Q. Describe the most common types of jobs you do for your clients.
A. We really don't have a "common type" of job. At any given time we have trainers counselling puppy owners on housebreaking, socialization and character development, while other are working on basic obedience or developing working dogs for service work, therapy-dog work or family protection. Like any trainer, each of our associates has particular strengths that we match with our clients needs. We do get excited about puppy work and feel that it's often the key to success. This may be why we seem to have a reputation for producing great, easy to live with companion dogs.
Q. What advice do you have for a customer looking to hire a provider like you?
A. Look for meaningful credentials: certifications that go beyond a weekend workshop. Ask for references. Listen carefully to find out if the trainer has an agenda of their own for every dog or if they are hearing you and your dog speak about your individual needs.
For services that extend beyond a single lesson/consult the following should be obtained:
1. a written evaluation clearly describing your goals, your dogs temperament and a written guarantee.
2. a written training plan that takes your dog from evaluation to completion.
Q. If you were a customer, what do you wish you knew about your trade? Any inside secrets to share?
A. There are two types of evaluations. The first is nothing more than a sales opportunity for the trainer. It is usually offered for free and is worth no more than what's given. The second is an attempt to get an in-depth view of your lifestyle and training goals along with a clear understanding of your dogs temperament. This evaluation should lead to a written training plan and an accurate assessment of the probability and quality of results you can expect from training.
Q. What do you wish customers knew about you or your profession?
A. Companion dogs, as opposed to working dogs (competition, service, herding, etc.) have no object performance criteria. They don't "fail" in the same way a working dog might. As a result many companion dog trainers are not focused on reaching goals or predicting results for their clients. They tend to promise everything and let the chips fall where they may. There's no reason this should be. The trainer should help the owner frame their goals with a clear road map to success and reassessments of progress along the way. In addition, It should be understood that trainers are not licensed professionals; they do not have to adhere to minimal standards of achievement, ethics or performance and no continuing education is required. It is up to the client to be diligent in researching the trainers credentials and demanding professional service.
Q. If you were advising someone who wanted to get into your profession, what would you suggest?
A. There is more than one avenue to becoming an effective and successful trainer; but there are some essentials that must be achieved. First, a basic understanding of learning theory and a course or two on counseling. This can usually be accomplished at a community college or any four year school. Then, read everything you can find from reliable and disciplined sources on the ethology and training of the domestic dog. This excludes most of the popular literature. You can then choose to apprentice with one or several accomplished professional trainers or attend one of the state accredited vocational schools before apprenticing. The experience gained with an apprenticeship is necessary so that you aren't learning at your clients expense. Workshops can also provide some practical knowledge.