How Successful Trainers Work Within Your Dog’s Limits
June 01, 2016
Life With a “Difficult” Dog
If you’re the owner of a reactive, anxious, or fearful dog then you’ve probably at some point hired a trainer. Or you’ve at least thought about it. Daily life for you stressful. From the minute you wake up you’re thinking about how you’ll be able to safely walk your dog, or you’re worried about the weather in case it thunders, or you’re terrified that an off leash dog might rush up out of nowhere and upset the precarious progress you’ve made.
Because life can be just so damn complicated for owners of challenging dogs, they inevitably want their trainer to have a glimpse into just exactly what it can be like. When I go into their homes and sit down to chat their first question is, “Should I show you what usually happens?”.
The short answer? No.
We Don’t Want to See Your Dog Freak Out.
The really good, intuitive trainers understand that when your dog has an aggressive episode, or when he becomes so fearful that he wants to hide under the coffee table, that there’s a lot more going on that just what you can see. Your dog is experiencing extreme amounts of stress. His body is flooded with stress hormones and it can take days for him to come down from an experience like that. Once his system has been hit with that sort of overload, teaching him anything is next to impossible. Not only is it unfair to push him to his limit, but it also damages his trust in me. I want him to associate me with calm, with treats, and with respectfulness.
“Can you imagine if your doctor refused to treat you because he wanted you to get as sick as possible so that he could prove his medical prowess?”
Sometimes it makes more sense if you think of it in terms of other professions. Can you imagine if your doctor refused to treat you because he wanted you to get as sick as possible so that he could prove his medical prowess? Or if your therapist pushed you into a panic attack so that she could see exactly what you look like when you’ve lost it? As trainers we’ve seen what it looks like when dogs attack each other, believe me. And, no, it’s not something we would ever provoke if we can help it.
Slow, Steady Progress.
When you hire a responsible trainer he or she will have done her homework. She will take a thorough history either over the phone or through a questionnaire. From the minute you begin your work with her the goal should be to never again witness an incident from your dog, whether it’s in session or not. She will carefully and slowly expose your dog to his triggers at a pace that he can handle and in a way that doesn’t risk anyone’s safety-dog or human.
So no, I don’t need to see what happens when your dog tries to bite the mailman. I like him too much to do that to him (your dog I mean, not that the mailman isn’t a great guy). If we do slip up and push your beloved pet past his threshold then we dust ourselves off, consider it a learning experience, and try again. If you pay someone to come into your home and you’re told that the trainer needs to “see” exactly what you’re dealing with then feel free to politely ask that trainer to leave. Be your dog’s advocate and know what’s necessary and what isn’t. Oh ya, then give us a call 😉
If you have a pup and you’re wondering if there’s any hope, Download the PDF Guide to Puppy Socialization to set yourself up for success!
Danielle Hodges, CPDT-KA