Have you ever wondered how a professional trainer can instantly make your dog look like an obedience champ while you struggle to get her to do the simplest sit? This can be both inspiring and infuriating. Let me share some of the secrets to our, pro trainers, success.
In a nutshell, I think that all professionals share the same core trait. We are confident. We are confident in our skills. And we have years of experience to draw on if our first gambit doesn’t get the desired results. We know which technique is likely to work in which situation. This confidence is immediately apparent to colleagues, students, and in the case of dog trainers, dogs. This makes the learner feel safe. And so helps her to relax and to learn.
Of course, we can’t overlook the huge advantage we have over the dog’s caregivers. Novelty! Having someone different pay the dog attention, interact with her and give clear, understandable signals is a treat. Something special. You can even see this in families where one member works from home and the other is out of the home all day. When they return suddenly the person who has been caring for the dog throughout the working day is forgotten. And the returning person gets all the attention. This is an advantage that is exploited by us trainers every time we interact with a client’s dog.
Of course, it doesn’t always work. If the dog is anxious or worried about new people, it can have the opposite effect. And that’s why it’s important to read the dog before asking to work directly with her. Depending on the task, it might be more appropriate to describe the steps of the exercise rather than demonstrate them. In these times of COVID, clear descriptions and instructions are more vital than ever.
Many years ago I really honed my hands off training skills. This was brought about by my bad back. In my teens I hurt my back falling off a horse. I mostly manage the ongoing pain but every so often it really flares up. During one such episode, it happened that I had scheduled a number of 121 training sessions with large dogs who were pulling on lead. I knew there was no way for me to physically manage them safely and so I worked extra hard at coaching clients without me ever handling their dogs.
It was a great lesson for me. Although I only ever worked or demonstrated with a client’s dog with their permission, it was rare for someone to refuse me. But knowing I had to help without my go to method was scary and enlightening. Until that point I was very much a kinetic trainer. I liked to feel what the dog was doing, feel her movement through the lead, assess her attitude and mood through how her body felt. Without that physical contact, my observational skills improved tenfold. And that is a skill that I am always working on, tweaking, assessing, questioning, honing. Any opportunity to practise and improve observation skills is to be welcomed.
What other pro trainer advice can I share with you? Well here are my top 12 tips
Pro trainers plan. We know what we are going to teach, and how.
Pro trainers prepare. All equipment needed for the training session is in place before the session begins.
Pro trainers never run out of rewards. In addition to food, toys, games, and life rewards like running free, jumping, swimming, going out in the car, pro trainers know how to use our voice, body and movement as rewards.
Pro trainers break training into small manageable chunks rather than trying to teach the whole thing at the start.
Pro trainers observe. By watching the dog closely we can see if the training is making sense or if the dog is confused, and we can see if the dog is enjoying the process or not. Observation is how we get feedback from the dog on how we are performing.
Pro trainers adapt to the dog rather than expecting the dog to adapt to them. If the training doesn’t go according to plan, the plan is changed to help the dog achieve success.
Pro trainers make the dog feel safe. We care about the animal we are working with. By respecting physical and emotional boundaries, paying attention to environment and always keeping the feedback loop from trainer to dog to trainer open, the aim is to help the dog feel safe enough to be able to learn. Welfare always takes priority.
Pro trainers are patient, we don’t rush. Rushing > pressure > impaired learning.
Pro trainers are relaxed. Tension impairs learning and makes lessons stressful for both the human and dog.
Pro trainers are enthusiastic and energetic. This doesn’t mean being loud or physical, rather it means putting energy into the session by giving the dog 100% of our attention, by being in the moment with the dog.
Pro trainers are learners. We will never know everything, we are always learning and open to being wrong.
Pro trainers are not perfect. We make mistakes but we recognise those mistakes and rectify them quickly and effectively.
If you are not already a subscriber to this blog, hit the subscribe button here to get the blogs directly to your inbox. You’ll also get my Top 12 Pro Trainer Tips infographic. You can download it, print it, put it on your fridge as a reminder or even use it as a handout in class for your clients.