Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thoughts on Being a Dog Trainer

Why Have So Many People Suddenly Become Dog Trainers?

To me, being a dog trainer is a gift and a calling. It’s not something you can learn overnight, or become skilled at simply by hanging out at the dog run, reading books, watching Animal Planet, or by looking at training videos (though theres nothing wrong with doing any of that). Yet in the past 10 years or so the number of people in New York City who’ve decided that they’re professional dog trainers has increased exponentially. One of my clients told me that when she first arrived here with her dog, nearly everyone she met on the street or in the park claimed to be a dog trainer, and had a business card to prove it.

The truth is not everyone who claims to be a dog trainer is really equipped for the task. For instance, there’s a veterinary behaviorist I know of, who’s a widely-acclaimed expert on dogs. He gives seminars around the country. He’s written numerous books and produced several videos on training. And yet, by most reports, he’s not a very good dog trainer. He seems to have no clue as to what really makes dogs tick. On his blog, not long ago, he even asked the question: “Why isn’t dog training working as well as it used to?”

Meanwhile, I know of a guy here in the city, who makes his living as dog walker, yet in my book he’s the second-best dog trainer in New York even though no one has ever heard of him. 

Why the difference? 

Simple: one understands textbooks, the other understands dogs.

It’s also important to realize that there’s a vast difference between being an obedience instructor—someone who teaches classes on how to train dogs to sit, give paw, etc—and being a dog trainer—someone who understands all aspects of canine behavior, training and learning, and who is capable of taking any dog, at either end of the aggressive/fearful spectrum, and turning that wounded animal into a happy, emotionally-balanced, and well-behaved family pet. And in most cases, the key to becoming someone like that, someone who can do that on a regular basis, is threefold: 1) you have to have natural aptitude for it, 2) you have to spend years studying dogs, how they learn and behave, under any and all conditions, and 3) you have to either study with or have some kind of direct contact with a master trainer.

So, if you’d like to become a real dog trainer—someone who can make a real and lasting difference in a dog’s life, and in the lives of the people who love him—be aware of what’s required. 

It takes more than a business card.

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