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  • Writer's pictureSophie Mayes

What makes a good trainer (In my humble opinion)

Being a dog trainer is becoming more and more difficult. With the need to get yourself out there on social media to keep up with the times, you are opening yourself up to backlash from the thousands of other trainers out there who are trying to pull you down.

There's a saying that I heard many years ago that has always stuck with me through life:

"You can build the biggest house by working hard, or you can build the biggest house by burning down those that are taller."

(Or words to that affect).

Now I know which one I would rather be - and am. So you will never see me out there, trying to belittle other people's work. I will always offer advice and guidance if asked- but other than that I will keep myself quiet, and be plugging away trying to make the biggest house around *training centre* ;)

But there are many opinions on how best to train a dog. Years ago, it was all about dominance, then it turned to positive reinforcement. And now, there is a big old war between trainers who use different approaches.

Take for example something I saw on social media the other day. One trainer had publicly taken the words of another trainer and pulled it apart. (Lets call them trainer A and B for arguments sake). So trainer A had written something along the lines of 'give puppies less affection and more direction'. Trainer B said they were wrong, and it's fine for dogs to sleep on sofas and have cuddles. And by taking away affection you are depriving puppies of a social need.

Now the problem is - both trainers are right (in my opinion). The problem is, that people will only take information in at the level of knowledge they have. So if trainer A says to give puppies more direction and less affection, I am able to understand what they mean by that (due to my level of knowledge in regards to dogs and training them). However someone with less knowledge may just see that as remove affection and therefore deprive a young pup in a time of need - leading a dog to become withdrawn and distant.

However..... that doesn't mean that spoiling a dog is the way to go either, which may be how some people take Trainer B's words

Now how trainers word things is a post all in itself - I mean, we are influential. People take what we say at face value, and I therefore believe it is our jobs to ensure that we are careful in how we word things. Training dogs is only a small part of our job- training owners is by far the most important part. We must therefore ensure that our words are understood by all at the level they are required. For example, if someone comes to me as a complete beginner, I will ensure they understand how to train a sit. However someone more advanced may need to be trained how to train an obedience sit. If I tried to teach a beginner an obedience sit they may misconstrue what I actually meant. That is not their fault - they just have a less knowledge, so must be taught in accordance with the level they are at.

Now, there is always the possibility that both trainers are educating at a lower level, and therefore they believe solely in the words they speak, and it isn't actually a communication error (but we will pretend that isn't the case because, as you know by now, I'm not someone to pull others down!)

So, why am I rambling on about this?? It comes down to being an experienced, fair trainer. In my opinion the war that is raging on in the dog training industry right now, just isn't necessary - why? - as everyone is right in their own way. The only thing that isn't right, is being blindsided by only one way of thinking and drumming that one particular training method into every dog and every owner in every given situation.

Dogs are actually fairly simple creatures, they will do what serves them- what is worthwhile to them. Given the right upbringing, they will be loyal, sociable and just the most amazing companions to have around. Yes, factors such as breed, age and genetics play a big part in that (but that's a whole post in itself). But just keep bringing it back to that one simple question- is what I want them to do worthwhile to them? Or if you want them to stop doing something, you need to make the behaviour they offer, less worthwhile to them (but again that's a blog for another time). Do this and you will start to see the way to train them.

The problem with being blindsided by one training method, is the likely hood will be that sometimes within your training method, the answer to this question will be no. Therefore you need another training angle in order to make the answer yes - hence the 'fair' part.

I'll give you an example I have personally encountered.

A client came to me with a young puppy that kept jumping on the sofa. She had already had a positive reinforcement trainer out, and the puppy was still doing the same thing. The trainer had told her that whenever the puppy jumped on the sofa to put treats on the floor. Was this trainer wrong - not entirely because we want the floor to be more worthwhile than the sofa. But lets break it down from the puppy's point of view and ask the question- 'is jumping on the sofa worthwhile to him?' In this case the answer is yes. Why? Because every time he jumps on the sofa, treats appear on the floor. The original trainer, being blindsided by positive reinforcement training was unable to see this crucial fact.

Instead, what was needed was to make the sofa less worthwhile than the floor, alongside making the floor more worthwhile. I therefore did this by standing in front of the sofa and giving a correction every time he tried to jump on. (I'll put a disclaimer here that a correction does not need to be harsh. It doesn't need to be anything that causes the dog pain or discomfort such as an e- collar, or a rolled up piece of newspaper. A simple ah-ah and 'off' is sufficient.) Now again, this method on it's own is likely to fail. Why? Because the dog will understand the correction, but without being given another avenue to display his need (in this case it was play and interaction), then the correction will hold no value to the dog. Instead we need to pair the two methods - to be fair in our approach. So we make the sofa less desirable and the floor more so. So we know that the puppy wanted to play and interact- so rather than treats, we used an engaging toy that would hold the puppies attention on the floor.

This was then left for the owners to instill - and he soon learnt the rules.

So when looking for a dog trainer - find yourself an experienced, fair dog trainer. Even use this example to ask them how they would train a dog out of jumping on the sofa. Now, I'm not saying this is the only way, as there will always be alternatives- and it's important to remember all dogs will be different. All I'm really saying is to make sure you avoid any trainer that is blindsided by one training method only.........

.........Well that's my opinion any way :)

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