*When I wrote this, I wrote it from a dog training perspective, but this abSOLUTEly can be true for horses, cats, bonobos, first graders, etc.
And how as a young girl, I knew it was wrong, but it took a long time to unlearn.
I'm not alone.
I was mentoring a Victoria Stilwell Academy student, Zoe, in 2016. As Zoe was finishing her program she asked me, "What do I need to know going in?" I reminded her of all the technical stuff she'd need to know for any tests she'd have to take for certification, but that's when she stopped me.
"No, not that," she said. "What do I need to know. The stuff they didn't tell me in class."
Here's the thing: If someone jumps into this industry because they love dogs, or they want to advocate for dogs*, the thing they don't tell you is that every facet of our lives as professional dog trainers has the potential to become a magnifying glass for stress signals, learning theory, communication, boundaries, all of it, in every single area of a professional and a personal life experience. And for some of us, that's amazing.
For others (read: spouses!), maybe not so much.
All in 15 seconds.
There are healthcare considerations if one is to be a self-employed dog trainer or a contractor. In many cases if we don't work, we don't get paid, which makes things like the flu, broken bones and pregnancy much, much, much harder. Again, working on it - but this is absolutely something that should be considered.
OMG - SO MUCH PEE. And humping. To be honest, humping and pee are the dynmaic duo of awkward laughter in professional training, and if you can't handle being peed on, cleaning pee, eating a sandwich while talking about pee, poop, or worse, then at least consider a different path. I had no idea how much of my professional conversation load would be on the subject of urine and penises. Penisi? Peni? Moving on.
|Google with Caution.|
And once you see stress in a dog, it's hard to NOT see stress in a dog. Dogs at the dog park, dogs on walks, dogs being dragged by their owners on the sidewalk when the dog is just trying to sniff a flower. It makes my heart break in two when the connection is lost when the dog is just another thing to do - "Make coffee, drop kids at school, walk dog." And if you know what you're looking for, the dog park will be a difficult place to go after learning what stress signals are. I've had to pay my friend to take my dog to the dog park because my dog loves it, his buddies are there, and we live in a city. Yet, I can't go without taking behavior modification medication because there are so many dogs there who do not want to be there. It's tempting to run up to the dog's care taker, grab them by the shoulders, and present a 15 slide presentation on stress signals - but that's not how this job works. You have to know when to open your mouth, and when to zip it. Yes, there will be things that are really, really hard to watch. And there is very little you can do.
And I was so ill-prepared for that realization, too.
But why do we still do this if it's so hard, a job where it might sometimes feel like we are fighting dragons all day?
Moments like this, pure joy, contentedness, and magic.
There are moments that will stick with a trainer in positive reinforcement. For me, one moment is observing a young autistic boy who was unable to communicate with anyone, except he would consistently light up and talk every time his dog came into the room. He'd pick up her favorite thing - discs - and play with her. The dog would bounce and demonstrate happiness, as did the young boy. Then the dog would disappear, and he'd shut down again, become so insular he couldn't communicate. She'd come back in and his internal light-switch would come back on. It's the relationship and the understanding in moments like that will never leave you, and acts like armor the next time someone is too busy staring at their phone while you are talking to them about training their dog, or acts as a shield when the dog in front of you has been mistreated by a family who thought they were doing all the right things.
But that moment is frozen in time, a resource, a spark of joy, a little piece of magic here, truly here, really here. I can recall that magic anytime I feel the world is burning and things are out of my control. I can conjure magic, a magic that can only occur when a relationship is built on trust - them trusting me, and the dog trusting them.
And that's pretty damn cool.