Dog trainers are professionals, and Service Dog trainers are no exception. When it comes to working with dogs, trainers are amazing, but sometimes, their people interaction can leave a little to be desired. Here are 5 things your Service Dog Trainer doesn’t tell you, or if they do, they put it in far more tactful terms.
1.) Your dog isn’t the problem. You are.
“My dog just won’t focus on me in public.” “My partner refuses to pick up items, even though she’ll do it while we’re at class.” “My dog does _______” or “doesn’t do __________.”
Service Dog trainers hear all of the above on a routine and regular basis. They’ve heard it all, and there’s always an accompanying excuse. “He’s a herding dog.” “She’s a rescue.” “I didn’t have high enough value treats.” “There were children around.” The fact remains, though, that those are excuses. If your Service Dog is failing at something, it is your fault, with few exceptions.
There are only 3 variables to training a dog – distraction, distance and duration – and while methods of obtaining a behavior can vary, the variables themselves never do. If you’re not controlling your partner’s environment, that’s your fault. If your partner isn’t ready for what you’re doing, that’s your fault. If your Service Dog isn’t suitable as a Service Dog, that’s your fault. In almost every situation, the blame rests squarely on the shoulders of the handler, not the dog. Stop creating reasons your dog does something or doesn’t do something, and start finding solutions.
2.) You’re not the professional. I am.
There are good dog trainers and bad ones, and it’s up to you to select a trainer that’s qualified (and safe!). Here are some guidelines to finding a trainer that’s suitable for you, your goals, your dog and your needs. If you think I’m a bad trainer, then by all means, go work with someone else. If you think I’m the right trainer for you, then trust me. Stop telling me what you saw on TV, what you read in a book, or some theory you found while late-night web surfing. Stop doing what I tell you not to do, and don’t disregard my instructions because “it didn’t work that way for your last dog.”
By all means, share information about your dog and your habits/background. My job is to help you help your dog, and I can’t do that without learning about the both of you. However, I’m the trainer. You’ve come to me because you need help.
Please stop trying to do my job. If at first you don’t succeed, try doing what your trainer told you to do in the first place.
3.) I know when you’re not practicing.
Training a Service Dog is a big deal. It takes hundreds of hours of training, some of which is highly specialized. You have to practice at home, both for your dog’s sake and for mine. If all we do is cover the same ground over and over because you’re not working at home, then you’re wasting my time and yours, and your canine partner suffers.
4.) If you have to fix it, it’s probably not Service Dog material.
Is your dog reactive? Aggressive? Timid? Exceptionally talkative? Aloof and distant? Unpredictable? Then it’s not Service Dog material. Good Service Dog candidates are few and far between, and per statistics, your dog probably won’t make it all the way through training. Do you want to have a good chance of success? Let me help you choose a Service Dog candidate. See number 2 – I’m the professional. By the time you get to me with a new dog, you’re already a couple steps ahead of where you need to be.
5.) I cannot out-train bad socialization.
Socialization makes a Service Dog. Repeat it again: socialization makes a Service Dog. I can always train a dog, but I can’t go back and socialize an unsocialized dog. Training is not a magic bullet, and without the proper socialization foundation, your Service Dog in Training will fail, and there’s nothing I can do about it. Focus on socialization from the very beginning, and don’t select a candidate that’s flaky in any way.
Have any questions, comments, concerns, thoughts or ideas concerning things Service Dog trainers won’t tell you? Chime in with a comment and let us know!