professional dog trainer

What is a professional dog trainer?

Since the beginning of time, or at least my time as a dog trainer, it has been my business name, then the descriptor – Professional Dog Trainer, and I wanted to talk about why I chose that descriptor.

I feel a “professional” is one who conducts themselves and behaves in a professional manner. They have standards, etiquette, professional conduct etc.

I personally don’t feel that it must mean they can train dogs to master everything, but they may specialise as a Pet Dog Trainer, Competition Dog Trainer etc.

In fact, I work with dog trainers every month who come for Masterclasses or to attend a session with their client so they can continue to help in the future, and many of them I would call “professional” based on the service they provide and the way they conduct themselves, not necessarily their skill level, qualification or who they know and or don’t know.

I am going to list some of the elements I think make someone professional in this field and how I try and conduct myself.

Professional Conduct

I think I listed this first for without Professional Conduct, none of the others are of much value. Because I have professional conduct you will see this post does not highlight what others are doing wrong in my eyes, but instead I am going to tell you how I conduct myself.

My role is to work with people who need help with their dogs. That is it.

This can range anywhere form pet owners, breeders, dog sport competitors, Government Departments and councils, so I ensure the service I am providing is as effective and solution based as I can provide.

This may include going over time in lessons at no extra cost, because the client needs it, loaning them equipment to see if it meets their needs, having them observe other clients in training and or training with my staff to get another look at others doing well, referring them to specialists in fields such as physio, chiro, structure, specialist vets and so on so that they can ensure their dog is “holistically” well.

I focus on solutions and have no interest and entering or participating in discussions that criticize or degrade other trainers, behaviourists or competitors.

In fact, I think this is one of the worst parts of this field, there is so much energy put into attacking others and those people defending themselves, that could be MUCH better spent developing their skills and services and more importantly, helping their clients and their dogs.

Gossip, propaganda, bullying, lies, criticism, Facebook attacks, threats carried out both publicly and in secret are not behaviours I call professional, to me that is the height of unprofessional conduct.

I was looking at a new car recently and the salesman asked if I was looking at other brands. I mentioned two others and he chose to spend the next few minutes bagging out those brands rather than promote the car he was selling.

I stopped him and said I guess if all you have to say is what is wrong with the others, you have nothing to share of how good your product is, I left, and that brand is off my list.

This is what competition does to people, to avoid losing a client or not getting enough clients, it is so easy to start picking on everything your competition does, but you know, I feel if you just get better at the service you are offering, you will have all the clients you need.

Solutions

Some dogs are easy to work with and some are harder, sometimes much harder, but in all the dogs I work with, the only strategies I offer are those I know will work, because they have worked hundreds and thousands of times.

I was reading a book on canine behaviour a couple of months ago and there were exercises in that book that I feel may have merit. I have not tested these, so I am not going to suggest them to anyone, try them on any dog until I thoroughly investigate every attribute and test the exercises with my other programs and systems.

If they then were found to be effective solutions, they would be brought into the fold.

I try and ensure that what I am going to offer are solid steps in the process to get to the goals of the client.

People come to me often as the last resort, the final hope and chance the dog has, I respect that I will not add guesswork to their lives.

All dogs have differences and the programs I write often have some similar attributes between dogs, but there are always differences in the way the method is applied, when and how.

I ensure anything I give anyone is never an experiment, it has been tried, proven and successful previously, often thousands of times.

Given my huge success with the training in drive program that I have developed as my own, unique version of this system, many pet owners come to me with dogs that have behaviour problems and want to solve these problems by training in drive.

My training in drive system is quite detailed, intricate and can take years to master if you want to be the best on the field. So, when I tell them this system is not for their dog, I am actually suggesting an alternate system that will provide a solution to their problems with much less work for them, many less lessons with me and easier on them all around.

If I simply looked at the financial side, this would be counterproductive, but as I am solution based, it is a win for us all.

Empathy

I try to empathise with my clients and their dogs, they are not always right, in fact they most often are not right, but how they feel is important for me to understand so I can help them feel better.

It is not all about me, it is actually all about them and their dog, so I watch and study what they are doing and how they feel and try and provide them hope and a plan to work on.

Their concerns are my concerns and I try and help educate them on methods, training aids, strategies and relieve any other concerns they have. We may need to spend some time on these, and I try refrain from rushing ahead and ignoring their concerns.

I am not trying to cure the dog in one session, in fact the first session if often about assessment, diagnosis, planning and implementing some teaching, training and testing of their dog.

This time when well spent helps give the client and I a somewhat clearer path to build and work on.

At times we may be working a dog through a tough behaviour that is frightening the dog’s owner or causing them a lot of stress. It would be best to stay this course but at times I often change the direction to take the pressure off the owner.

I try and show the owner enough to generate hope and optimism via evidence of improvement, not a story of how one day it will get better.

You might read the word “try” a lot, I am not trying to convince anyone here that I nail everything, all the time, I do try my best though.

The right service and the right frequency

I think it is important to guide people towards the service that will help them the best and set a frequency that will provide results. This means that when I work with a client over a number of sessions, I will on average see them about every 6 – 8 weeks.

I try and give them enough work and support programs to cover this time span.

Now of course there are dogs and owners that this frequency does not work for, some need more intense work so we may see them up to 20 hours in one week. This is called High Intensity training here at K9Pro and people who come to see from interstate often stay locally for a week and really dive deep into the programs, systems and practical work in that week.

There are other dogs that are dangerous and unmanageable by their owners and would be dangerous in public and could attract unwanted council attention, so these dogs may be better staying at K9pro for board and rehab.

We need to limit the options these dogs have until we can get them safe enough to enter public areas again.

Giving them a small opportunity could see them bite a person or child, or hurt or kill someone’s dog, so the best way to protect these dogs is in a highly controlled facility.

They are taught the exercises in a controlled, quiet and private environment so they do not have to compete with distractions, this helps them learn these very important exercises very clearly.

When they are capable that are then taken into town and into public places and their behaviours tested and strengthened, before being able to return home.

We try and align the dog’s ability to change and the owner’s expectations very early on. We do not “re program” dogs here, but instead we apply “therapy”.

This therapy may include elements such as teaching the dog how to behave, training and rehearsing this a lot, running sessions of controlled exposure in our private facilities where if the dog does display aggression, lunging, barking etc. it cannot hurt anyone or any other animal or end up in council orders etc as can happen if the training is conducted in public.

Each and every dog makes very good progress, they all can behave around other dogs in various capacities. Some will be running off leash with other dogs happily, and other dogs will not achieve this for various reasons.

One may be that your dog does and never will like other dogs, so free running with them may not be as fun for the dog as some may think.

Some dogs arrive so aggressive and untouchable by anyone that, in the time we have them, we get them to a point where they can be handled safely by the owners and then we work with them.

professional dog trainer
Rebecca Chin and Claire Richards working some dogs in our Board and Rehab program.

Guarantees

Imagine if I said that “I guarantee I can make you…

Well your resistance will triple right there. Dogs are live animals, they have their own thoughts, feelings, wants and these are all effected by their genetics, imprinting, experiences, exposure, fears, wants and previous training.

I have never met a dog that could not improve its behaviour considerably.

It comes down to many factors after that from owners input, understanding, commitment, consistency and many other facets.

Guarantees are an advertising ploy I feel, and I don’t believe they have any benefit to anyone in the end.

Dog training and Behaviour Modification, it is a puzzle, it is challenging, highly rewarding and at times difficult and through empathy I help owners through each of those stages.

We recently had a dog come to stay with us for Board and Rehab, a mature (7 year old) German Shepherd female. She was displaying some moderate dog aggression.

The owners needed to rehome her as well, (we do not offer rehoming services) nearing the end of her program, we discussed the options and we were able to place her in a home with a family that had recently and suddenly lost their German Shepherd female to a suspected stroke.

This has given this girl such a new avenue in life, her new owners love her and keep her past owner informed on how she is doing. Whilst this is all great news, I can’t tell you the level of happiness it has brought the team here at K9Pro.

We are staring at videos of her being walked along the board walk in sunny Queensland, perfect loose leash walking, strolling past other dogs like they are not even on her radar.

Genuine joy all around.

We are coaching a girl and her husband that want to compete in IGP. They originally came to us with their Working Line GSD who was wildly out of control. Training systems and life skills brought these guys peace and they have moved into Team K9Pro and training towards IGP.

I have said before it is not easy to learn and master instinctual training, but these guys have just kept plugging away, and to watch them now, making videos of where they were 6 months ago and now, just makes my cheeks hurt from smiling.

 

professional dog trainer
Focus on your dreams, make them plans.

These are just two of tens of thousands of stories I could share, but I can’t think of many where I berated a competitor and felt like a winner.

This is what I think it is to be a professional dog trainer, I am sure there will be those that agree, disagree and don’t care.

About SteveK9Pro

Steve Courtney is a Nationally Accredited Canine Behaviour Specialist, Obedience Trainer, Law Enforcement Dog Trainer and ANKC Breeder. Steve has been training dogs all his life and in these articles he shares with you his experience...

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