Every week I meet new dogs. Dogs come to me for the very basic reason that they are adjusting to a new home environment and need to learn some basic “living with humans” manners. Other dogs come to me because they have bitten people or are fighting with other dogs at home or on the street. Many, many dogs come to me because they are reactive on leash. Each of these dogs is dealing with a stressor in their life and are behaving in the way that they have learned is most effective.
Every week I meet new people. People come to me because they are trying to figure out how to live with the new dog in their household who recently ate their iPhone, the universal remote, and three pairs of shoes before upending the trashcan all over the kitchen. Or they are living with the stress of not knowing if the next time their dog bites someone they might get sued or (horrifyingly) they will have to make the call to euthanize their family dog. Many, many people come to me because they are embarrassed and stressed out by their dog’s seemingly aggressive behavior on leash.
Obviously, I am a dog trainer, but let’s look at the breakdown. If you come to me four times in eight weeks – one initial consult of 90 minutes, plus 3 follow-up one hour sessions – I will spend exactly 4.5 hours in the same room as your dog. Much of this will be spent talking with you and figuring out an effective behavior plan. I would guess that maybe 75% – so maybe 3.5 hours – will be spent with me and/or you engaging with your dog. How much time do you spend with your dog each week? Even if you work full-time, I would guess that you spend at least 2 hours around your dog in the morning, 4 hours with them each evening and let’s say 16 waking hours with them on the weekend: 46 hours. In one week. Over 8 weeks, that’s 368 hours. Literally 100 times the number of hours I will spend with your dog in the same amount of time.
What would be the point of me spending our entire 4.5 hours training your dog? It wouldn’t transfer to the hours you spend with them. Those 4.5 hours are my very small window, my time to train YOU to be a dog trainer. You need to understand the principles of behavior that will most directly impact your training of your dog so you can make important decisions in the heat of the moment. I need you to be coordinated in your dispensing of treats, your timing, and your leash handling. And I need you to understand when management in terms of crates, muzzles, or leashes is necessary. In the end – I’m training you. I’m teaching you. I love your dog – I do! – but me working with them and leaving you with a vacuum of knowledge won’t serve you at all. My job as a dog trainer and behavior analyst is to help you help your dog.
Why does this matter? Because at the end of a behavior consultation (or really, any training class) you should feel ready to go home and implement a behavior plan. You should know why you’re doing what you’re doing; what the intended consequence is of your training; ad also what to look out for in terms of potential side effects. If you leave a session without this information, then your trainer or behavior consultant has not done their job. So advocate for yourself and your dog- make sure you, as the client, have been served.
Because, in the end, you are the client.