If I had a nickel for every time a client turned to me and said, “You’re really training me!” I would be able to cover the adoption fee for many shelters worth of animals. The title “dog trainer” is slightly inaccurate because it gives people the impression that I directly train the dog. I do, but not as much as people assume. Dog trainers mostly work with the human half of the dog/human team, since, as I like to point out, I’m not moving in with you. It’s important for clients to know what to do once the trainer walks out the door, as they’re the ones who spend the most time with their dogs, and are solely responsible for their dogs when all is said and done. Dog trainers are human trainers.
I know from working behavior cases that being the one solely responsible for a dog with behavior issues can be challenging. Inevitably, you love your dog and enjoy their company, or you probably wouldn’t take the time to invest in training and behavior modification for whatever issue you are looking to target. But that doesn’t mean you LIKE your dog all the time, or that the stress of the behavior modification doesn’t take a toll after a while. So since I’m really a human trainer, I thought I should take the time to acknowledge the human half of dog training and some things we humans can do to help ourselves so we can continue to help our beloved dogs. If your dog’s behavior modification journey has got you stressed, see if one of these tips can take just a bit of the edge off.
- Relaxation techniques for humans: What helps you relax? It can be different for everyone, but falling back on whatever helps you chill out is a great coping mechanism for weary dog owners. I like to have a written list of ways to relax so if I’m stressed, I can just let the list tell me what to do. For some people, breath-focused meditation works really well. I’m a big fan of the Insight Timer app, which has guided meditations as well as soothing music (https://insighttimer.com/). Taking a bubble bath is a big hit with some folks, or having a warm mug of tea or a glass of wine. These are little things that can make a big impact and we often need to be reminded, or even given permission, to take the time to do them. So here you go: You have been granted permission.
- Cultivate a non-dog related hobby: Some people will be saying “Cultivate a what?” I get it! I love my dogs more than anything, and I love spending time with my client dogs. But getting a small break from Canine Land is o.k. I recently started going to a rock climbing gym which is really fun and very different from outdoor adventures with dogs. My dogs will be well-rested and ready to hang with me when I get home. Having at least one non-dog thing is good for us dog enthusiasts, even if it’s just something you do once in a while.
- Buy the gear: When you are training, notice where the sticking points are for you. Maybe you fumble to get the treats out quickly. Maybe your leash rubs against your hand in an uncomfortable way. Maybe your dog pulls and you’re worried that your current footwear doesn’t have enough traction to prevent a slip. A brand new treat pouch, biothane leash (https://www.collieandcorso.com/leashes) and new pair of running shoes will help. If there are things that will help, do them! Even if you don’t do agility, there’s a pretty amazing agility vest with about a million pockets if you struggle to have enough treats on you (https://www.cleanrun.com/product/hurtta_7_pocket_dog_training_vest/index.cfm). There’s a solution for everything when it comes to gear, so get what’s going to solve your problems and cross that firmly off your list!
- Speaking of Lists: Make a list of why you like your dog. This is a common suggestion people hear from me often. If you are struggling with a training issue, it’s crucial to remember why you have this dog in the first place. Make a list of reasons why you love them, and be very liberal with what you include. Your dog may have every issue known to dog trainers, but aren’t their ears cute? Aren’t they precious when they’re sleeping? Weren’t they just the most adorable puppy ever? There are things about this dog you love and accessing them when you are stressed is more important than at any other time. If your dog is very difficult but you can leave them alone for a few hours and they aren’t destructive, you have at least one big Plus sign where other folks have a minus. So yay, your dog! Your dog can stay alone and not eat the house. Isn’t that wonderful?
- Buy a dog walker or daycare date: Depending on what your training goals are for your dog, utilizing resources can be challenging. If your dog has stranger danger or is aggressive with other dogs, they may not do well in some scenarios. But if it’s possible, using a reputable dog walker (https://www.instagram.com/fur_and_ferns/?hl=en) or dog daycare (https://www.centralbarkusa.com/eugene/) or even dropping your dog off at the groomer for a bit can buy you a bit of time to get some work done, take a breath, or do something fun. It is o.k. to rely on reputable dog professionals to help you get your dog’s needs met.
- STOP Training: That’s right. I said it. If you feel like you and your dog are in a training rut, or if you are feeling incredibly frustrated with the process or with your dog (normal, just don’t let them know about it), then just simply take a break from training. That may be in the moment, for the day, for the week, or for longer, depending on the situation. You don’t want to do this to the detriment of your dog’s safety, of course, so you’ll need to fall back on management. Stop walking if it’s stressful. Stop teaching new cues if it’s not working. Stop setting up friendly stranger greetings if your dog just isn’t responding the way you’d like. Taking a break from exercise, for instance, helps you come back stronger. It’s the same with training.
Any good human/dog trainer knows, it is not all about the dogs. It is about the team as a whole, which includes all human and animal members of a household. Behavior issues can be challenging and the dog community must acknowledge this and take care of each other in our respective dog training journeys. How will you take care of yourself today?