There are so many dog trainers that start off with the right mindset only to eventually get burned out and QUIT.
"Not me! Dog Training is my Passion". No trust me, it can and it WILL happen to you, the trick is to be able to see it before it gets too out of hand.
Before I give you some tips, you have to remember that your brain is wired to create shortcuts. This is why a difficult task eventually becomes second nature if practiced enough. It's too exhausting so you naturally have the ability to go on autopilot. Your subconscious takes over and before you know it you don't have to put that much mental effort into a task that once seemed incredibly difficult.
Let's face it, despite the appeal of training dogs and working with animals, dog training can be very monotonous. Eventually it can seem like you're just stuck and all you're doing is teaching the same thing again and again. Sometimes it's work.
Remember why you started.
There are a number of reasons you decided to become a dog trainer, but there's one in particular that made you take that leap. Go back to that reason(s) and let that reason drive you when dog training starts to seem like a chore.
For many of us that reason was "I hate what I do, I want to work with animals". So remember what you used to do and realize that even though this industry has its downs, it still beats stocking boxes on a shelf or working in a cubicle.
Another thing you can do is realize what your life would be like if you didn't train dogs. What would you do? would it mean you'd have to go back to that job that doesn't fulfill you?
I've found that going back to this as a way to motivate me has helped me many times when dog training feels like a chore.
Take on a hobby!
Seriously if you don't take time off, you're gonna burn yourself out. I don't care how much you love to train dogs, you have to take time and focus on yourself. This will allow you to reset and come back fresh. But it's necessary!
Imagine your favorite dish! or dessert. Now imagine you have to eat that every single day, 3 times per day. You probably wouldn't last more than a few days before you got sick and tired of your favorite dish. So please take time off.
Here are some things you can do:
You can start a workout regimen and set fitness goals.
You can go shooting once per week or once a month.
You can pursue something new on the side (a new language, study a new subject, etc.)
You can plan vacations months or weeks in advance (doesn't have to be a long vacation, it can be a whole day where you just go on a hike, camping, etc.)
You could do a combination of these.
There have been times in my career where I felt every dog acted and looked the same because I was literally training dog after dog, all day long.
What helped me here was to set goals. I told myself things like: "I have to learn something new from this next dog", "Next training session I will be more creative on my approach", "Next month I will read this many books on dog training".
By setting goals you're getting your brain out of that routine pattern. You're actually telling your brain to go look for new things.
I realize this isn't really a tip, it's more of an option I'm giving you. It's OK to move on. You don't have to train dogs if you feel this no longer fulfills you. Maybe you gave it a try and you found out cleaning dog poop off the ground from time to time isn't your thing.
Maybe the risk of getting bit here and there isn't something you're willing to live with. This is all OK, you can move on. No one cares, you need to do what you feel is best for you.
A WORD OF CAUTION. What you don't want to do is quit. Everyone gets tired, everyone gets bored. The going gets tough in EVERY industry and EVERY professional field. If you ask anyone who has accomplished anything or anyone who is very happy with their career choice you'll see that they too had tough times and that there were many times they wanted to quit. I myself have felt this way a handful of times.
What you don't want to do is quit during these times because what will end up happening is you'll take that quitting attitude to the next phase in your life. You'll do something else, you'll get bored and you'll quit again. So be careful with this.
Only move on if you feel like this truly doesn't fulfill you. If you don't see yourself doing this long term and there are things you truly feel more compelled doing. In other words, if you already have something in sight that you know will make all the difference in your life and it has nothing to do with dog training, then yes, it's time to move on.
If you simply are tired, exhausted and bored and feel like you just want to stop, that's not moving on, that's quitting.
What would be the one thing that will make you a better dog trainer this year, this month, this week, or even this very day?
Everyone is familiar with "New Year's" resolutions, new year-new me. A lot of people like to rag on people who do this because most people fall off the wagon.
So what I did this year is rather than write a resolution, which by the way I haven't done in years as I also find it invaluable, I instead wrote a letter to 2018. This actually got me riled up.
Have you ever written a letter to someone? a charged up letter? Like an EFF-YOU letter? That's pretty much what I did. It helped me at least.
So without further ado, I'll list some things that can make you a better dog trainer this year!
OPEN YOUR MIND:
Yes, just open your mind. I know it sounds trivial but becoming a better dog trainer is as simple as seeing different views other than your own.
This means reading and looking into material that you're NOT familiar with. Even if the thought of it makes you slightly uncomfortable.
Simply put, if you are a die hard Purely Positive trainer, read material written by Balanced Trainers, maybe actually "talk" to some of these balanced trainers. You'd be surprised at how many dog trainers are actually willing to talk if you ask with an open mind.
Same on the flip side! If you're a Balanced trainer, read some material written by a Purely Positive author. As a Balanced trainer you may tell yourself "But I started as a Purely Positive Trainer". True, you may have already been exposed to that and decided there's more to just using two sides of the quadrant, but the perspective or refresher that some of these trainers offer can be valuable. I've found myself reading and watching material from Purely Positive trainers that made me go "hm, interesting", because you can learn or remember a bunch of things.
Even if you think "If I do read or watch material from X,Y,Z trainers, I know 90% of it will be BS". GREAT!! That means there's 10% of good info that can make you better.
CAUTION: This caution will be a bit of a contradiction to what I just said. But there are things I will just not look at. Material from trainers who have consistently proven to be incompetent. It takes experience to be able to discern this and you would know who is incompetent by actually watching or reading some of their material. So technically, you still want to be open minded and explore methods and trainers you're not familiar with, if anything, at least to be able to say "I don't like him/her".
DECIDE TO BE BETTER:
I know this sounds very Tony-Robbins like but it's imperative that you don't just expect to be better by accumulating years under your belt. I used to think that a while ago but I can't tell you how many times I've met dog trainers who have had years of experience who were absolutely clueless!! These people talk about their experience like it's a badge, and it's NOT! Some of the dumbest things I've seen and heard came from people with "Years of Experience".
Basically, going through the motions again and again will NOT make you a better dog trainer. You actually have to WANT to be better. You have to TRY to be better. You have to DECIDE to be better. You have to ACT on that decision and BE better. This means approaching EVERY training session as if it's your first and your last training session rather than just looking at it as "just another dog".
As dog trainers, it's easy to get caught up in the "I have no time to train my dogs" lie.
We have dogs to train, clients to talk to, businesses to market and e-mails to send. We barely have enough time to train our clients' dogs, that it's easy to just forget to do a training session with our own. Before you know it, your own dog is blowing you off, your demos are not as smooth and the reliability of your own dog becomes questionable.
Another problem that arises when you don't have enough hours in the day is that you may run the risk of not training your client's dogs by the end of the day.
We know that everyone has 24 hours in a day. What you choose to do with them is what makes the difference. I'm not talking about working till late hours of the night and getting up at the crack of dawn (although it wouldn't be a bad idea), I'm talking about managing those few hours here and there, those 15 minutes here and there that add up, I'm talking about multi-tasking.
I wont bore you with more "Use your time wisely" crap. I'll get right to the point. You don't have to be a hard-working overachiever, you can still take breaks and you can still enjoy time off and be done when you're done. My experience with time management range from working about 5 to 10 dogs plus private lessons and consults to training upwards of 30 to 60 dogs, in some occasions by myself.
Here are some strategies that have helped me when I trained dogs from my home and for someone else.
With this type of schedule you're actually training throughout the day. This is only ideal if you work for yourself. It can work great if you get bored easy or your attention span isn't that great. I preferred this method myself when I trained dogs from my home.
The way splitting works is by training, taking a break, train again for a few hours, take another break to run personal errands or just rest, then train again.
This strategy may seem unorganized at first, but make no mistake, it's intense and you have to hold yourself accountable. You have to set deadlines, give yourself timelines and stick to those times.
Here's an example of what splitting can look like:
*6:00-9:00AM Train dogs and/or send e-mails or talk to clients
*12:00PM-3:00PM Train dogs and/or send e-mails or talk to clients
*6:00-9:00PM Train dogs and/or send e-mails or talk to clients
Obviously, this is just an example that may have to be adjusted according to how many dogs you're training, how many private lessons you have scheduled, etc. The example above gave you 9 hours of training and fulfilling your duties as dog trainer. You would schedule appointments for those times and calls for those times. You really need to stick to your breaks because it may be easy and tempting to get things done then but you can only do that so much before you burn yourself out and become miserable. You may have to train more or maybe even less depending on your workload.
With Lumping, you're working a set number of hours pretty much non-stop. Once done, you take the rest of the day off. If you're working for someone else, this is probably the schedule you're sticking to.
If you are working for yourself you can still follow the lumping schedule. It's easy to burn yourself out if you don't watch it though and you need to remember that at some point you should pull the plug and call it a night. Otherwise you will burn yourself out fast. As stated before, you should schedule appointments and phone calls for that time if you can help it, not after you're done.
Additional tips for getting as much done as possible:
_Run! No I mean it.
Literally run! When I worked between 30 to 60 dogs, sometimes all by myself I trained every single dog in that kennel. I was expected to to do so and I could not live with myself I a dog missed a day of training. So I ran. I would run to a kennel, get the dog, run to the training area, train the dog, run back to the kennel and get the next dog. I took breaks but I got a lot done. I was exhausted by the end of the day but I was satisfied that every dog had been trained at least once if not more.
You can actually train more than one dog at a time. What I used to do when I trained dogs for myself was train more that one dog at a time. The dogs that have advanced obedience can practice their down-stays/sit-stays/place-stays while the newer dogs can work on basic commands. "Well, what do you do if one of the dogs leaves the stay exercise?" You can back-tie the dogs doing the stays as a safety net while they're on place or down with no tension on the leash. I also have a crate nearby so that if I to tend or physically help the other dog, I can just put the dog I'm working with in the crate while I help the dog on the stay.
This is also a good way to train your dog as your client's dog's get trained. I used those sessions for client's dogs as valuable opportunities to work on my dog's stays (Distance, Duration and Distraction)
_Train during mealtime.
Dogs have to eat at least once a day, right? for my personal dogs, they were training sessions. My dogs ate twice a day and these were opportunities for my dogs to earn their meal as well as doing a training session.
_Get up an hour earlier and/or go to sleep an hour later.
If you're overwhelmed with clients and dogs, don't fret, you can still make things work. Here's a strategy that works great. Get up a bit earlier. It could be an hour or an extra two or three hours earlier. Why in the world would you want to do that? because if your day starts a couple of hours earlier, these are times when you don't have to worry about the daily distractions of your family or clients because chances are they're sleeping, so you can get a full hour or two or three of non-stop, uninterrupted training.
If you get up an hour earlier and go to sleep an hour later, that's an additional 2 hours you have to get things done.
The biggest problem with time management is discipline, not lack of time. It's one of those things that require constant work on our parts to ensure we are getting the most out of our day.
Training is the easy part. Hell, finding the motivation to train is easy too. It's the daily grind and bills and the headaches, you name it. All those things get in the way when it comes to training your dog, or your clients' dogs.
As fun as dog training is, you have to admit, it can get pretty boring at times. It can lose its touch after a few weeks, a few months, or if you're that insane, after a few years. But no one tells you this when you embark on this journey we call dog training.
Gradually we desensitize ourselves to this awesome lifestyle and it's why a lot of people move on. As a dog training instructor I see this first hand with graduates from our program. I'd say about half of them if not less will keep training dogs after a year or so. Some will start training part time and eventually not train at all. If that's what they choose is best for their lives, hey that's awesome! You should find something that pulls you, not something you have to push yourself to do. For a lot of people dog training is just a chapter in their lives and I'm happy with that as long as they're happy with that themselves.
But assuming you're still interested in this field, I know you will have those days in which you don't quite feel like training that dog. Or days in which you'll ask yourself if you can get by with less training than the day before. You'll find ways to shortcut here and there. You might even ask yourself if you made the right choice.
Here's what you NEED to do!
1)Remember why you're doing this!
There was a time you looked at this in awe, am I right? Yeah, you thought to yourself, "Man, that'd be awesome to have a job like that where you just work with dogs all day." There was a time you were not happy with the "JOB" you had. It was stale and there was no growth, there was no newer skill that would make you a better person. There was no connection, no passion and you felt stuck.
One of the best ways to rekindle the passion is simply to remember what life was like before you had what you now take for granted. That will give you a nice sense of gratitude that can be very refreshing.
2)Find a hobby!
That's right! find something that momentarily takes you away from dog training. You really need it and chances are you don't realize how much you need it. I don't care how much you love apple pies, if I feed you apple pies three times a day, seven days a week, you will get sick and tired of eating apple pies! Have you ever done that when you were a kid? Isn't there a dish that you ate too much of that once you loved and at one point the thought of it made you sick because you ate it too much? I know we've all overplayed that one song we loved to the point we didn't want to hear it again.
It's the same thing with dog training. It's great! it's awesome! But you have to take a break! You have to stop and smell the roses from time to time. Doing so will give you something to look forward to, which in return will make you look forward to training dogs again.
The hobbies can be as simple as giving yourself a few hours every day where you do something that is not related to dog training at all! Or at least a few hours a week. You could start a workout regimen, start doing martial arts, painting, taking an improv. class once a week or go hiking on weekends. Or at the very least doing something exclusively for you once a month.
Trust me, you need to do this. You may not feel like you do at this moment, but you need it. If you don't, what will happen is you'll begin to dread this life-style and soon it will become the very lifestyle you once dreaded. Your quality will go down, which will make your clients or boss unhappy, which will then affect you even more, which will make you dread dog training even more. There's no winning for anyone.
Here's another thing that has helped me:
I will actually challenge myself to teach my dog to do something difficult even if it takes me several months to accomplish. This gives me a purpose and a reason to approach every training session with enthusiasm. If you work with clients you can do something similar. Make it a point to learn something new with every client. Give yourself a deadline where you tell yourself: "In two months, I expect to be this type of trainer....., or gain this type of skill....., or have gone to this seminar...., or to have read this many books...."
Having a constant goal in mind will make you look forward to training sessions instead of dreading them.
In closing I beg you to take a moment to assess your situation and take the appropriate steps to ensure you're the most passionate dog trainer you can be. The world needs dog trainers who are eager and hungry to learn and progress.