As a professional dog trainer, you will encounter clients who are very well educated regarding behavior, some clients who simply have a knack for reading and responding to canine body language, and clients who get misinformation from the internet, family & friends, or previous trainers. One of the more popularly discussed and commonly misunderstood concepts you’ll encounter among your clients is dominance. Be ready with a strategy to approach clients with misconceptions, as well as a few ways to explain concepts in simple and easily understood language.
Resolving the client’s behavior and training concerns utilizing techniques that improve the client’s relationship with his dog will be one of the best tools for convincing clients to abandon their dominance misconceptions.
One of the challenges many professional dog trainers’ clients face is a very busy schedule with limited time for training. Helping your clients to incorporate training into their daily lives and giving them fun dog training games makes the chances for compliance much greater. Linda Michaels’ blog entry “The Grazing Game” provides a number of quick and easy food games based on the concept of grazing, the scattering of kibble for a dog to hunt and then eat. Michaels also lists a number of benefits to utilizing the grazing game.
Other time saving and motivating tips for your clients include:
Help your clients to keep training fun, short, and accessible, and you’ll have better compliance, happier dogs, and happier clients.
Time saving and motivating tips for dog training clients using fun dog training games and a little planning.
If you’ve coached clients, then you’ve run into client compliance challenges. Your clients are seeking professional dog training help because they want to make improvements to their dog’s behavior. But – sometimes your recommendations seem difficult or time consuming or maybe just confusing. How can you improve your clients’ buy-in? Here are a few tips using food toys as an example.
I frequently recommend the use of food toys for a variety of clients: clients with high energy dogs, clients with young dogs, clients with busy schedules. The following are some of the challenges in attaining client compliance and the solutions to them.
1. Challenge: Clients don’t understand the instructions or how to progress their dog through the steps.
Solution: Clearly describe the end goal behavior. Describe each of the steps in plain language. Then ask your client if they have questions. If possible, provide a demonstration. In instances where a demonstration is not practical, provide video clips.
Example: 1) The end goal is to prolong the amount of time it takes the dog to eat his meal, and to increase mental stimulation by encouraging the dog to utilize problem solving skills to disseminate the food. 2) Step 1: Introduce the food toy using an easy win. With a Kong, that might simply be loosely filling the toy with dry kibble. Don’t forget to help your dog stay engaged with the toy if necessary. This is supposed to be an easy win! 3) Don’t forget to check for understanding. 4) Provide a demonstration. See “Dry Kibble: Help If You Need To!”
2. Challenge: Clients begin a training exercise but are not successful immediately and give up.
Solution: Provide clients with short term and longer term training goals. Explain that training occurs in stages and following a path of small, incremental successes will lead to a more satisfactory conclusion. Make it clear that each of the steps in the training process is a goal, the successful completion of which aids in reaching the final goal.
Example: Although a Kong with loose kibble doesn’t occupy most dogs for very long, it’s an important step to successfully master before increasing the challenge to the dog. And it’s a great start to playing with interactive toys!
Solution: Provide clear, sequential instructions. For example, include starting points in your handouts, when to progress to the next step, and next steps.
Example: Explain step 1 in the process (see above). Repeat the process at a slightly higher difficulty level once the dog is emptying the Kong routinely with no help from your client. The next step is to increase the difficulty level, but only by a small margin. Fill the Kong with loose kibble and seal the top with something very tasty, like canned food, peanut butter, or cottage cheese. See “Kibble With A Bit Of Canned.”
Solution: Preview all of the stages, so that your clients know where they’re going with the training.
Example: Describe each of the stages and provide quick clips demonstrating them. Step 1, see “Dry Kibble: Help If You Need To!” Step 2, see “Kibble With A Bit Of Canned.” Step 3, freezing the Kong from Step 2. Step 4, see “Layered Kibble and Canned.” Step 5, freezing the Kong from Step 4. Step 6, see “Canned Mixed With Dry Kibble.” Step 7, freezing the Kong from Step 6.
Solution: Follow-up in subsequent training sessions by having clients demonstrate where they are in the training and demonstrating to them the next steps. You can do this electronically or in a hands-on training session. Use this as a problem-solving session by going through some common problems that clients encounter. You can even pro-actively include trouble-shooting tips in your handouts.
3. Challenge: Clients have very limited time and will limit their practice and follow-up to recommendations that they believe fit within their schedules.
Solution: Be reasonable in your expectations. Give your clients achievable tasks and goals that fit within the constraints of their mental, financial, and time restrictions.
Example: Ask your clients when they feed their dog and what their typical schedule is like. Pinpoint the times that are more flexible and encourage preparation of toys at these times.
Solution: Help your clients to understand how little time is actually required for your recommendations. Make suggestions about how they can fit the changes you recommend into their schedule.
Example: The most time-consuming step is the next to last step, canned and dry kibble mixed together and stuffed in the Kong. The last stage of difficulty is the same, but simply popping the stuffed Kong in the freezer. Point out to the client that the entire process of stuffing the Kong takes approximately 1 minute and 45 seconds (see the video clip “Canned Mixed With Dry Kibble”.)
Use these positive dog training tips to increase your clients buy-in to the training plan you’re recommending. They’ll stick with the training longer, have better success, and be happier with the results!
What makes a naughty, nasty, or nice dog? Something as simple as client perception and education. Many clients attach human intent and motivations to their dog’s behaviors. A nice dog sits when being petted, a naughty one jumps, and a nasty one bites and mouths. The professional dog training community understands that is simply not true. Jumping is a natural behavior for an exuberant, friendly dog to display. Training is required for that dog to learn what is “nice” in the world of humans. But the behavior of jumping is hardly naughty.
While we can extrapolate from behavioral cues what intent might be, we’re frequently not sure. What we do know with certainty is the behavior the dog is exhibiting and the context in which it occurs. We also know whether that behavior is desirable, and therefore worthy of encouraging, or undesirable and a good target for modification. Helping our clients to focus on behavior will help them be successful in their training efforts. Some simple concepts that are a part of most training plans will be easier for your clients to understand if they focus on their dog’s behavior instead of assigning human emotions to their dog.
These concepts include:
As a professional dog trainer, it’s your job to help your clients understand that dogs are not humans and that they don’t operate under the same motivations as their tricky and emotionally complex owners. Be detailed in pointing out specific behaviors that the client likes. Explain that if you make it worth his while, the client’s dog will repeat these behaviors over and over again. Again – focus on behavior. If you, the K9 expert, focus on behavior, then so too will your client!
As a certified professional trainer, be ready to have solutions for your less sociable clients. Your less sociable clients or clients sensitive to the special needs of their shy dogs may be less desirous of dog-dog interaction on walks. These clients can use a few helpful tips and words of encouragement.
1. Meeting social needs.
Help your clients understand that dogs experience a diminishing desire for social interactions with unknown dogs as they age. With this knowledge, they are less likely to feel pangs of guilt for minimizing on-leash greetings during regular walks. It’s also important to help clients understand that dogs are individuals, and their dog may have different needs than previous dogs or friends’ dogs. There are social butterfly dogs and wallflower dogs. Shy or fearful dogs simply may not feel comfortable meeting new dogs on walks.
2. How to speak with other dog walkers.
Give your client some examples of how they can avoid dog-dog interactions. Having a few responses for oncoming dogs and their people can help some clients have more confidence about speaking up and advocating for their dog. A few examples include:
· An extended arm straight out from the body with an open hand, palm out. This resembles a halt gesture.
· “We’re training and not meeting strangers today.”
· Simply turn and walk away.
· “My dog isn’t friendly with new dogs.”
Each of these is polite but clear. Most clients with whom I have discussed this topic are uncomfortable either with confrontation or with giving strangers a negative opinion of their dog. The above suggestions take this into account. Some clients aren’t shy. They’ll simply yell “STOP!” or tell people their dog is contagious or even that their dog is. But most importantly, your clients should have a response with which they are comfortable so that they can respond readily on walks.
If you hold an appropriate class (shy dog class or reactive dog class), you can practice this technique with your clients, so they are better prepared when it happens in real life.
If your clients walk their dogs regularly, as a professional dog trainer you can anticipate hearing from them – “what do I do when I encounter other friendly, leashed dogs?” Clients dog walk for a number of reasons: exercise for themselves or their dogs, socializing – again for themselves or their dogs, and mental stimulation, among others. For your social butterfly clients, you’ll find that they will have a strong desire to allow their dogs to interact with dogs they encounter on walks. Here are a few positive dog training tips for successful leashed dog interactions.
Before on-leash introductions take place, there should be slack in the leashes of both dogs. This means that each dog displays a level of control and training that allows them to walk on a loose leash when faced with distractions, especially the distraction of other dogs. Convey to your client the importance of approaching with slack in the leash. Many clients understand that the leash should be loose while the dogs greet. Demonstrating self-control in the face of distraction, keeping arousal levels low, and maintaining good (fluid and relaxed) body language on the approach can set the scene for a much better interaction.
Both dogs should be friendly with strange dog. What if the dog is unknown to your client? Then certainly they can ask if that dog is friendly to other dogs. First, it is important to ask before the dogs begin to approach one another. Second, it is not uncommon that owners misrepresent or simply don’t fully understand how strange-dog friendly their own dog is. So, explain that there is some risk inherent to any interaction with a strange dog. That risk is multiplied when the owner is unable to read body language indicating increasing arousal levels, or even aggression.
3. Keep it fluid and brief.
Keep slack in the leash, and be sure to keep the leases untangled. That can involve a bit of a dance on the part of the owners. Also, interactions should be brief and at any sign of escalation, concluded. Escalation can include feet bouncing off the ground in excitement, hackles rising as arousal increases, or a stiffening of posture indicating increased stress or aggression.
Read more tips for creating successful greetings in our Greetings series: “Greetings Meeting the Friendly Stranger,” Greetings: Mom, You’re Home!” “8 Tips For Introducing New Dogs To Your Household” and “Greetings: Choosing Not To Meet Leashed Dogs.”
Looking for some fun ways for clients to have their dogs work for their food? Check out the blog post “Choosing the Right Interactive Toy For Your Dog.” There are a number of recommendations for toys included in the post.
Interactive food toys are a great way for your clients to provide additional mental stimulation. I find these toys especially useful with high energy dogs. Check out Raising Canine’s “Hyper Dog” for a telecourse that discusses other options for owner’s with high energy dogs.
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.