Today, I’m honored to have a guest post from someone that’s been on the podcast twice (once in 2016 and once in 2017) to talk about a unique challenge that new dog trainers face – taking on clients that you’re not ready for to make ends meet! This scenario has a multitude of implications that I’ll let Rachel explain below.
Some of the most frustrating situations I’ve encountered in my career as a professional dog trainer is when a positive reinforcement-based trainer takes on cases that they don’t have the skill set for. Don’t get me wrong– these trainers have the best intentions and they genuinely want to help these dogs– but a lot of the time they end up doing more harm than good.
We are all, for better or worse, in a highly-competitive field with a high overhead and relatively low-income potential. To compete in an oversaturated market, most of us rely on social media in some aspect or another to increase our visibility. However, we must accept and respect when we post on public forums, groups, or even our own Facebook account and get questions or unsolicited criticism about our methods. Without this system of checks and balances, our careers would be even more susceptible to “whisperers,” dominance trainers, and untrained hacks. While I agree that positive reinforcement trainers should be working together for the greater good of the movement, constructive criticism delivered in a non-confrontational manner encourages learning, improvement in training, and continuing progress in the field.
As a thought experiment, imagine a novice dog owner who has a dog displaying “aggressive” behavior, such as snapping at strangers visiting the house. She’s not sure how to address this behavior, and after doing some research she decides to go with a trainer who markets themselves as R+ savvy and force-free. Many, if not most, of these pet
This is where good intentions become damaging: that well-meaning trainer was the catalyst that turned this client– a pet owner who wanted to go about training in a non-confrontational way– into a confrontational-based trainer because the R+ trainer didn’t have the correct skill set for that particular client. Had the trainer been honest with themselves and referred the client to a trainer or behavior consultant who specializes in aggressive behavior, the client would have gotten the help they needed using positive reinforcement methods and achieved timely results.
Just as animals need to learn from small approximations and positive experiences to shape behavior, so do we as dog trainers. A trainer with little or no previous experience with aggressive dogs is taking a huge jump in approximation by agreeing to consult on such cases, and the willingness to take such a leap is as much a sign of training naivety as it is a representation of the person’s enthusiasm and excitement to be working in an industry that we all love. Being well-versed in respondent and operant conditioning and canine behavior is the first step, but slow, gradual, and preferably supervised hands-on experience is just as important with cases where the consequences of making mistakes or simple lack of progress
I am the first person to admit that there are many situations outside of my experience base. For example, competition and canine
So please, if you’re a newer trainer who really wants to help pet parents and their dogs succeed with positive reinforcement-based training methods, refer the difficult cases to someone who knows how to handle them and shadow the trainer or behavior consultant that you refer your client to so that you too can learn how to work these kinds of cases. Don’t try to learn by doing and figuring it out as you go; learn by observing a behavior professional through the lens of your understanding the science of behavior.
About Rachel Golub, CDBC, CPDT-KA
Rachel started her animal training career at the Escondido Humane Society in 2008. She began as an Adoptions Counselor and was quickly promoted to Assistant Trainer in the Behavior Department. Rachel went on to apprentice under some of the top trainers in Southern California, receiving her certification as a Professional Dog Trainer from the CCPDT in 2010, and in 2016 she received her Certified Dog Behavior Consultant certification through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. In addition to her
In 2009, Rachel founded her own company dedicated to rescuing, rehabilitating, and placing dogs with behavior issues. This company evolved into San Diego Animal Training where she continues to consult with rescues, shelters, and private individuals to transform difficult dogs into