Dog Trainer...a Misleading Job Description

I love being dog trainer. It is not what I had planned to be. In fact, the thought never even occurred to me until just before I became a dog trainer. My childhood friends and my family are still a little shocked about the professional path I’ve chosen…none of them saw it coming.

I think what confuses them is the “dog” part of the equation. Without that, the rest of it makes perfect sense. Believe it or not, dogs are actually only a small fraction of what makes a dog training career. In fact, I know excellent dog trainers who don’t particularly like any other dogs than their own. I also know dog trainers who don’t like people very much, but love dogs…and I have to say they just aren’t as good at it.

You see, dog training…the kind where you are teaching people how to train their dogs…requires tremendous people skills, an interest in human as well as dog behavior and an intense desire to communicate with other humans.

Give me any one of my training classes, send the humans home, give me a few days and I can have their dogs doing things it will take the owners weeks to teach. That is not, in my opinion, what makes me a good trainer. I would expect anyone teaching training classes to be able to train a dog faster than a non-professional. That is not the point.

Bring the humans back and teach THEM how to train their dogs and you have yourself a challenge! This is where the fun starts if you love dog training! Each person is an individual, each dog is an individual, and each team has its own dynamics that have to be understood. Along with those unique dynamics we have a myriad of emotions, learning styles, communication styles, physical styles, roadblocks and special talents. A dog trainer’s job is to unravel all of that and make it work for the owner and dog. Truly exciting stuff!

So, when friends and family say to me, “I never would have figured you’d end up a dog trainer,” it’s because they don’t understand what I really do for a living. Otherwise it would make perfect sense.

Since childhood, I had a deep fascination with the inner-workings of other people. I wanted to figure them out, know what it was like to be them, experience the world from other perspectives and break out of my own experience. I learned that this is an impossible dream, but that it was possible to understand and respect the views of others, thereby communicating with them more effectively.

I thought I wanted to be a teacher, then a nurse. I worked in several nursing homes and loved it. I ended up getting a minor degree in Journalism and began working on a degree in Communications. Life side-tracked me from formal education, but I did continue to work in corporate sales, community action work, volunteer coordinating, waitressing (my all time favorite job!) and many other positions that relied heavily on figuring out how to communicate with and motivate different kinds of people. Additionally, I grew up in a highly dysfunctional family that required a great degree of reading behavior in order to survive!

(Are you picking up the theme here?)

As a child, I never had a dog. They weren’t allowed. I didn’t train a dog until I was well into adulthood. I will admit that I was afraid I didn’t have what it would take to be a dog trainer. However, I soon found that dog training involved more communication with people than any other job I’d ever had!

Dog training involves dealing with human frustration, confusion, anger, joy, fear and many other emotions that enter into the human/animal relationship. Dog trainers are often called in at a time of crisis and must be able to calm people, give them hope and sometimes give them heartbreaking news. Sometimes we have to put our own frustration aside, lower our expectations, stretch our morals and accept that some owners are never going to do for their dogs what we feel the dog deserves.

All of this requires a great deal of love for people. So, when I hear trainers say that they chose to become dog trainers because they prefer dogs to people; I have to wonder just how that’s working out for them. Maybe they are only working with dogs who don’t have people, I don’t know.

Personally, I couldn’t do this job if I wasn’t fascinated by human behavior, learning and communication. My great joy is transferring knowledge, skill and success from my brain and hands to the brains and hands of my human clients. It’s exhilarating!! Sure I have to know as much as possible about dogs, but that knowledge is useless if I don’t have the skills to communicate it to the dog’s owner.

So, if you think you might want to be a dog trainer, give some serious thought to how you feel about people. If you can’t train them, the dogs are out of luck.