I often wonder what people envision the life of a dog trainer to be like. For example, do they imagine me buried in a pile of adorable puppies every day, or outside enjoying perfect walks with perfectly trained dogs on perfectly perfect summer days? Or, do they think I must be insane to choose to deal with dogs who bark incessantly, or dogs who growl and bite, and people who have no idea what what they are doing?
The truth is, being a dog trainer is much like any other job; there are good days and there are bad days. Some days are spent beaming with pride when a rescue dog finally bonds with his new pet parent. Other days I just get peed on, literally. But at the end of the day, no job is as fulfilling as the job that lets you use your talents to help other people.
For me, dog training isn’t really a job, it’s more like… a calling. Okay, okay, stay with me now; I know how cheesy that sounds. It’s not as though one day a spontaneous beam of light shone down on me and a deep booming voice from above said, “Michelle, you must now quit your day job and teach people how to train dogs! Do this now or you’ll be sorry!” As cool as that would have been… professional dog training is more like something that I had been working toward since I was child. It just took a bit of maturity and life experience for me to realize my potential.
And while I believe that, with the right assistance and the right attitude, anyone can train their dog, I also believe that not just anyone can be a dog trainer. For the most part, dogs learn the same way as one another and positive reinforcement methods are now, thankfully, scientifically proven to be more effective than traditional dominance methods. What differentiates an excellent dog trainer is his or her ability to convey a variety of positive reinforcement methods in a way that pet parents, who all learn quite differently from one another, can not only comprehend, but can also take home and reteach to their family members.
To be a good dog trainer is to be patient and tolerant, yet firm and direct. Dog trainers must be confident in their training abilities and able to communicate their knowledge in a meaningful way. An exceptional dog trainer will have the ability to be tender and gentle with fearful dogs and strong-willed with more boisterous dogs, and often must be able to wear both hats in one class. We are coaches, advocates, teachers and friends. We’re frequently asked about things way out of our league (like the time a client asked me if his dog had hypertension because she was a little sleepier than usual). Remember this: trainers are not veterinarians and veterinarians are not trainers. But a great trainer will remember to be patient with any question a client asks because after all, our clients have entrusted us with the vastly important education of the carnivorous canines they’ve invited to live in their homes and sleep in their beds (not to mention the tiny little fact that they pay for our bills!).
So I leave you with this as a closing thought: when choosing a dog trainer, don’t just pick the least or even the most expensive trainer you can find on Google. Shop around. Meet her. Schedule free evaluations so you can gauge your dog’s reaction to him. Dog training does not often fall into the category of “you get what you pay for.” Some of the best trainers are working in the corner of a pet store for minimum wage and some of the worst trainers are vastly overcharging. Do your homework before classes begin and let your dog help you choose the right trainer for you and your family. You won’t regret it!