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Coping with different opinions, change and uncertainty

Being aware that you, your dog and your living situation is unique and that a programme may need to be tweaked to suit you, allows you to stop beating up on yourself if you aren’t seeing results.

Feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the dog training information out there?

Wondering why dog trainers can’t agree with one another?

Can’t figure out what you need to do next?

I know how you feel.

The reason I am writing this is because I was sent out of a training class with the advice ‘get your dog sorted before you come back’. Great advice huh? If I had known how to ‘get my dog sorted’ I wouldn’t have been in the class in the first place.

Standing outside the hall with my dog I had no idea what to do next. It was at that moment I decided to become a resource for other people who were feeling just like I was. That moment started a learning journey that has continued for the past 20 years.

One thing I have learned is that you will need to learn to cope with uncertainty.

Understandably most of us want to escape from uncertainty as quickly as possible. A ‘to do’ list is attractive.

The shadow side of this, is that it leaves you vulnerable to ‘marketing’ or professionals who appear to speak with authority, but when you question them, they become defensive. Being aware that you, your dog and your living situation is unique and that a programme may need to be tweaked to suit you, allows you to stop beating up on yourself if you aren’t seeing results, keep asking questions and continue educating yourself. By the way, I’ve never met a dog expert yet who doesn’t appreciate being questioned about their methods. These same experts also have people they can refer you onto if they feel under-qualified to answer. Really caring about your clients isn’t something we can fake.

If you had come to my class 10 years ago, I would have said:

1. Always feed kibble

2. Use a Gentle Leader Headcollar

3. Click any behaviour you like and ignore the rest.

These days I will

1. Get to know you and your dog and work with you to find a diet that suits

2. Teach you lead skills

3. Build new behaviours and prevent/manage unwanted and unsafe behaviour

I have been in the dog business long enough to see trends and fashions. Current trends are:

1. Use a harness

2. Feed Raw

3. Designer cross breeds

4. Day care and Dog walkers

5. Private training

Some of these trends may prove to be for the long term benefit of dogs as a species and some might not, I don’t know.

What I do know is that when I try to ‘fit in’ or seek social approval with the choices I make for my dog, then judgement and division isn’t usually too far behind.

Whilst groups are busy arguing about which one of them is right, we sometimes lose sight of what is most important – the dog and the people who care for them..

Science, in particular neuroscience and technology are advancing our knowledge at an incredible speed. Whilst it would be good to believe that all canine professionals keep themselves up to date, it simply isn’t possible. As I write Dog Training is still an unregulated industry, anyone can call themselves a dog trainer or behaviour consultant. Anyone can write a dog training course, create a social media presence and set up in dog training business. You and your dog have no protection from these individuals except for your common sense, ability to ask questions and opportunity to do your research.

Dog Walking and Dog Daycare have some restrictions and guidelines but there is no industry standard and once again the responsibility falls on us as individuals to seek information.

Vets have standardised qualifications and industry standards, but they cannot be expert in all areas. In my experience Vets are extremely caring individuals who have extensive knowledge of physiology and how to heal but they are often lacking information in the areas of nutrition and behaviour, unless it is their speciality. I take responsibility for educating myself on nutrition and behaviour and finding recommended vets to help me.

Navigating your way through the uncertain world of dog care is tricky and the Clare Teaching Dogs community have proven themselves happy to share advice. You can ask questions in the Dog Learning Space Group or send a direct message. I always answer my own messages, if you contact Clare Teaching Dogs it will be me that you are speaking to.

Other ways you can develop your critical awareness skills to benefit your dog:

  • Seek opinions from more than one source – different dog professionals can offer different points of view.

  • Ask questions – caring professionals don’t mind being questioned. Prepare your questions beforehand to keep the conversation on track. If they appear busy or the consultation time is limited, ask if you can email the questions to be answered later on.

  • Research qualifications. Letters after a name or logos on websites could denote membership of an organisation rather than an assurance that certain standards of practice are being applied. Certificates can be given just for attending a talk, unless the speaker checked understanding then there is no guarantee anything was learned.

  • Ask to speak to people that have completed a course or trained with a trainer before. If possible, ask to speak to people who were seen 1 year ago or longer. Have the techniques stood the test of time? Have the dogs and families achieved the results you are looking for? With the benefit of hindsight would they go back to this trainer? Many reviews are written after the first session and may not stand the test of time.

Please remember, a canine professional committed to the welfare of your dog will be happy to speak to you, share their qualifications, refer you onto others who can help and point you in the right direction to find the solutions you need.


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