, refer the client to an experienced specialist rather than shortchanging them with second hand anecdotal advice.
And here’s where it really matters. If you are not yet ready to be charging for your services, don’t set yourself up as a professional dog trainer. Your skills aren’t there yet. You haven’t gained the necessary experience. And maybe you’ve only ever trained your own dogs (hint: having your own dogs doesn’t make you a trainer.)
The repercussions of giving the wrong or inappropriate or ineffective advice can literally be life threatening. It’s hard to get it right. But it’s super easy to get it wrong. And if you do you could exacerbate an existing issue, cause a new problem or, and sadly this is the best case scenario, be so ineffective that the client gives up. If the ‘dog trainer’ can’t ‘fix it’ then the dog is beyond help. So what happens next? The dog suffers a life of poor welfare. A trip to the rescue centre is booked and the dog is passed on to the next person. Or the dog is euthanised. And no, this is not overly dramatic. I can’t tell you how often clients called me saying that I was their last hope.
So please, I’m pleading with you. If you really want to be a dog trainer, get some training. And no, I don’t mean a one day course or a one week course. Anyone can issue a certificate. It doesn’t mean anything unless it is backed up by solid teaching, assessments, practise, support and time. If this is the profession you want to join, do it to the very best of your ability. Don’t spend more time on your marketing than you do on your studies. Be critical when choosing your learning providers. If they tell you that you will be a dog trainer after a day, they’re lying to you. Don’t give them your time or your money. I can go on a canine first aid course that lasts a day (and I have) I can learn lots and maybe even something that will save a dogs life. But it doesn’t make me an expert or a veterinary professional.
Choose your teachers wisely
Look for organisations and individuals that can give you the science, the hands-on experience and the feedback to help you become the dog trainer you want to be. Volunteer your time so that you work with all breed types, ages, personalities and behaviours. Observe classes, trainers, clients. Learn what works and why. And what doesn’t work, and why. Be true to your own ethics rather than following a ‘guru’. Pick trainers according to their ability not their personality or public persona. Take it seriously so that you can add real value to my profession. We don’t need any more gimmicky, flashy, shallow, showmen/women in dog training.
But we do need people with a deep love and appreciation for the dogs and the clients who ask for our help. People who want to learn and to keep learning. So if that’s not you, think hard about not just your own desires, but those of your potential clients. Go down another path that’s more suited to your goals. But if that is you, welcome to an exciting, emotional, difficult, and sometimes wonderful profession.
Note: You may find my blog on how dog trainers get scentwork training wrong a useful read