The human side of dog training

This blog is all about the human side of dog training.

I love dogs. I've dedicated a considerable amount of my time, money, and energy to learning about dogs so that I can give them the best life that I'm able to. I find so much joy in learning about, and training dogs that I plan to spend as long a working life as I have left to me continuing to learn about dogs – and working as a dog trainer. Dogs are very much my thing in life.

I also love people – and that is an important aspect of being a dog trainer who works with pet dogs. It's my love of meeting new people and working to help improve their lives that set me on the path to working mostly with reactive dogs, aggressive dogs or dogs who have a high prey drive.

This is an important part of work for many dog trainers. Dogs do not bring themselves to visit a dog trainer. In this COVID-19 world, it is increasingly common for the dog not to be in contact with the trainer at all and for the person and dog to be coached at a distance – either virtually or in the same space as each other but at a distance.

Much of my focus in learning to be a dog trainer has been about finding people to mentor me who share my love for working with people. My great friend, Sarah Fisher was probably the first person who I really noticed this skill in. She – and others have helped me to know that a significant part of my job is to help people not only learn the skills they need to improve life for themselves and their dog – but also to feel empowered to use those skills. And to realise just how much they do know – even if there is still lots to learn.

There is lots for everybody to learn. I've been learning about dog training for years and years now and I can teach the things I learn to people who want to know them – but I don't know everything. I'm a long way from knowing everything. I believe that it would take several lifetimes to know everything there is to know about dogs.

One of the people who I look up to as an outstanding mentor for me is ACE instructor Lucie Leclerc. If you don't know what ACE is, here is a link to let you read more about it Animal Centred Education

Lucie's skill in working with people is outstanding. I've assisted Lucie three times now at Tilley Farm. On the first time I was there, she told me about a leash handling technique that she clearly thought would be useful for me. I saw her teach it to the wider group as well. I didn't see the value in it at all. So I didn't use it.

The next time I spent time with Lucie – the same thing happened. She mentioned something that she thought would help me and I didn't see the value in it.

It wasn't until the third time that I worked with Lucie that I was ready to hear her advice. That time, I spent time experimenting with what Lucie showed me until I could see how incredibly useful it was.

The reason that I'm mentioning this is that not once did Lucie get annoyed with me or show any impatience at my lack of interest in something that she could clearly see would improve my life. There is a true skill in not only understanding that learning takes time to happen – but also allowing that time to happen without becoming irritated with the learner.

That's a big part of why I feel so lucky to be able to learn from Lucie. She is outstanding with dogs as well, of course. For me, watching and experiencing how Lucie deals with somebody who just isn't getting something is so useful.

Finding mentors who care about people and are good at working with them has been – and continues to be important in my professional development.

I know that it makes me a much better dog trainer for the people who work with me. That's important. I want my clients to have a good experience with me – as well as learning useful skills to help their dogs.

I've been to too many classes and workshops with my dogs where the trainer's focus is entirely on the emotional needs of the dogs and not at all on the emotional needs of the people. Those don't feel comfortable at all – and often in those sorts of groups, I see lots of signs of discomfort from the people in the room. I've learned lots at those classes and workshops – often the trainers are extremely skilled and have lots of great knowledge to impart.

What I do with those trainers is learn what I can from them but I avoid spending much time watching them teach people because I don't want to pick up bad habits from them. That's easy to do these days, of course, with so much online teaching happening.

Do remember when looking for a dog trainer that YOUR comfort and ability to learn is as important as your dog’s.

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Tracey McLennan

Tracey is the author of Canine aggression: Rehabilitating an aggressive dog with kindess and compassion and founder of Best Dog Learning and Stuff Ltd. She has an honours degree in Canine behaviour and training, is a Tellington TTouch practitioner, and is an ACE Advanced Tutor.

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