Somewhere in between

Balance filling in a polarisation sandwich

Dog training is a pretty dynamic and certainly dogmatic field, even more so with the popularity of social media and the speed with which information spreads.

With such strong views it is no surprise that attitudes to everything from education to ethics, and from techniques to terminology are often extreme and polarised. Balance truly is a dirty word in dog training…

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…or wrong, for that matter!

A vocation and a career

Dog trainers often enter this area, first in hobby form or perhaps via working with their own pet and slowly will (hopefully) build on knowledge and skill to help develop a career.

But this area is not quite a profession just yet – our field is unregulated, with no minimum standards of education, experience, skill or knowledge.

The transition from passion to every-day-job can be difficult for others (and ourselves) to appreciate, leading to lots of less comfortable attitudes toward our work.

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You say black, I say white

Just recently, this piece was published on a blog known for its pretty direct tone: Why being a dog trainer f***ing sucks and in response to that, several pieces on why being a dog trainer doesn’t suck…
And around and around we go.

(Please be warned, that the above linked piece contains some pretty strong language.)

The truth will set you free

Like any job, dog training will have ups and downs and those swings will come in cycles. It’s not always brilliant and it’s not always awful.

But we’re not in dog training for the big bucks and instead reap a range of other rewards.

Now, this isn’t a rant or a moan – we don’t work down coal mines or in third world conditions, but because AniEd spends a lot of its time, not only training dogs, also supporting new and developing dog trainers our concerns lie in building a professional industry, recognised and respected.

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It is misleading to tell, especially new, dog trainers that all is rosy, and that you should always love your job, the dogs, the people. This is unrealistic for any area.
But it’s not always helpful to vent and rant either so middle-ground must be achieved.

Why is it so tough?

Well, truth be told, it’s not much tougher than lots of other jobs out there, especially those where you deal with lots of human clients.

But, when you come into this field, your expectations can be a little high – it’s supposed to be a vocation, right? So that might set you up for a little bit of a crash & burn.

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Challenges that dog trainers might face:

  • You might think you’re in the wrong place…
    I don’t think there’s anyone out there who says to themselves that they would like to work with people, “so I’m going to become a dog trainer”.
    But dog trainer is a misnomer – a whole lot of our work involves people-training.
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It’s really “people” trainer…

Might help to:

– seek education in becoming a great people-trainer, emphasise this as part of your developing skill set

 

  •  You spend a lot of time working alone, and much of your daily social contact is with dogs and clients. 
    It’s probably what you thought you wanted, but after a while it can become really lonely. And it can be particularly difficult if you have some emotional turmoil or you’re feeling a bit delicate – being alone with your thoughts can push you a little over the edge.
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…or so you thought…

 

Might help to:

– engage in non-work related social activities regularly
– maybe even develop a new, non-job-like hobby
– generate a good support structure, someone you can call and have a chat with when you feel the loneliness creeping in
– develop an excellent support network among colleagues too

 

  • Your friends and family probably don’t get your job.
    Because dog training is seen as a vocation and as something that “anyone can do“, it can be difficult for others close to you to truly understand that there may be complexities and difficulties.
    But because of this attitude to our field, we have often put quite a bit of effort into talking-up dog training as a career so it can be uncomfortable to admit that sometimes it’s not what you had hoped for.

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Might help to:

– be top of your game by reading, practicing, learning and developing
– realistically describe your job and its demands to non-doggie people
– promote our profession, by behaving in a professional manner

 

  • It’s a passion AND a job
    Your hobby, passion and love becoming your career certainly sounds great but…
    This makes it hard to break away – your day job is dogs but so is your spare time.
    We often work largely from home and in other peoples’ homes so don’t have that threshold to cross and leave it all behind.
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Really…?

Might help to:

– learn to compartmentalise
– hang out with your own dogs – you will really appreciate them!
– assign working hours, and don’t respond to job-stuff outside those hours
– develop very clear policies about client interactions, and establish those boundaries from the start

 

  • You got into this because you love dogs. 
    Dogs are pretty awesome. But sometimes they can, like anything, try your patience – it’s OK to concede that. You are human and a dog trainer.
    What’s more, when many pet owners come to us it’s because their dog is causing them a big problem. It’s hard to empathise with them when you know that their behaviour is a major part of the problem, and they continue to vilify their dog.
    That can inform your attitude to the human end of the leash.

well i am a dog

Might help to:

– concentrate on behaviour – don’t take it personally, it’s just behaviour…even the human behaviour
– learn to empathise – a misguided pet owner is you x number of years ago
– at the same time though, learn to draw that line

 

  • Whether you like it or not, you are a people trainer.
    It’s not just that humans pay the bills, it’s so much more than that. The welfare of the dog depends on your ability to communicate, instruct, counsel and teach that human.
    One of the biggest frustrations is that people have seriously inflated expectations of dogs. This is reinforced by media coverage and by other dog-people.
    Sharing stories about miraculous acts of canine kindness, promoting dogs as loving you more than they do themselves and attributing super-natural powers to dogs in terms of their abilities to save and support contributes to this. Dogs are awesome with out all that.
    Unrealistic expectations lead to disappointment, which leads to poor motivation, leading to temptation to reach for quick fixes. That can feel pretty thankless sometimes.

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Might help to:

– promote realistic, grounded education on all things dog
– help them to reframe their attitude
– facilitate dogs being dogs, and help pet owners appreciate that
– continue to develop excellent counselling skills

 

  • Dog training is simple, but it’s not easy (~ Bob Bailey)
    Dog training involves mechanical skill that takes lots and lots and lots of practice, instructing and feedback to learn.
    Pet owners are typically unskilled and we have the challenge of teaching them to teach their dogs. We might have been working on developing our skill level over years and years and even thousands of dogs.
    Not only are we teaching the dog new behaviours, but the human too.

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Might help to:

– be a really good do-er, before you become a teacher
– seek education in the mechanics – prioritise this because only from an in-depth understanding can you teach this to non-skilled pet owners
– apply dog training mechanics to teaching pet owners: provide feedback, split criteria and create a collaborative learning environment, that is conducive to learning

 

  • Good dog trainers are educated and invested.
    The dog trainers who are going to truly advance our industry toward becoming a respected, regulated, standard-filled professional are educated, with both academic and experiential credentials. We learn about the appliance of science, how animals learn, how natural behaviour is shaped, how genetics interact with health and behaviour, how to construct meaningful training plans and how to teach both ends of the leash – and that’s just for starters.
    We are living in the most exciting time that dog training has seen – in the last decade-ish, science has begun to really dig canine science and we get to reap the rewards of all this investigation.
    The financial, time, emotional and physical commitments to our continued education will be pretty huge.
    This is not a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants operation, or at least it shouldn’t be.
    It is understandable, then, that when people belittle our efforts by not respecting our work, it’s going to hurt.

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Might help to:

– promote professional conduct
– continue to invest in your education
– make sure your training does the talking

 

  • We only have ourselves to blame. 
    It can sometimes seem easy to blame pet owners. But this is the same blame that they might put on their dogs, frustrating us.
    We have to be able to take on the responsibility for the human learning, just as the learning-human is taking on responsibility for their dog learning.
    At the same time, and this is the tricky bit, we also have to know when we have done all we can do, step away and move on.
    This is the hardest part.

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Might help to: 

– have support from colleagues with whom you can discuss cases, outcomes, ideas
– help people and their pets to the best of your ability
– work within your skill, competence level and remit
– know when to quit, when you have done all you can do (you’re not a magician)
– have an outlet for venting BUT please be careful with ranting and moaning – this can very quickly overwhelm you and inform your feelings and behaviour

 

  • I hate to say it, but other trainers can make life miserable. 
    Without consistent standards and a lack of professionalism, business and personal conduct can sometimes leave a lot to be desired.
    This might manifest in bitching (pun intended), snarky comments made publicly, social media interactions, bad-mouthing, stealing clients, copying or misrepresenting ideas, logos, policies etc.Social media, as wonderful a tool as it can be, can also be a curse. It has encouraged almost religious following and the rise of gurus, with egos to match.
    The boasting and bragging on social media can become tiresome and further raise expectations of this job – there is often a gap between reality-reality and social-media-reality.

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Might help to:

– get off the computer!
– let your training do the talking
– don’t engage in trainer-bashing
– have supports and outlets outside of social media
– critically evaluate EVERYTHING
– choose your mentor wisely and avoid the hollow gurus
– allow for balance and don’t dismiss another trainer too easily – you can probably learn something from most trainers

 

  • Behavioural health is just as important as physical health.
    This industry is young, and as of yet not well understood by many, even those in other related industries.
    Spotting a dog who is in physical pain may be easier for others to spot and appreciate; somewhat invisible behavioural suffering is a harder sell.
    Most of our starter dog trainers, don’t earn from their new career right away. Instead they supplement their earnings from within or outside of the animal care industry. Many will develop the dog walking, pet sitting, boarding sides of their businesses first, adding training as it grows.
    Even though nobody would deny the importance of early and continued education for children, it’s not a given for puppies and dogs.

Might help to:

– forge great relationships with veterinary staff, groomers, pet shops and other stakeholders
– promote proper socialisation practices for puppies
– engage with breeders and rescue organisations, and other sources for dogs

Training is about relationships

Developing positive attitudes and relationships is our most important function.
We do that via the dog-pet owner relationship, via the pet owner-trainer relationship, via the dog-trainer relationship, via the dog-society relationship, via trainer-trainer relationships and via trainers-society relationships. No pressure then!

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We must take care with the ease with which we can facilitate more confrontational relationships with people (pet owners and professionals alike).
Outlets such as this and this, are understandably borne out of frustration and funny, but how helpful are they, really?

I love my job

When I say that I am not exaggerating, I truly love my job.

But some days I am exhausted, frustrated, feel helpless and it’s OK to acknowledge that.
Identifying that helps me to reframe and work out where I need to make changes.

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I really do!

 

When you lack that clarity, you can’t see the wood for the trees, you need help. Compassion fatigue and burnout have been highlighted in animal care of late, and dog training and behaviour work bare all the hallmarks, making us susceptible too.
If your mental health is suffering, you are helping nobody. Ask for help. Always ask for help.

More on compassion fatigue and mental health here, here, and here.

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