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There is No Magic Bullet

15/06/2018 - Behaviour Matters

Trainers and behaviourists know that behaviour change takes time, (a lot of time) – consider how long you were at school or maybe how long it took you to learn a musical instrument. It takes time and a lot of practice to learn a new skill and we understand that when working with clients and their dogs, we are on a journey to a destination, where the journey is as important as the destination. We know that this journey is very rarely, if ever, simple and straightforward and the reality is that it will have good days, bad days and everything in between and some destinations are not even possible. For instance, I recently worked with a client who said that they just wanted their dog to play and get along with other dogs and to never fight with another dog again! This is not an uncommon expectation, but how can I agree to this? 
If you give a dog access to other dogs then there is always a chance they might argue and it would be totally irresponsible of me to guarantee this destination. Yes, we can make it a lot less likely, but we can’t guarantee that it will never have another squabble again.
As a trainer, I know that no behaviour can be guaranteed to occur with 100 per cent reliability 100 per cent of the time and no matter how hard I train, all I can really expect is that the more I train, the more probable it is that I will get what I ask for, when I ask for it.
So, we may have to adjust our destination, but over time we would expect to see improvement. The speed of improvement will depend on a number of limiting factors. Fear, for example, takes a long time to improve and in many circumstances we may never get the dog to where we would like them to be. Another factor is how much available time your client has.  
I was listening to a very highly regarded behaviour expert recently who said that they estimated that your average working person can manage about ten minutes of training per day and then of course, the client’s financial resources need to be taken into account. So, as you can see, there is always going to be a trade-off – some people do not have much spare time but sufficient financial resources to get somebody to do the work for them, others may have more time but less financial resources and so will have to sacrifice some of their time and do the majority of the work themselves. 
From my experience of the clients that I work with, they seem to have some time available and some financial resource, but not endless pots of either, so generally they will do the majority of training themselves.
However, me knowing all this is one thing, it is not however, the reality for many of the owners I work with, whose expectations of dog training and behaviour have been shaped by watching TV, reading books and even more so now, the internet and social media. Even if they are getting good information, it’s one thing knowing it, it’s another being able to act on it.
Unfortunately, TV can give the impression that undesired behaviours can be fixed in an hour when they only show, through editing, where the progress is constant and almost instant. This wrongly gives the impression that changing a dog’s behaviour is easy, but let’s face it, people would not have even contacted me if it was easy! The reality is that it is highly unlikely that we are going to see significant and lasting behaviour change in one week, let alone one consult or even one hour. 
This impression that it is easy, also devalues what we do as trainers. I know many trainers who feel guilty about charging people for what we do – do not get me wrong, we all want to help dogs, but by giving away our advice and time for free, it only undermines and devalues what we do and as an industry, trainers are notorious for under-charging for their skills and services. 
I have spent thousands of pounds on my education and hundreds upon hundreds of hours developing my practical skills and knowledge. Every year I attend seminars and conferences to maintain my CPD and am always learning. 
So, if we as trainers do not value what we do, how can we expect owners to do the same? Ironically when people have to invest financially, they are more likely to do what is needed – they do not want to waste their hard earned money, but we still do not come with a magic bullet – we come with knowledge and skills.
No matter how good a trainer or behaviour consultant I may be, the real challenge is how I communicate this information to the people I work with and in a way that does not leave them disheartened by the real task ahead. You have to like working with people, as in truth it’s the people who are your clients, not their dogs.
Whether a particular case will be successful or not will be hugely dependant on how well I am able to coach my client and manage their expectations. Irrespective of how good I am at training a dog, I need, above all else, to be good at explaining concepts and coaching people. I could be the best dog trainer in the world, but if I cannot coach and educate people then I may as well give up now because I’m not going to be any help to you or your dog!  

Sometimes, I am not the first trainer people have seen with their dog problems and when I look at the information they have previously been given, it is good advice with sound techniques, but something isn’t working, which is why they are now coming to see me. 
Now, we do not get it right every time, but when I speak with the owners to discuss their previous plan, what appears to have been the biggest problem is the expectation they have of what they should have been able to achieve.
When we get it right, we will help the dog-human relationship – for example, I recently worked with a wonderful lady, who at the end of the consult said “I know it’s going to take a long time”, and understood she was limited by her resources, but by setting out with a realistic expectation, she will continue to make steady progress and will reach a level that her available time and resources will allow.
So when you are looking to employ somebody to help you, why not look for more than just dog training or university qualifications – these are super important for sure and should form the basis of your expectation, but what’s the point of having all the knowledge if it cannot be imparted in a practical and useful way? Next time you look, why not look to see what else your trainer can bring to the relationship and why not chat with them first and see if you like them, as ultimately, it may be the difference between success and failure.