The Importance of “Paying it Forward” – Mentoring New Trainers

 

Out of the blue one day I was contacted by a professional dog training company to see if I was willing to become a “mentor trainer” for them. I have to admit, at first I did not jump at the opportunity.  My first thought was, “Why would I want to do that? Why would I want to share what I know with someone else just so they can compete with me?” I let those thoughts roll around in my head for a while, but something about them didn’t feel right.  After all, where would most of us be without the intellectual generosity of Dr. Ian Dunbar, Kathy Sdao, Jean Donaldson, Pat Miller, Karen Pryor, Suzanne Clothier, Sue Sternberg and many, many more?

Becoming a “dog trainer” is a journey of millions of steps. Many of us are largely “self-taught” using the curriculum laid out by the ADPT and CCPDT. Out of sheer passion we read, observed and trained family pets until we could put the experience and knowledge we’d gained to use in a wider setting, and it takes years.  There are also various dog training schools people can attend to learn about training and launch their careers.  Either way, in a world where anyone can print up business cards and call themselves a “Dog Trainer,” isn’t it better to stack the deck in favor of positive, educated instructors?  Isn’t it better for the greater good of dogs to have educated, passionate people using science and learning theory to train dogs and not antiquated caveman techniques? At some point, it’s time to get over yourself, you can’t train them all.

My experience as a mentor trainer has been wonderful and eye-opening for me. I’ve had students who helped me a lot in my group classes, and they were truly an asset.  It’s always nice to have an extra set of eyes out there to seize teachable moments and help prevent disaster! The increased opportunity for one-on-one attention was a benefit to my clients as well. Another thought is, not every student wants to start their own dog training business to “compete” with you either. One of my students has gone on to work for the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation, and another student is very happily working for a dog walking/pet sitting company with her newfound dog savvy.

The hands-on opportunity to learn from someone who knows a little bit more than you do about a subject is really invaluable; it’s something that you can’t get from book learning. Similarly, mentoring like-minded dog lovers who want to pursue their dream of working with dogs in some capacity reconnects you with our collective energy. If we are trying to further the progressive knowledge of our profession, teaching humane ways to train dogs, then we should seize opportunities to get in the game and be part of the solution.

When it comes to giving dogs happier lives free of unnecessary “punishment” inflicted in the name of “training,” we’re all in this together. Personally I’m just giddy about my next opportunity to attend a seminar or workshop given by someone who knows much more than me…