Dog training philosophies vary as much as dogs and trainers do. Most professionals agree, however, that a large part of training dogs consists of training the trainers.
Whether those trainers are pet owners or professionals they need many of the same attributes. Most dogs are neither stupid nor intelligent in the same way humans are. But whatever their natural aptitude they require and benefit from consistency, repetition and a patient style of guidance.
Dog trainers need to have or develop an attitude of restraint, calm and focus. Not everyone has, nor can acquire, the patience to carry out a training regime that takes weeks to months or longer. Training is sometimes as short as an hour per day, often as long as all day, broken up into shorter segments. Taking up that effort is a task not all are equipped to master.
Trainers need to be patient, firm and fair not only with dogs but also with their owners. Honest answers to legitimate questions breeds the respect essential to successful training. A willingness to explain in clear, patient terms what training will involve and to set out the goals of training is vital.
Variations in breeds, individual temperament and owners themselves makes guaranteeing results impossible. But before training begins, trainers need to communicate answers to questions owners may not know enough even to ask. Realism is the only way to properly set expectations.
Dog trainers need to learn a substantial amount about canine veterinary medicine. While they make no pretense to be vets, they need to recognize the external possible signs of hip dysplasia, bacterial infections, diabetes and other diseases and conditions. Training can only proceed with a healthy dog.
Trainers need to learn safety procedures, both for the sake of the dog and the trainer. Even friendly, well-behaved dogs can become excited during play. Dogs are emotional creatures and once their hormones begin to flare, they often take several minutes at best to calm down again.
During those periods of excitement, teeth are often bared and the dog is moving around erratically. It’s easy for a trainer’s hand to get in the path, or for the dog to injure itself over a leash or training block.
Trainers have to develop acute powers of observation and communication. Trainers aren’t merely dog lovers. Though, they are almost always that. They’re individuals who have or acquire the ability to carefully observe dog behavior, even subtle cues and clues. That observation has to be understood to the point that reacting becomes automatic.
Dogs will often signal when they are about to bolt, or to vomit grass, or exhibit a slew of other behaviors. A good trainer has a keen eye and the knowledge of how to use those observations to maximize the effectiveness of training.
The Association of Pet Dog Trainers in the U.S. provides guidelines and training for trainers that help keep trainers and owners satisfied with the results. Not all professional dog trainers are members, and not being a member doesn’t mean a professional is unqualified. Nevertheless, the organization is a good place to start to learn more about dog trainers and their methods.
The APDT can be contacted by mail, phone, or at their website.
Phone: 1-800-PET-DOGS (1-800-738-3647)
The Association of Pet Dog Trainers
150 Executive Center Drive Box 35
Greenville, SC 29615