Client Coaching: When Your Client’s Dog Isn’t the Right Dog

Being a professional dog trainer is about helping people and helping dogs. A large percentage of that time involves training dogs, coaching clients, or making referrals for special needs you can’t fill. Every once in a while, you will encounter the perfect mismatch between client and dog.

Certified dog trainers experience a number of near misses – clients who bought, adopted, or through a variety of circumstances, came upon and kept a dog that isn’t what they expected or doesn’t fit into their life. A family with young children who chooses the 8 week old Weimeraner puppy, the stray dog who just might eat his finder’s cats, the dog aggressive dog adopted by a multi-dog home. Most of your clients will overcome a less than perfect match through a combination of management and training. When you become a professional dog trainer, clients turn to you to help them solve these mismatch problems. Committed families persist through training and maybe some significant change to their personal lives to accommodate the less than perfect match – because they love their dog.

So what is the key for the perfect mismatch? A client who has exhausted financial, emotional, or time and energy resources is frequently a good candidate for the perfect mismatch; perhaps a client who is facing safety concerns for household members or the public. This may be a client who has pursued a number of training options, or a client who is ill equipped to deal with an unanticipated, complex behavioral problem.

How do you handle these situations when they arise? Very sensitively. Clients are, by their nature, trying to make good choices. They are clients because they’re choosing to seek professional help. The first thing you can do is to acknowledge that fact – at least to yourself. It is neither helpful to your client nor to your business to judge your client for decisions that are already very difficult for them.

Next – discuss with your client the totality of their options. Have all viable training options been implemented? If not, is the client interested in pursuing them? If not, are there local resources available to help with further training and re-homing? In some instances, there are safety concerns and re-homing is not an option. Be honest, but again be sensitive to the difficulty of the situation.  Many clients will appreciate your honesty if it is tempered with empathy.

Read our blog post “Client Coaching: Coaching The Client You Have” for more tips on handling difficult client interactions.

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