Don’t Shoot the Trainer – words from me to you

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I think honesty and keeping expectations in check are super important with everything we do.

For example, you’re not going to go from being a couch potato to a Mt. Everest Climber in a day or a week. Period. Time, experience, gaining knowledge, mental and physical conditioning, and a new outlook count for a lot.

So let me get down to it.

The difference between a Master and a Beginner is that the Master has failed more times than the Beginner has even tried ~ anonymous

1. I am a Trainer. This means that I coach people and teach dogs, and in reality a professional observer. My job with people is not to make a new Handler ‘be me’ but rather to encourage them to be the best trainer they can be to their dog. My job with dogs is to show them how awesome learning can be from a human, and to make it as least confusing as possible. Creating inspired learners on both ends of the leash is my goal, not creating a perfect Team.

2. I am well seasoned. I work with hundreds of dogs each year, and thousands over my career. I come from a place of knowledge, education, and elite level handling in multiple dog sports. I am a professional dog trainer, this is not a hobby. I am constantly learning more, even at my level. I read, watch, and teach every single week. I work with new Handlers, experienced Handlers, and literally the worlds most talented Handlers, in my group classes, privately, and with my on-line World Treibball League.

If you want to share advice with me that you heard at the dog park, I most almost always will not accept it. If your neighbor suggests a shock electric collar for your dog to make things easier for you, I will not accept this, please don’t look for my approval and don’t get mad when I tell you that you need to work harder on your skills, not punish your dog for what you don’t currently understand. And if you start to handle your dog in front of me with techniques that are abusive or annoying, that you learned off of a TV show, please don’t purse your lips as if you know more than me, and want me to say ‘good job’. Because I won’t. But I will continually remind you, for better or worse, that you have the skills inside of you to be a good trainer to your dog, but you need to focus on the work we are doing together.

3. Learning and teaching are a process. We come from a culture of fast and convenient. Fast food, diet pills, wonder drugs, guarantees with no effort involved, convenient for our life style. You need to let this shit go, for real. Let dogs show you how to slow down, breathe, observe, spend time outdoors, and how to share quality time together and create a really healthy relationship. If you chose to get a dog, then your dog deserves your efforts.

Gaining skills to teach your dog new things takes a great deal of time. The Handler end of the leash needs more work than the dog, almost always. Learning about space, timing, building behaviors, release and work cues, marking and rewarding, is a super cool process. But the Handler needs to be open to this.

For a dog to trust their Handler, and want to learn, and start to show fluency in behaviors, takes time. It is a process.

If you put a time limit on training, you are dismissing the time it takes for you to gain the skills to even attempt to teach the behavior. Time limits, guaranteed, will set your whole Team up for failure. Learning and teaching are a process.

4. You don’t know what you don’t know. This is the beginning foundation for learning. When you step out to work with your dog in a professional way you have no idea what the bigger picture is or how it happens. Let this be okay. This is literally the place we all start from. While you start to gain information about working with your dog don’t try to be perfect, but rather try to enjoy the process together.

If you tell me you just want to learn SIT, that is all you need. I will tell you that we are no geniuses teaching this because dogs do this position on their own all of the time, without our assistance. And I will show you a much bigger world with more to do with your dog, and how to get involved in active teaching and learning. If you limit what you want to do with your dog, you limit what you can do with your dog. Sit on that for a bit.

5. Not every day will be great. Every day we are a bit different. So are our dogs. Some days it is brilliance on both ends of the leash, and some days it is only one of us, and some days it just down right sucks, and we should give our dog a raw bone, and make ourselves a cocktail.

Some days we are sharp and on it, we had great sleep, our balance is awesome, and we ate healthy the whole week. Some days our dogs feel that way too. And then most days we have little glitches, maybe a bit tired, maybe cramps, maybe a hang over, maybe nervous about an up coming test, maybe a nasty e-mail we are trying to process, or maybe it is just a day, plain and simple.

If your dog is brilliant one day, yay for you and your dog. Enjoy it, love it, remember it, and you can shoot for that level each day, but don’t get disappointed, or blame your dog if they are a bit off the next day or a week later. You work at a new level almost always, on any given day. The more fine tuned you and your dog get, over the years, you will have little swings, but not major ones. You will become better at observing, better with your body language, and better at knowing when you can bump things up a notch and when you need to bring them down, and when you need to back off because your expectations where way too high.

6. Comparing your dogs skills, or lack there of, to another dog does nobody any good at all. All dogs learn at different rates, just like we do. Each dog is an individual, and a living being. And learning happens over a lifetime, not a day, a weekend, or through sporadic training.

If you tell me that your neighbors dog walks perfectly at their side while off leash, and never stops to sniff or visit with other dogs or people, and is only eight months old, and you want this with your dog TODAY, I will most likely drop the reality bomb on you. So stand firmly on two feet, because you will need to absorb the words I will share with you on HOW they got a behavior like that with an eight month old dog, that is in the heart of adolescents, the flakiest and least consistent developmental phase for dogs, and most likely WHY the dog is choosing to not interact with the environment in anyway, which is anti canine behavior.

So before you compare your dog to anothers, ask yourself how much active teaching and working you have been doing with your dog. Ask yourself how it’s coming along, and if you and your dog are enjoying the process. Then ask yourself, with this knowledge behind you HOW a person would get robotic behavior from an immature dog in public, and really ask yourself step by step questions. And you will find, most of the time, it ain’t pretty.

7. Having a dog has nothing to do with who is in charge, who is the master, who is the alpha. Ughhh. The dog-human relationship is not synonymous with ‘power struggle’. So think about this for a moment. Dogs are ridiculously successful in the human world, so successful that we have a surplus of 17-25 million each year that we euthanize, and we still suffer from dog over population. Hmmmm. If there were truly a power struggle going on, and humans really in their heart believed that dogs were looking to dominate our lives, we wouldn’t have ever allowed such a large and successful population to exist.

For example, take a look at the wolf controversy happening in the inter mountain area in the western United States. Many humans are terrified of wolves, and with only a population in the low hundreds, you can watch people gathering their pitch forks and crying WOLF, getting traps, snares, guns, and poison in hopes of eradicating this apex predator.

This is not only NOT happening with dogs, we actually invite them to live in our homes, share our beds, and eat and play with us.

So if you tell me that you need to learn how to be the alpha with your dog, I will tell you that David Mech regrets ever using that terminology in his original work with wolves. The alpha he was describing was actually the parent to a familial unit. And we really really really need to stop comparing our relationships with our dogs to very old and faulty wolf studies, because it just isn’t even similar in anyway.

And there is no healthy relationship that I know of where one puts such unneeded pressure on the other, that there is involuntary submission. That is called a crappy dysfunctional relationship.

Your dog is counting on you to be a human they can trust, and learn from, and teach, and share a bit of time with while on the planet. Make it good. You have that power inside of you. Live together with your dog and have an active and interesting life. It isn’t hard or rocket science but you need to stop watching that TV crap and stop taking advice at the dog park.

8. You need to be your dogs advocate in all things. You are your dogs voice in the human world, please don’t be a back seat driver, your dog is counting on you for more than that. Consider this your super power!

Learn more about nutrition and really find the best that you can afford, that is the healthiest option. Do not rely on marketing, or what is easiest.

Learn more about safe vaccinations, and refuse over vaccination schedules. There is way too much empirical data out there, our sight included, to pretend you didn’t know. Dr. Ronald Schultz is THE leading pathobiologist doing studies on anti bodies and vaccines and working directly with pharmaceutical companies. If he says we are over vaccinating and we need to be smarter about this, we should! Period.

If a friend tells you to take your dogs leash off in an area that is not off leash, or makes you uncomfortable, than please don’t. If you and your dog are not ready, you need to be able to step up and say so.

Don’t let a friend, neighbor, or someone posing as a professional in behavior, convince you to hurt your dog in the name of training. You know your dog better than anyone else. This would be like violating any trust in your relationship with your dog.

Be a voice. Be sure of your voice. Be kind. Be considerate. Be a Team.

9. I don’t have pixie dust or a crystal ball. Shocker, I know. My job is not to predict the future you are to have with your dog. Daily experiences, and life experiences change and shape how we see the world. So I will tell you all of the time to choose your environments carefully, choose your experiences with your dog carefully, and be an intentional owner. BECAUSE no animal, us included, can unlearn something that we learned. Truth!

I am not magical, but rather skilled in what I do. I am not looking to help you change who your dog is, but rather coach you in becoming better at what you do with your dog. I am an itty bitty tiny part of your life with your dog, YOU are the main big important part. And I will always remind you of this. So don’t rely on the universe giving you magical mad skills over night, or wondering ‘what if my dog bites someone’ if they have never shown that behavior before. If you do a good job each and every day, that is a good thing!

10. I’m real. I watch, observe without judgement, take mental note of things I see that need to be addressed, and I share this information. Real and tangible information that I can back up. I feel deeply, I sense emotions, I am a body language reader in multiple species, and I am honest.

I will always tell you the truth.

Dogs get me and I get dogs because we might be the least confusing part of each others days. It is not because I have treats in my pocket, or wear liverwurst perfume. I engage and get to know each dog I work with as an individual, honestly, and freely. I don’t pretend to be more important than any dog I work with, or less important than any dog I work with. It is all about the relationship and getting to know one another.

So, from me to you. Be honest, kind, consistent and a person your dog loves to be with! Nancy

28 comments

  1. Love me some Nancy!! I can’t express how valuable the lessons you’ve taught me are!! I thought puppy behavior would be easier to manage with a little dog but I’ve definitely experienced some paradoxical energy effects with my mini Schnauzer, Emmet. Managing the high energy of a small dog is so different from what we did with our big dogs! There were many many many times I was frustrated with little Em when Nancy’s calm (and now obvious) words come to mind, “did you set him up to fail?” Yep, I did. I knew he’d jump up on the chair when my cheeseburger was within reach on the coffee table. Now “bad Emmet” quickly turns to “my bad, Emmet, sorry”. But the good news is that the million and one repetitions are starting to sink in. No longer does he dive into his food dish, he waits until I’m done filling it. No longer does he charge the door when we go out, he waits until the door opens and he politely goes out. So Nancy you may have a small interaction with us and our pups, but the lessons are long lasting! Thanks!!

    1. Miss Amber, it is so mutual. It was just yesterday you said “can I just come an observe a class before I get my puppy?” What a fun ride we have had since Little Mr. Big Man has come into your home. I love your photos, stories, adventures, all of it! So keep on keeping on… Emmet is one luck dog ~ Nancy

  2. VERY nicely done lady!!!! As always! 1. Yes you are and do a great job at that, 2. Sometimes painfully honest and that is a good thing! LOL 3. Usually a wayyyyyy longer process than anyone wants to admit or commit. 4. And no one knows EVERYthing – take the opportunity to learn. 5. Haha and those days that aren’t great you are responsible for recognizing it and not letting frustration ruin what was accomplished the good days. Learn to walk away…. 6. Dogs are no more the same than children and shouldn’t be. Discover the individual and embrace their nuances. 7. And if you THINK you are in charge you really are delusional! LOL 8.8.8.8.8.8.8. yes yes yes yes yes yes 9. Yes, but you surely do have a wizard hat! 10. You are the best observer I know!

    1. SHerry, thank you. You are always so kind and your comments are such a great addition.

      Yes I do have a wizard hat, but no person appreciates but me! 😉 Love me

  3. This is brilliant and you are my hero for writing this. I will print this out to give to clients and I am choosing a few quotes to go on my training center wall. Thank you.

  4. Hi Nancy: I am new to your community, (thanks to FB) but wanted to say Thank you for your insights into our relationships with our best buds as well as the challenge of working with the people. Every team is so different, but ultimately honest training and setting them both up for success is the key.

  5. The myth about the quick fix is captured so well in this statement of yours, Nancy: “We come from a culture of fast and convenient. Fast food, diet pills, wonder drugs, guarantees with no effort involved, …”. It applies to many more things in life, but in particular to working with our dogs. It takes time and patience, yes, but training with my dog and nursing the great relationship we have in the process is what makes us both happy 🙂

  6. What a great article 🙂 You express yourself wonderfully and accurately and you’re obviously experienced and knowledgeable 🙂 I look forward to reading more of your articles in the future.

  7. So well said Nancy, and I have shared your post as one that I love. Thank you for all your help with foster pup Maggie. Little wanna-be-brave girl Maggie hopped up onto a stack of wide landscaping bricks today — just to try it out. She sat and looked over at me — I think she even smiled and winked at me.

  8. Our culture of quick fixes has led to a number of problems in how we treat children as well as dogs, etc. Too many get put on medication as children for good old ADHD. People resort to the shock collar if dealing with a dog. Or the dogs get euthanized. Or dumped or taken to a shelter.

    You do express what we all feel. It’s great to know an advocate like yourself.

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