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The trainer you just hired is not a super hero.


Who is your trainer?

When first hiring a trainer it is common to think that they can speak, or whisper, to animals in ways that the guardian cannot (i.e. the dog whisperer). In fact, I have gotten that 'compliment' many times.

The trainer you just hired does have an advanced knowledge of applied animal behavior and learning theory, but they are not a super hero. There is no such thing as Captain Planet, or any other super-human android that can befriend all species and command automatic obedience. In fact, aside from our knowledge there is nothing special about a trainer that should make your dog like this person more than anyone else off the street.

What to expect during your first few training sessions

Establishing a foundation of trust and positive experiences between the trainer and the dog is imperative to a successful training relationship.

Think back to when you were in school. Did work start on the first day or did the teacher take a day or two to warm up with some more gentle exercises, like getting to know each other and organizational paperwork? This is also how training works.

When walking into a new home a trainer is just like anyone else, a novel stimulus for a dog to explore. Therefore, like the teacher bonding with her students on the first day of class, I spend time bonding with the dog during the first few sessions. During these sessions I focus on positive reinforcement specific to that dog, whether it be games, physical contact, or food treats.

During the first and second session I will begin to integrate basic commands into our interactions, making sure to heavily reward the dog for obeying my, a stranger's, command. This establishes a level of respect between the two parties.

After a positive foundation has been created a trainer will then feel comfortable addressing your concerns with the dog's behavior.

What not to expect during your first few training sessions

Now imagine a stranger walking into your house and giving you demands. You have never met this person and they have not so much as introduced themselves properly before barking orders at you and trying to change your behavior. How would you respond?

That is exactly how your dog might respond, also, which is one of many reasons why trainers do not take this approach.

I have never walked into a client's home on day one and started behavioral modification training, nor would I. This situation does not provide an environment for respect and trust, nor allow for positive bonding to occur.

Some things that might surprise you

1. Sometimes your dog will not fall in love with us right away - All of my clients love me. Ok, this is not true. I have many that are crazy about me, but that makes sense... I'm the lady with the treats. But, I have some clients that are just lukewarm about me. It's ok, it all comes down to the personalities of our dogs and our people. Some dogs just aren't fans of some people, and that is ok. Other times it takes a dog a while to warm up to me. In these cases we use systematic desensitization to cure a shy dog of their shyness.

2. Your dog will not always listen to us, every time - This is my favorite part of being a trainer because I know exactly how to handle a disobedient dog - you simply turn around and ignore them. The client on the other hand becomes apologetic, upset, frantic at times. Let me tell you, it is ok. We know how to handle a dog that has decided it does not want to listen. First we have to identify why it is being disobedient or losing interest, then we respond to it's behavior appropriately. But after much training your dog's behavior will come under proper stimulus control, meaning that it will sit when given the "sit" command.

3. We cannot whisper or talk to animals - Understanding animal behavior, signals, and learning and being able to apply it to everyday life may seem like a super power to many, but I promise we are not super heroes. Trainers are people that have studied and worked hard to notice the smallest changes in a dog's facial muscles to know whether it is anxious, fearful, or relaxed when we are working with it on an exercise. In that regard you could say that they whisper to us, but we definitely do not whisper to them.

Signed,

Captain Planet.... OOps

Dr. Jessica Owens

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