Three Ways to Become a Better Trainer

We go through cycles of following discussions about behavior and training on various social media sites.  We become passionate for a few days about commenting on particular subjects, but often get frustrated, by the mis-information that is still so prevalent and decide to take a break.

In recent weeks we’ve encountered discussions focusing yet again on “dominance” and what it really means, how to modify “prey drive”, and the effect of “genetics” on shyness.   Unfortunately there continues to be no shortage of “made up stuff” about these topics including that genetics are really “a set of energy patterns”; equating “dominance” with bullying;  and prey drive as an explanation for behaviors as diverse as chasing cats and fetching balls.

During the same time frame we’ve also spoken with veterinarians concerned and confused about who to refer clients to whose dogs have fear and aggression problems, trainers wanting to know how best to get more clients because “business is down”, and claims that a “veterinary diagnosis” is first required for certain types of non-medical behavior problems that trainers, non-degreed behavior consultants, and certified applied animal behaviorists work with on a daily basis.

It seems as if in some ways the bar has been raised in the dog training field, as more research into canine cognition occurs, more science is being brought to bear in evaluating various dog training methods, and more veterinarians are carefully considering who to refer pets with behavior problems to.

The fact is, that the dog training and behavior world has become more competitive for a variety of reasons.  For one, people in general – including pet owners – are more stressed and have less time.   Regardless of the product or service they are paying for, people want results.  That’s why techniques that can effectively suppress behavior quickly (although they may have longer term negative consequences to a dog’s wellbeing) continue to be popular.   Very often people are less concerned about how or why a problem gets “fixed”, as long as it gets resolved relatively quickly without too much effort on their part.

We’ve also observed – and experienced it ourselves – is that it seems to be human nature, regardless of what field we are in, to be attracted by any new “bright shiny object”.   We fell into this trap when we first started to move our business online, spending way too much money on internet business training programs that never delivered what they promised.

We see the same thing in the dog training world.  There is always a rush to learn the latest and greatest “new” ways of working with aggression problems, separation anxiety problems, and other behavior problems that have catchy names or acronyms, some of which add to the existing alphabet soup of certifications. 

We are now connected to a successful, honest, ethical and effective business mentor who has contributed greatly to the success we’ve had.  One important lesson we learned that is very transferable to working with behavior problems, is to first get good at the basics.  “Simple and done” is always much better than continually chasing after the next “new solution” that never gets implemented or implemented in a way that won’t bring results.

Our take-home message from all of this is to invest in the basics and get good at them.  Although we all abhor the confrontational and harsh “training” techniques made popular by a certain television personality, we have to admit that he delivers them with considerable skill. 

We have to be able to deliver our “dog friendly” techniques with an equal amount of skill.  This in turn depends on having a sound theoretical understanding of the procedures we are using, and the “whys” of animal behavior, because “made up stuff” will eventually result in failure.   Here are three ways to do that:

1. Take an introductory course in animal behavior at an institution near you, or from a brick-and-mortar accredited college or university that also offers classes online.  This should be an animal behavior course, not a course focused on dogs.  If you can’t take a course, read a behavior textbook. We gave suggestions in another recent article. The Importance of Reading Scientific Articles

2. Pay a more experienced, scientifically trained professional for several mentoring sessions or to lead a “master mind” group.  This is an under-utilized option and one we are exploring in our Behavior Education Network.

3. Get really really good at understanding and proficiently implementing counter conditioning and desensitization procedures.  These are the “go to” behavior modification techniques that are the foundation of most if not all the “bright shiny objects” methods.  We encounter too many pet owners who haven’t received clear instructions from the professionals they are working with about how to effectively use these procedures.   You can readily improve your abilities with these procedures AND explain them better to pet owners with our presentation “Using Counter Conditioning and Desensitization Techniques Effectively”, available on DVD that you can use for ongoing reference. Receive a 15% discount off the regular price of $57 through the end of April. 

For complete description and to purchase use the link below. Discount of 15% will automatically be applied in your shopping cart. 

Counter Conditioning & Desensitization: Using Techniques to Effectively Modify Behavior

And by the way – group mentoring, case studies, reviews of scientific articles pertaining to dog behavior and training, small “master mind”/accountability groups, speakers discussing their original research, are just some of what we do in Behavior Education Network



  • Almudena

    Reply Reply

    Hi Suzanne and Dan
    I read with interest the article above and I think you raise quite a few good points. One of the issues that I have also experienced when working with folks in resolving their pets “issues” is that indeed we all want fast and efficient in resolving some issue. I realize I am not any different when it comes to my “issues” in life.
    One of the things that I have been doing is remind clients how difficult it is for them to change their own behavior (eat less sugar, learn a new language. etc) and we are the species with the “bigger” brain. I have noticed that when I bring this to their attention in a kind and judgement- free manner they realize that they are responding from a place of wanting ‘fast and effective” which in most instances in life does not exist.
    A little awareness of our clients and our own unrealistic expectations goes a long way…
    thanks for the article!

  • Suzanne & Dan

    Reply Reply

    Yep, we agree with your insights Almudena. Sometimes we all forget that we want quick and easy solutions to our own problems, and if indeed we can find a “simple and done” one that is easy to implement with minimal effort we are much more likely to buy it than one that is more complicated and requires more effort on our part. It shouldn’t be surprising that people want the same thing when it comes to their pets.

    You’re right, overnight solutions don’t often exist, but there are often choices between effective, affordable services that deliver, and more expensive, complicated ones that don’t.

    Going forward, we’re going to focus on providing “simple and done” products and services for our audiences – without compromising quality.

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