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.
This is a short, no-bull and unbiased comparison of each approach. I hate close minded thinking, in part because I have to guard myself from that way of thinking since it's so easy to fall into.
Both "balanced trainers" and "force free" trainers are very guilty of name calling, finger pointing and shaming. I myself have been guilty of this on my page when I felt strongly about a certain trainer.
I honestly don't think people intentionally go in the dog training field just so they can engage in constant arguments. The close mindedness comes from a good place, at least in the beginning. Later, people just argue to win, not to see the other person's point of view.
Dog training is an interesting field to be in because the differences in temperament and personalities of each dog, combined with the different specialties in the dog training field, demand a wide array of approaches from dog trainers. This easily leads to the mentality of "I've found that this is the best way to do x,y and z..." which can lead to "This is the only way it should be done..."
Here I will lay out a short comparison of each dog training approach:
FORCE-FREE DOG TRAINING
This approach on dog training is very positive reinforcement based. There are truly knowledgeable people on this side but unfortunately the majority of trainers on this side just slap the label on them without fully understanding the principles of this side of the quadrant.
Force-free training or Purely positive training, operates under two quadrants. Positive Reinforcement and Negative Punishment. That's right, I said negative punishment. This means the dog loses a privilege, or the opportunity for a reward is lost as a direct consequence of a behavior you want to stop or reduce the rate of.
Force-free/Purely-positive training is not wrong! Positive reinforcement works great! So does Negative punishment. The intentions come from a good place. Most trainers start here because it has a great emotional appeal to us as dog owners.
Here is a list of situations in which Purely-positive training is a great approach:
-Teaching new behaviors on dogs of all ages
-Enhancing old behaviors on dogs of all ages
-Working with dogs that have physical ailments or handicaps overcome certain obstacles
-Teaching fast and accurate responses while maintaining a good attitude
Trainers on this side of the spectrum are unfortunately constantly chastising owners and dog trainers who don't agree with their way of training dogs. They are quick to call anyone who doesn't agree with them, ignorant and abusive. That's not to say every Force-free trainer conducts themselves this way, but a lot of them do.
This approach of dog training can be more hands on. Unfortunately, there really aren't a lot of knowledgeable dog trainers on this side of the spectrum. A lot of people who consider themselves balanced dog trainers aren't really balanced, they're just a bunch of crank-and-yankers who use praise as positive reinforcement because for some odd reason, they believe using food is bad.
Ideally, a balanced trainer operates with all 4 parts of the quadrants. Positive and Negative reinforcement as well as Positive and Negative punishment. They are all different and yes, they are scientific approaches since these terms were not coined by dog trainers but by scientists. As stated earlier, unfortunately many so called balanced trainers don't know their rears from their treat pouches. These people are the ignorant ones Purely-positive trainers refer to when they point the finger at the Balanced approach. These uneducated Balanced trainers give the rest of us bad names and soil our reputation.
The list of things a Balanced approach is good for are the following:
-Teaching new behaviors and enhancing known behaviors (Through the use of Positive Reinforcement)
-When using gentle leaders and no-pull harness (Contrary to popular belief, these tools operate under Negative reinforcement, which as we know, doesn't have to be scary or painful)
-When poison proofing or doing snake avoidance training (Which can ONLY be done through the use of Positive, unconditioned punishment. Whoever says otherwise is either lying or completely ignorant to this type of training)
-When crittering, or "cat proofing" a dog with high predatory aggression towards small animals (Counter conditioning and desensitization here is futile since the dog doesn't want to create space, but rather the opposite)
-When teaching boundaries (Through the use of all 4 quadrants)
-When helping dogs with disabilities or handicaps overcome obstacles (Through the use of Positive and Negative reinforcement [no-pull harnesses or gentle leaders])
-When teaching fast and accurate responses (Through the use of all four quadrants)
Overall, I would like to remind everyone that dog training should NEVER be about winning arguments or picking sides. It should always be about the dog and the family who owns the dog in need of help.
Don't be arrogant and please realize that there are things you don't know. You'll be better off listening to someone else's side of the story and making your judgement on that rather than quickly assuming the other person is just WRONG. Yes, sometimes the other person is just wrong, I know.
That dog is just a good dog.
My dog is stupid.
He's just stubborn.
She has always done this.
That behavior came out of nowhere.
And my favorite... He's being protective.
What is obedience?
The best kind of obedience is the kind the DOG chooses.
What do I mean by that? I certainly don't mean that Mr. Barksalot gets to pick and choose which commands he listens to, when he'll listen, and for how long. No, no. And I also don't consider micromanaging (e.g., tight leash to hold a dog at heel), begging (sit... SIT... siiiiiiiit... staaaaayyy... no, siiiiiiit...), or body language (blocking a dog's path till he gives up, etc.) to be obedience.
So what do I mean, "the dog chooses?"
Imagine a world where there are rules. Every choice, every action, has a consequence. Depending on the choice, that consequence could be awesome, or uncomfortable. Every situation provides opportunity for a choice. Every moment is a Y in the road. (Though one side of that Y will always eventually lead back to the right direction--I'll be sure of that.)
This world MAKES SENSE to a dog. There is no guessing, no anarchy, no confusion due to lack of feedback. This world is rampant with clear communication--which is great! Even when the wrong choice is made, the subsequent discomfort proves to the dog that the world still has order.
True obedience is teaching the dog that every command he learns has an implied choice. No correction (uncomfortable consequence) is given until the "crime" is committed. Rewards, comfort, and other great things are ensured for correct choices. Wrong choices are never ignored (ignoring wrong choices allows the opportunity for that choice to be self-rewarding; consider counter-surfing--no dog will stop counter-surfing simply because we ignore the unwanted behavior). But right choices can't go unacknowledged either! True obedience requires dedicated consistency from the handler/trainer/owner. True obedience, lasting obedience, is the result of clear, predictable, consistent communication.
Dogs are similar to people in a lot of ways. This is why humans and dogs connect so well. One of those similarities is that dogs instinctively act in their own self-interest. If I, the human, build a world for my dog that makes his self-interest synonymous with desired behavior (per the rules of that world), I will have a well-behaved, obedient, and happy dog.
Obedience should be always. Obedience should be no-matter-what. Obedience should be RELIABLE. Which means I need to be always, no-matter-what, and reliable.
Written by the page manager of:
As a dog trainer your job is more than just teaching a few tricks. You're an investigator, a counselor and problem solver among other things. At least I hope that's what we aim for.
Part of being a problem solver is identifying all possible variables that are preventing the dog to live and learn to its fullest potential. You're also working with people, so as an additional bonus you get to be a coach and sometimes even a marriage counselor.
There are a few things that will make you a better dog trainer. These things are primarily KNOWLEDGE and EXPERIENCE. Enough can't be said of how important these two things are. If you're fairly new to dog training, don't be alarmed, it'll come with persistence and patience.
I want to add another thing that WILL make you a better dog trainer however. And that is TAKING RESPONSIBILITY.
Here's what I mean:
"I don't know know what's wrong with the dog."
"The owners are obviously making this harder for me, they don't cooperate."
"This dog already has too much of a learning history with these behaviors, we can only do so much."
"You can't save every dog. This is probably one of those cases we can't fix."
"It was the previous trainer who messed this up. Now I have to deal with his mess."
If any of these sound familiar it means you've been in the field long enough to recognize this language either from you or your peers.
Now don't get me wrong! I find myself saying these things too! it's part of being a dog trainer. You need to be realistic about the case and client you're working with. The above sentences are not wrong.
Here's what happens though if you're not careful. You eventually form an attachment to those lines if you don't watch it. Once you do, it's harder to think creatively because we focus too much of our energy on why the problem is the way it is. Kind of like an overweight person who says: "I'm big boned."; "It runs in my family." Or a jerk who says things like: "This is me, that's how I am."; "I'm just very blunt." All these things may be true but if they attach themselves to those sentences it will stop them from trying to fix the problem, right? You can be blunt and polite, you can be big boned and fit.
It's the same trap for dog trainers.
*You don't know what's wrong with the dog? Well, try your best! We don't always know why dogs do what they do. It's unrealistic to expect to know every detail of every dog we're going to work with, or why they do what they do.
*Are the owners not cooperating? work on your communication skills! Learn to talk TO people, not AT people. The problem is not always the owners. More often than not, it's how we communicate with them. "But how do I improve my communication skills?" Read! take classes at your local library! find a group of people that can help you with this. Dale Carnegie and John Maxwell have excellent books on communication and leadership. Check them out!
*Is there too much of a "learning or reward history" with the wrong behaviors? Well, what will change it! What can you do to improve on that? Are you going to have to take a longer approach? are you going to have to communicate this to the clients? Older dogs can learn new tricks you know. It doesn't matter how long of a learning history this dog has, you have to do what you can to help this owner and his/her dog.
*"You can't save every dog." You're absolutely correct! Some dogs are just way too far gone. This however doesn't apply to most dogs. This is a small group of dogs you're going to encounter working with clients. You can't fix it? Ok, how can you make it BETTER? If you can't fix it, don't focus on "I can't fix it." Focus on "How can I make it BETTER?"
*"It was the previous trainer, I don't know what he/she did and now we have to undo everything." Well guess what? That trainer is no longer working with that dog. You are! It's on you now, not the previous trainer. It's your dog, your client, your case. Whatever shit sandwich the previous trainer made for you, you now have to eat and ask for seconds. But you do it because in the end you're passionate about what you do. You can point the finger at the previous trainer, the owner, etc. You can point the finger all you want. At the end of the day it's your responsibility to help this dog and this client any way you can.
Taking responsibility will help you think creatively, trust me! I've had to force myself to stop saying things like "It's genetics"; "that dog is just not thinking". By telling yourself that none of that matters and that you have to take care of things you put yourself in the mindset of "How can I make this better?", "What can I do right now with what I have?"
It's small, but it will help you!
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.