Leash chewing, paw licking, and poop eating are just a few examples of behaviors that may develop due to a very specific set of circumstance and then linger long after the underlying reason for the behavior is gone. What advice do you provide your dog training clients?
- Resolve the underlying reason for the behavior. Puppies chewing on leashes can be teething. Paw licking can be related to allergies, and poop eating a nest-cleaning instinct gone awry. Whatever the underlying cause of the behavior, if you don’t remove it then it will return.
- Train an alternate, incompatible behavior. A few examples include teaching a dog to hold their toy or tug in the mouth while walking for the leash chewer, and chewing a bully stick or bone for the paw licker.
- In moments where training fails, be ready to disrupt, distract, and redirect. Whether through management or training, it is very important that the dog not be in a position to practice the undesirable behavior. So be ready with management when you’re not actively training an alternative behavior. Providing great chews and interactive toys is one option, increasing exercise and mental stimulation will generally also help.
- Repeat for 2 to 4 weeks. Compare this to the amount of time you might expect a human to take to alter a specific undesirable habit like nail-biting.
The most difficult component of this is selling owners on a very high level of diligence for the 2-4 week period. Explain that by front-loading the owner’s efforts, they will resolve the problem behavior much more quickly. Allowing the dog to practice a particular undesirable behavior only lets the dog get cleverer about the behavior and makes it more difficult to extinguish later. Professional dog trainers frequently have to sell their clients on certain aspects of training. This is a very important skill to develop, because the long-term success and maintenance of the training is in the hands of the person who is spending time with the dog – and that is your client.
Professional dog trainers should think long and hard before accepting behavior modification cases if it is not the focus of their business and they haven’t received specialized training. One of the most important concepts that you can learn as a pro is to set both yourself and your clients up for success from the outset. Pre-screening clients then matching them with your appropriate service or referring them out to another trainer is one of the first steps in setting you and your client up for success.
Unsure whether behavioral work is for you? Check out Become a Professional Dog Trainer courses, and keep your knowledge base fresh with topic specific continuing education. By educating yourself you’re providing the best possible chance for your client’s success whether through your own services or a well thought out referral to another resource.
Read Linda Michael’s blog entry on “Separation Anxiety” for a few helpful tips. But also be aware that separation anxiety can be one of the more difficult behaviors to modify. So consider your skills and education, then decide if you’re the best fit for your clients’ success. By educating yourself, you can decide whether to make behavior modification one of the focuses of your professional dog training business or to knowledgeably direct your clients to the best available resource for this specialized training.
One of the questions all professional dog trainers must answer is where will I provide my services? The answer may be defined by the products you’re offering your clients. Or you may find yourself limiting your services based upon available training locations. Here are a few items to consider:
1. If you plan to teach group puppy classes, then you must be able to sterilize your environment. Outdoor classes are out. As are any other areas that cannot be sanitized. Two other examples are facilities where you cannot control access once fully sanitized or facilities with flooring that cannot be properly sanitized.
2. Private coaching can be offered in a client’s home, a training facility, or a public location.
3. Day training can be offered in the client’s home, the dog trainer’s home, a training facility, or public space. If your day training option includes day care or pick-up/delivery, then the last 3 options work nicely. Otherwise, the most practical solution will be training in or around the client’s home.
4. Specialty classes often have special location requirements. Nose Work class requires crating space or weather that cooperates with car crating. Reactive dog class means visual blocks will be needed, segregated safe areas and larger spaces. Agility requires a larger space and specialized flooring or footing.
Consider your product offerings. Consider your targeted dog training niche and what the classes filling this niche will require. Consider the location options available to you. Each of these factors will weigh against each other, so be ready to prioritize and be familiar with all of your options.
A dog training facility just isn’t for you. Too much overhead, not enough flexibility, or one of a number of other considerations has convinced you that you’d rather pursue other options. What are those options?
1. Work as a dog training employee. Whether for a big box store, a local training facility, or a standalone trainer, consider working as an employee. This is a great way to get started in professional dog training. Frequently, as an employee you’ll work under your employer’s curriculum and direction. You may even have an opportunity to apprentice.
2. Independent contractors are much more commonly found in dog training, which means that you’re likely responsible for your own insurance and paying your own taxes. You also have more flexibility, limited only by the employment contract you negotiate.
3. Be your own boss, but focus your efforts on in-home training and/or the use of public space. Sole proprietorship, a limited liability company, or another business entity type – you choose.
Be aware that laws governing your status as an employee or independent contractor, as well as laws regulating different business entity types vary by jurisdiction. That means that you should be familiar enough with local laws to know when you need to seek professional help to guide you.
So you’ve decided on training in a dog training facility – now what? There are a number of options available to professional dog trainers. The greatest limiting factors will be cost and canine access to the space.
Issue – Renting a space large enough to fulfill your training needs can be cost-prohibitive. Dog training is limited to the hours in which your clients are available. That means that group classes are typically held evenings and weekends, day training is typically daytime weekdays, and daycare high demand is Monday-Friday during the day. Be aware that you may have to provide services beyond training if you rent a facility – i.e., daycare and boarding.
1. Diversify your professional dog training services to fully encompass both your clients’ needs and your facility’s available hours of operation. A good example is day care during the day and classes in the evening. But get creative and find a solution that works for your clients and your product offerings.
2. Pair up with complementary businesses and share your space. The business or businesses you pair with may be dog-oriented or just dog-friendly.
3. Rather than renting or purchasing a space, investigate creative options for sharing or leasing from an existing business.
Issue – In pursuing creative options, you may encounter some difficulty finding a match with other businesses or locations that will be receptive to the presence of dogs and all they entail: hair, slobber, dirt,, elimination, etc.
1. Yoga may not be your best bet for shared space since the participants spend much of their time on the floor and might prefer a more pristine environment – not to mention the fact that their clients have the same time needs as yours! However, there is a rising trend in doga, yoga for dogs, so perhaps just the right yoga instructor would be interested!
2. Give special consideration to businesses that have complimentary business hours. Retail locations are one example.
3. Consider pairing up with another dog-friendly business. Many doggie daycares, boarding facilities, and groomers don’t offer in-house dog training, and they most certainly are prepared for canine clients on the premises.
4. Investigate local community centers. Some have rules regarding dogs, but some do not.
Some lease spaces have restrictions specific to dogs.
1. You don’t know if you don’t ask. If you’re seeking your own lease space, have your agent make inquiries on properties that are otherwise a good fit.
2. Sometimes properties can be flexible and you can negotiate canine access. Perhaps boarding is not an option, but daycare is. Or perhaps certain hours can be negotiated; business parks may have interest in providing evening access for higher volume dog traffic. You don’t want to limit yourself unnecessarily, but it’s wise to know all of your options.
Many professional dog training instructors choose to use management tools in training loose leash walking. A loose leash walking training plan begins by managing the undesirable, leash pulling behavior. Below are a series of steps involved in using a management tool.
1. Choose the best tool for your client, the client dog, and the loose leash walking method that you and your client agree upon. There are a number of options including restrictive harnesses like the Freedom Harness or Easy Walk Harness, head halters like the Gentle Leader, or even something as simple as a long line.
2. Fit the tool properly on the dog. Ensure that the client understands how the equipment should be properly fitted so that they can check fit periodically.
3. Explain the proper use of the equipment to the client. Management doesn’t replace training, so this is a conversation that will include a discussion of your loose leash walking training plan. The tool allows the client to walk without having the dog practice the undesirable behavior (tension in leash, unbalanced body weight), but most dogs can learn to pull in any tool making the tool ineffective. Management should happen in conjunction with training so that the tool doesn’t lose its effectiveness and training goals can be met.
4. Discuss with the client how they can misuse the equipment. No pointing of fingers needed here! This is simply to point out the hazards of unintentional errors. One example of this is for the client to use the equipment without pursuing any training. The equipment doesn’t train the dog, so using it without training can eventually lead to the equipment becoming ineffective. Basically, the dog can learn to compensate for the training equipment and continue to pull.
The bulk of your discussion with your client will focus on the training plan you and your client develop together. The equipment you choose and its proper use are just 2 small pieces of that plan, but they’re important ones not to skip.
There are a number of questions that come up in an initial dog training client consult. One of these is what specific service type best fits the client’s needs. For example, are group dog training classes the best fit or is one-on-one client coaching a better option? Consider the following factors when you make a recommendation for private versus group dog training instruction:
1. How important is individualized attention? Can your client and client dog learn well in a group, or do they have specialized needs addressed by one-on-one coaching?
2. Can you target the necessary behaviors best in the client’s home or in your training facility?
3. Is convenience important to your client?
4. Would the client dog benefit from the increased distraction of a group class? Or would this create sufficient stress that the dog would find it difficult to learn?
5. Has the client’s vet prohibited or discouraged visiting high risk areas? Even if you provide the details of your sanitation regimen, vets may not want extremely young puppies or immune compromised dogs to visit a training center. Of course, you should defer to the vet in these instances, most especially if you have already provided the details of your sanitation regimen. In these instances, in-home training is the only option, although you can discuss with your client whether coaching or day training is the best fit for their needs.
6. Are private lessons cost prohibitive for your client? This is an influencing factor, but placing a dog who needs private training in a group class for cost purposes does neither the client nor the other students any favors.
These are a few of the factors to consider when making a canine coaching product recommendation to clients on your initial phone consult.
Fluffy dogs beg to be touched, petted, and hugged. Bully breeds inspire caution, and even fear, in some people. Cropped ears create an illusion of attention, which can be intimidating to some people. And small dogs are a portable size, easily scooped up and cuddled. The simple fact is that the appearance of a dog can impact the way in which people perceive and interact with the dog. Why is this an important concept for certified professional dog trainers to understand? Clients need to be aware that bringing their dogs into public forums exposes them, and their dogs, to certain attitudes, and their professional dog trainer – that’s you! – can help them understand what those attitudes may be and how they can best prepare.
Here are a few tips:
1. Especially fluffy, attractive, cute, or exotic looking dogs can attract attention from children and other dog lovers. These dog-loving folks may or may not ask before touching. Additionally, they may not interact in ways that the dog enjoys.
TIP: Emphasize the importance of practicing and mastering polite greetings. If the client’s dog is not particularly stranger friendly, then create a strategy for handling approaches. For example, teach a “middle” cue where the dog stands in between the clients legs, or teach a hand target so the client can quickly manipulate the dog to be on the non-approaching side of the handler’s body.
2. Bully breeds are loved by many, but they are equally feared. Strangers may be leery or show signs of discomfort when greeting bully breed dogs.
TIP: Emphasize the importance of early socialization and polite “company” manners. Sell your bully breed clients on becoming bully breed ambassadors. Training to the highest level of their ability and making their pet a model citizen can be a rewarding endeavor. Also, encourage bully breed clients to attend appropriate venues for the level of their dog’s training, so that their dog shines in all of his public appearances.
3. Small dogs can be leery of feet coming too close and may not enjoy being picked up by strangers, yet they are appealing to a crowd of dog lovers that may be more hesitant to approach larger dogs.
TIP: Help small dog owners to understand what interactions their dog enjoys having with strangers. Looming over the top of their head is unlikely to be a hit, but kneeling next to the dog may win a few tail wags. Once your small dog client is armed with a number of interactions his dog typically enjoys, he can instruct friendly strangers in specific, descriptive terms how to best interact with his dog. Also, being able to interpret canine body language well enough to recognize enjoyment and stress will make all interactions smoother, since the client can interrupt when his dog shows signs of discomfort.
Dogs make for great news, especially dogs that perform unusual acts that benefit their humans. Unfortunately, the media are not subject matter experts on dog behavior and can be guilty of misinterpreting or oversimplifying the dog stories they’re reporting.
In the following news article, a family dog exhibits reactive and possibly aggressive behavior toward the family’s babysitter. The article details abusive behavior perpetrated against the child and witnessed by the dog. The family discovered the abuse when their dog’s unusual behavior toward the babysitter prompted them to set a voice recorder.
As professional dog trainers, we know that most reactive and aggressive behavior exhibited by dogs is not in response to witnessing the bad acts of an individual or an indication of that individual’s bad character. It’s important to educate your clients as to the causes and treatment of aggression and reactivity. People-friendly dogs may respond adversely to a “different” person, including people of an ethnicity, mobility, or state of health that they have not routinely encountered. Some dogs have more generalized reactivity to people unknown to them.
Be aware that you will routinely encounter misconceptions, whether influenced by the media or otherwise, and that part of your job as a certified dog trainer is to help your clients make training decisions based upon accurate information, not misconceptions.
How often have you recommended crate-training to your clients as a part of a comprehensive training plan? Crating is one of the safest ways to manage a dog’s space, and most dogs can be acclimated to tolerate, if not outright enjoy, being crated. But there are human clients that prefer not to crate and canine clients who are better served by other options than crating. How do you help these clients?
1. Explore crate training. Some clients simply don’t like the idea, and a clear presentation of the advantages of crate training by a respected canine professional is enough to change their mind. It is the safest option available for most dogs, so you shouldn’t immediately exclude it.
2. Determine the needs of your specific client, both human and canine. An elderly dog may need a bigger, well-padded space but may not have the same jumping/escaping concerns. A very energetic dog will need more secure containment, for example a dog-proofed room with a tall dog gate. Note that dogs with anxiety have special needs that exceed the scope of this blog post. Signs can range from the dog not settling, whining, and constantly soliciting attention, to destructive behavior.
3. Make the space comfortable. This might mean providing something as simple as a comfortable dog bed and a bowl of water. White noise and covered windows can make a space more comfortable for environmentally sensitive (sound and sight reactive) dogs. Also, provide a cubby-like space that the dog can choose to lie in within this larger safe space to allow the feeling of a den.
4. Attach value to the space by feeding all meals there. Leave Kongs and chews for the dog when he’s confined within the space. Allow free access to the space at all times when the dog is not being actively contained.
The moral of this story? Professional dog training is about being flexible, providing solutions, and accommodating the special needs of your human and canine clients.