Head’s Up, Dog Trainers: Why You Should Treat Humans Like Dogs
Want to be a successful dog trainer? Take it from someone who’s taken more than a few classes. Kevin Roberts wants you to treat your human participants just like the dogs.
I love learning and my dogs do, too. The crew and I are always signed up for a class, or working on particular skills for a sport. You can say that I’m a little obsessed – I’ve been taking dog classes in one form or another for more for more than 20 years. Thankfully, the majority of my experiences have been overwhelmingly positive. And over time, I’ve picked up a couple of things that I wish professional dog trainers knew… that’s why I’ve made this list of what have learned from being a dog training client.
1. Learn my name. Hey, my mom gave me a name for a reason. And she’s trained me well – when you call my name, I sit, lie down, stand and play dead (all for a treat, of course). Please learn my name and use it often, because it’s not cool to keep referring to me as “Burger’s Dad.”
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2. Find out why I am in your class. When you find out why I am here, we will connect. This means I buy into your program… which means I do my homework… which means your class is successful… which means everyone is happy. This is a win-win situation. Keep my goals in mind, whether I just want a dog who stops humping the kid’s friends, or I want to earn titles in sporting competitions down the road.
3. Check in with me. Each week I come to class, I may have new questions about what we’ve have been working on. If you take the time to find out my progress, without judgement, then you will really be able to focus in and help.
4. Respect me. During this week’s class, my mind may be somewhere else, and in your eyes, you might be silently (or not so silently) judging me. Perhaps this makes you believe that I have no business owning a dog or I’m wasting your time. Slow down there, partner! Take a deep breath and relax. If I only have time to train the dog a few times between classes, at least I am still attending classes, and still training the dog. Keep in mind that I’m doing my best, which is still better than someone who hasn’t walked through the door of your facility at all.
5. There’s more than one way. I am a padawan to the jedi master, so show me all your ways, and I will be more likely to use the one that makes sense to me and my dog. If the end goal is to get me communicating with my dog while having fun, then I want you to show me a few techniques and tricks. Every person and dog is different, so the more options I have, the more successful I will be. The more successful I am, the more successful my dog is. And the more successful my dog is, the more people stop me on the street or in the park to ask me how I was able to train my dog so well – which all leads back to you.
6. Tell me why. Can you tell me why it’s important my dog learns this skill? I want to raise a dog I can live with. If I know that this seemingly silly exercise will lead to a dog who is happy to have his nails trimmed, I am all in! You are my expert in all of this – explain the steps so I can see why they’re all important.
7. Use technology. I know that I am not a good listener. If you tell me something, I will listen politely, trying to figure out what that will look like. If you show me, it will register much more quickly. When I read something, I never forget it. Email the steps, or better yet, post videos and pictures on your blog of what we should be doing. The more ways I see it, the more I will get it.
8. Deal with aggressive dogs. If I’m concerned for my safety or the safety of my dog in your class, it makes it really hard to learn. I’m happy that you’re giving aggressive dogs the chance to learn to be around other people and dogs. I’m not happy that the dog is lunging and snapping at me for an hour each week. Please spend some time with the owners so that the rest of us feel safe around that dog as well.
9. Offer me praise. Good human! Everyone likes to be praised! I don’t need gold stickers or stars. Maybe you can ask me to demo the skill for the class, or just give me a high-five! Let me know I have done something right, and I will work harder and happier with my dog. If you call yourself a positive trainer, be positive, no matter what species you are dealing with.
10. What’s next? If I’m enjoying your classes and a stronger relationship with my dog, let me know what my next options are. I might be looking for another class, so let me know what we are ready for.