Daycare, play dates, and puppy class. There are a number of opportunities for certified professional dog trainers to observe off leash play between client dogs. We’ve discussed what an important skill reading K9 body language is in the post “VIDEO: Change the Dog Toy, Change the Dog Play.” Observing play and educating yourself regarding good play can help you to become more comfortable identifying and encouraging good play, as we discussed in our previous post. But what do you do when you observe socially awkward, inappropriate or aggressive behavior? The following tips are for socially awkward and inappropriate behaviors. Aggression is its own blog topic!
1. Control the Situation.
If you observe play that is inappropriate in an off-leash activity that you’re supervising, it’s very important that you control the situation. Interrupt the behavior or redirect the dog that is displaying inappropriate behavior. If you observe anything unsafe, immediately remove the problematic dog from group play.
2. Inform the Owner
Explain to clients what constitutes good play, and help them to recognize in their own dog what is inappropriate. This can be a difficult conversation to have. Clients have a strong connection to their dogs, and factual accounts of behavior can be perceived as criticism. I have found it helpful to describe very specific behaviors and discuss how the continuation of such behaviors may place their dog at a disadvantage when playing with other dogs or possibly even be unsafe for their dog.
3. Educate the Owner to Manage and Alter Target Behaviors
Once you’ve educated the owner so that he can distinguish which behaviors shouldn’t be allowed to continue, be sure to explain in detail how your client can interrupt or redirect his dog. Depending on the behavior and the dog, toys, food, body blocking, and reliably trained cues can be used to interrupt and redirect. Pick the best tools for your client’s dog, and ensure your client is comfortable employing them.
Watch the following clip for an example of mildly inappropriate play. Pick out the behaviors that you as a professional dog trainer would target to interrupt and alter.
The behaviors I would target for this dog include: vocalization, rigid body posture, over the shoulder pawing, and muzzle punching. Context is all important in analyzing body language. These dogs are clearly engaging in play. Some of the poodle’s behaviors could be perceived as aggressive in some situations, but here they are simply making the shepherd uncomfortable. But not so uncomfortable that she is refuses to engage in play!
One of the most commonly asked questions certified dog trainers have to answer? Which product is the right one for their client. In the pursuit of income diversification, many trainers offer a variety of services, including a combination of group classes, private coaching, day training, seminars, and single topic mini-classes. Additionally, clients frequently request very specific services that may not be the best fit for them.
How do you coach your client to the correct product?
Clients are calling you, the professional dog trainer, with an expectation of solutions. While they’re expecting help, they also want an opportunity to share their personal stories. Take a moment and listen. It gives you an opportunity to connect with your prospective client, and you’ll be rewarded with a number of informational nuggets.
- Ask key questions.
Sometimes a request for loose leash walking help comes from a client who needs help with a leash reactive dog. A request for separation anxiety training can be something as simple as a lack of crate training but the owner is panicked, overwhelmed and not sure what to do next, so he assumes the worst. Ask questions that elicit factual, descriptive responses rather than opinion or conclusions.
- Pick the product.
This is the moment when you synthesize all of the informational nuggets that you’ve gathered. Be familiar enough with your products that you can make a recommendation on the fly – in other words, very quickly! Also know when your next available start date is.
- Explain how your product recommendation fits your client’s needs.
Be specific, pointing out how the training you’re offering can alter and improve their dog’s behavior.
Coaching clients is one of the challenges you’ll face in becoming a professional dog trainer. Having a plan, being familiar with your products, and listening to your clients will help you successfully coach clients through one of their first interactions with you.
As professional dog trainers, clients routinely turn to us for help with safety concerns. One of the common concerns that clients express is the need for their dog to come in emergency situations. While I will certainly never discourage a client from improving their dog’s recall, I also explain the advantages to having an emergency stop or emergency down. In emergency situations where the environment is unpredictable, for example where traffic is a concern, having an emergency stop and retrieving the dog can be a safer solution than calling the dog to the owner’s location.
Becoming a professional dog trainer means practice, practice and more practice. See our blog on this topic! That applies to an emergency stop or down , as well. Be sure that you’ve had an opportunity to train or refresh this behavior with your own or client dogs before adding the emergency down to your client offerings.
If you haven’t trained an emergency down, here are a few helpful tips to get you started.
- Begin with a reliable down, no distance included, using either a verbal or hand signal.
- Transfer that behavior to a clear hand signal that can be seen from a distance.
- Add distance to the cue.
- Add real world distractions.
When troubleshooting with clients, offer the behaviors that most suit the client’s end goal needs and their ability and willingness to train. If your client absolutely wants a reliable recall for emergencies – train the emergency recall. If your client wants the best fit solution and is willing and able to train the behavior you recommend, review the options, including the emergency down or stop.
Many certified dog trainers struggle with the question of how much. How much should they charge for their services? How much are clients willing to pay? How much must they charge to earn a living?
There are several factors to consider when setting prices.
What are local competitors charging?
Check out your local competitors to see what they’re charging. This is merely a starting point. As you’ll see below, a number of additional factors will play into your final pricing strategy. Regardless of the pricing strategy that you choose and how that strategy compares to your competitors, you should be aware of where you fall within the pricing spectrum of your local market.
How does your niche choice impact your pricing?
Specializing frequently allows you to charge more. If you’re an expert in an underrepresented area, if your niche specialty requires specialized training or experience, or if your niche attracts clientele who are willing to pay more for classes, then you might be able to increase your class prices to reflect this.
How does your target client market impact your pricing?
You can use pricing to encourage or discourage certain clients. Certain types of training require a strong commitment to change and a great time investment from the client. For example, training involving dogs with separation anxiety and certain types of aggression can be very involved and time consuming for the client and trainer alike. Professional dog trainers may choose to discourage less committed clients by raising their prices. Alternatively, you may choose to represent a specific geographic area in your community. Doing so can either place limitations upon your pricing or offer an opportunity for the sale of premium and add-on services.
Consider the Concept of a Working Wage
Professional dog training is not a hobby, it’s a career. As a certified dog trainer, you are responsible for training dogs that are considered family members by many owners. You may also have a direct impact on the safety and well-being of families and their pets, especially if you work with reactive and aggressive dogs. Becoming a professional dog trainer involves study, practice and maintenance of practical skills, and ongoing continuing education. When setting your prices, consider the concept of a living wage. What do you need to charge to earn a sustainable living as a professional dog trainer? A dog trainer who will be there for clients tomorrow and in 5 years, and in 10. You may not be able to set prices purely based upon your living requirements, but the concept of a working wage should influence your pricing if you’re committed to a long term career as a professional dog trainer.
Certified dog trainers are asked by clients – how do I get reliable behaviors? There is no single answer to this question. One of the training methods for reliability that I incorporate very quickly when training pet dogs is using distractions as rewards.
A reward doesn’t reinforce a behavior unless the reward has value to the dog. A training reward is anything of value to the dog. Food, toys, treats, praise, and play are the most commonly used in dog training. Primarily because these rewards are easy for the handler to control.
The bane of any dog owner’s existence is the squirrel running up the tree, the cat streaking across the street, the stinky patch of overturned earth, deer poop…distractions, those things that keep your dog’s attention away from you and on the environment. The beautiful thing about dog training is that these 2 groups, distraction and reward, have a significant amount of overlap. The skill involved here? Targeting the distractions that are also rewards, then narrowing that pool to rewards that are controllable by the handler. If you’re interested in becoming a certified dog trainer, this is a valuable skill to develop.
Some simple and frequently used examples of distractions that are also used as rewards:
1. “Go sniff” that stinky patch of ground.
2. “Say hello” to that friendly person or dog.
3. “Go play” with that dog you just left alone when I called you to me.
Consider your daily walks, play time in the yard, and shared time in the house. What distractions can you use as rewards? If it’s safe, there is a way for you to control access to the distraction, and it’s something of value to your dog, you can make it into a reward!
You’ve decided your dog is ready to venture out into the world as your companion. If you’re uncertain if your dog is a good candidate for public excursions, read our blog post “Wallflower or Social Butterfly.”
1. Pick your venue.
Starbuck’s or Home Depot? Petsmart or the local boutique pet store? Choose a venue that has an amount of traffic, people and dogs, that you can expect your dog to tolerate well. Starbuck’s is high volume within a small space. Home Depot is a very large space with a thinner spread of people. Similarly, compare the traffic between Petsmart and a local boutique pet store. You can also expect to see more dogs at Petsmart than a Home Depot.
2. Refresh cues.
If I had to pick three cues to focus on in preparation of public outings, I would work on left side loose leash walking (LLW), place, and one of the following: recall, hand targeting, or leave-it. LLW allows me to get to where I’m going without interfering with others’ enjoyment of the space. Place allows my dog to relax in a place of my choosing while my attention is not completely focused on him. Recall, hand targeting, and leave-it can all be used to redirect and quickly maneuver your dog in a low stress manner.
3. Improve reliability.
Your dog is likely to be under some stress in a new environment. And there will be a number of distractions for which you may or may not have specifically trained. Working on the reliability of your dog’s cues is an important preparation step. You can begin to do this at home by adding in controllable distractions to your training.
4. Be prepared.
Poop bags, water and dish, a place mat, a stuffed kong, a chew – brainstorm what equipment you’ll need and pack it up! Bring plenty of training rewards with you. If your dog is a food reward dog, bring a few different varieties of high value treats and some lower value goodies. If your dog is a toy reward dog, bring several different toys. This will help if you need to do some refresher training on the fly.
5. Be a good neighbor.
Wherever you are, someone has made the decision to allow your dog to accompany you into that space. Thank them with courteous behavior and a well-mannered dog. Scoop your poop, only allow elimination in designated areas, keep your dog under control so as not to disturb other guests, and either don’t inconvenience the staff or tip accordingly if you do.
Whenever you venture out into the public arena, you’ll encounter a number of dog lovers, people who dislike or are afraid of dogs, and people who just don’t want to be bothered. A good outing leaves all of the above groups undisturbed, your dog confident and ready for another outing, and you looking forward to the next trip. With a little planning and preparation, you can make your next trip a good outing. And there is no better advertisement for a certified professional trainer, than clients whose dogs successfully navigate public venues.
Dogs are included more and more in their owners’ lives. Eating on restaurant patios, walking in the park, attending the farmer’s market, even grabbing a cup of coffee; these are all activities that owners can choose to share with their dogs. With the summer upon us, the number of opportunities for our canine companions to join our social calendar are even greater! As a certified professional dog trainer, you will need to help owners determine if their dog is ready for some of the activities they are planning. This post focuses on issues specific to public venues.
There are a number of challenges facing owners and their dogs as they venture out into the public, including new and strange people, environments and dogs. The first step in assisting your clients is to have a frank conversation with them about whether their dog is a wallflower or a social butterfly. These are broad categories within which not every dog will fit, but it allows you to start an important conversation about the ability of their dog to cope with meeting new people and dogs in unfamiliar environments.
Some of the highlights to cover with clients include the following:
Most venues will require dogs to be leashed, but many people fail to leash their dogs even when required by law. Frequently, owners’ perceptions of their own dog’s friendliness, or social skills, with other dogs is flawed. Off leash dogs may approach your dog. Owners with reactive, or even aggressive, dogs may allow their leashed dog to approach even when cautioned not to do so.
What this means for your client? Being able to recognize the body language signals being displayed by your dog and the unknown dog can help in making a decision about whether to allow interaction or to intercede and remove your dog. Dogs that are intolerant of any rude canine behavior will not fare well in public. A good percentage of dogs in public have poor social skills, poor training, or a combination of both, and you may not be able to prevent an interaction.
You can’t control strangers’ actions. Perhaps you don’t see the small child reaching for your dog, or an approaching stranger discounts your advice as they reach for your dog. Both very common occurrences in public forums, especially busy and densely populated areas.
What this means for your client?
Your dog may be touched or handled without your consent unless you are very diligent in watching who approaches your dog and are willing to intercede when persistent strangers continue to approach your dog after being asked not to. Be aware of what types of interaction your dog enjoys, tolerates, and dislikes, and keep this in mind when supervising interactions with strangers. If your dog is intolerant of strangers entering his space or touching him, then it is likely that only very limited public venues will be appropriate.
3. Car travel.
If your end destination is not within walking distance, that means a car ride. If your client’s dog gets car sick or simply dislikes car rides, pointing this out to clients will allow them to consider the state of mind of their dog on arrival.
What this means for your client?
Dogs that get car sick may need some time to recover before being expected to interact in a positive way with unknown dogs and people. Dogs that dislike car rides, especially dogs that become anxious, may also need a period of quiet recovery time after a car ride.
4. New environments.
Dog behavior changes in new places. There are greater distractions, increased stress from processing and experiencing the unknown. For dogs that are environmentally sensitive, these changes can be overwhelming.
What this means for your client?
The lovely greeting manners your dog has at home may not survive a trip to a new and exciting place. Your dog may not respond as quickly or reliably to cues. Be prepared for your dog to be on his worst behavior, but help him to be on his best.
Discussing each of the above topics with your client will help determine if their dog is a wallflower and happier pursuing activities in less public venues. Help your professional dog training clients to make choices that keep their dogs safe and happy. Read our next blog post, “Welcome to the World,” about some simple steps you can take to help prepare the social butterfly dog for public outings.
One of the requirements of a dog trainer is handling client inquiries regarding dog bites. As a certified dog trainer, you can choose to refer all dog bite clients to specialized experts or take a history and determine whether or not your client’s needs fall within your expertise. If you choose to handle dog bite cases, one of your first stops should be understanding the analysis of dog bites.
Read more about how to analyze dog bites on the blog post “Analyzing Dog Bites Rationally and Systematically.” http://buddyschance.typepad.com/positive_dog_training_blo/2012/02/analyzing-dog-bites-rationally-and-systematically.html
Additionally, Raising Canine also provides webinar offerings addressing assessment of aggression and dog bites as well as a DVD which includes information and resources for you to use when analyzing dog bites..
If you’re interested in becoming a certified dog trainer, then boning up on your mechanical skills is a must. One important skill is delivery of a reinforcer. Whether you’re luring, shaping, capturing, or modeling, you’re using some type of reinforcer to reward for desired behaviors. Is that reward always food? No, but when introducing new behaviors it increases the ease with which high numbers of repetitions can be completed, so that’s the reinforcer we’ll discuss here.
The following are some helpful tips for improving your delivery, in no particular order.
1. Small Pieces.
Start with the right kind of food. Small pieces work best – both for purposes of training and for delivery. With small pieces, you can hold more than 1 piece in your hand and quickly feed out piece after piece. Additionally, your dog doesn’t get full, which will decrease the value of the reinforce.
2. Easy Reload.
Have your treats readily available so that you can reload your delivery hand. Treat pouches can work, although I don’t like using a pouch for more advanced training. See our blog post “Creating The Perfect Picture” for reasons why.
3. Where you deliver matters.
The placement of the food reward has value for your dog. For example, if you’re teaching heel and marking correct heel position with a clicker but consistently rewarding a position forward of heel, you may create forging. The most common example I see in pet manners classes is rewarding for the sit or down when the dog is no longer in that position.
Your goal is to create a clear consequence – delivery of the reward – for a desired behavior. The time between the behavior and the consequence should be very brief so as to not allow an intervening event. There is some discussion as to the maximum amount of time that can elapse before the dog no longer associates the reward with the behavior, but under 3 seconds is preferred and less time is better.
5. Fluid delivery.
Fumbling and excessive movement only distracts from the clear relationship you’re trying to create in your dog’s mind between the behavior you like and the reward. Since placement is important, plan to practice delivery with both hands to improve fluidity with both right and left hand delivery.
For more information on improving your mechanical skills, check out our blog post “Advanced Dog Training Skills: Do Pet Dog Trainers Need Advanced Dog Training Skills?” Also, look for more posts focusing on skills practice!
As a certified dog trainer, you’ll read about interpreting canine body language. You’ll watch video clips, monitor group play, and take every opportunity to observe how dog’s interact with each other and their people. With all of that practice and education, you’ll never come close to the observational skills of the average canine. How does that impact your daily training? Be aware that when you’re dog training, your dog is people observing.
Give Your Dog Something to Watch
Being consistent in the various cues that you’re providing can help you to clearly communicate with your dog. Some of the cues that we, as handlers, provide to dogs and may not be aware of include the following:
1. Posture, including the orientation of your shoulders.
2. Eye contact, including direct eye contact or targeting with your eyes.
3. Facial expression. Dogs that spend time around people can interpret facial expressions very well, so if you’re happy with your dog – smile!
4. Treat pouches. Visible signs of training, like treat pouches, special clothes (a police or SAR uniform, for example), or training gear (like a specialized harness or collar), can become a part of your training picture, just like body language.
5. Gait. The length of your stride or even the way you walk can be a cue. Ask anyone who has trained their dog to heel and then suffers a gait altering injury. Your gimpy knee makes your body language very different.
6. Placement of hands or feet. Hands at your side or your waist, feet pointing forward or creating a V shape.
While it may not be possible to create the perfect picture, as a professional dog trainer you can be aware that your body language creates a picture that becomes a part of your cues. In being aware, you can begin to knowingly incorporate posture, eye contact, facial expressions, and other nonverbal cues into your training.