As a dog trainer, you know that your client’s dog behavior problem is emotionally upsetting to them. In fact, 99% of what goes on between your clients and their dogs is emotional.
Remember, your clients do not call you just because they think you can help them. On an intellectual level they know or hope you can fix what they think is the dog’s problem.
They are really looking to you for help because they are very emotionally upset about what their dog is doing. This is their motivation to call for help to fix their dog behavior problem!
Take the case of Ernie, the miniature Poodle
Every time Ernie nudges his mom’s hand, he gets picked up and doted on constantly. He also sleeps with her. Ernie really stresses out when she leaves the house to run errands or worse yet leave for work all day.
Here’s how is usually goes with Ernie
The stress and anxiety when “mom” leaves, creates tension. Frustrated by her absence, Ernie relieves his tension by chewing on a sofa pillow or something else with her scent.
This bad dog behavior then gets him punished when she gets home.
Since the punishment started, Ernie has also started to pee in the house.
You can certainly see why Ernie’s mom is emotionally upset when she finally calls you.
Ernie has become very insecure and unable to cope with being alone which is a very common problem. Ernie’s owner doesn’t understand the real reason why Ernie does what he does. How angry, emotional and frustrated she is, triggered the call to you.
She will eventually need to understand why because she will play the lead role in your program to put things right.
Fact-finding is really important at this time.
A good dog trainer will listen to Ernie’s mom talk about her dog. This will give you more information into how she might feel about putting a plan into action to correct the destructive behavior and the house soiling.
Fact-finding questions like these would reveal good information:
- Where Ernie sleeps and how much time he spends with her on the couch during the evenings.
- Does she require Ernie to earn anything like food, love and affection or getting on the couch with her?
These important facts will help you build a reasonable plan to help her achieve her goal.
You may find that during the telephone interview, she runs the full range of emotions talking about everything Ernie is doing wrong!
It may seem like a waste of time listening to her complain about Ernie. Some of what she repeats may even seem unrelated to the actual problem.
It is sometimes difficult to tactfully interrupt and get clients like Ernie’s mom back on track when she says something like, “When I got home and saw that couch pillow chewed up and scattered all over the house, I could have killed the little devil!”
At this point, it’s important for you, the dog trainer, to make sure she knows that you understand how she feels.
But it would be even more important for you to find out what she actually did about her feelings.
If you can politely interrupt, you could say something like, “I can certainly appreciate how you must have felt but how did you actually handle the situation with Ernie?”
Making sure she knows you understand how she feels is important. Keeping her on track with your fact-finding questions should be your main agenda.
You will fill your questionnaire sheet with facts of substance allowing you to put together a program to eventually fix her dog problem. Be patient as you very carefully separate her emotions from the actual facts.
Reassure her with comments like, “I can see how you felt, but what specifically did you do when you saw the chewed pillow and urine?”
You may find that you will have to repeat your affirmations and redirects continuously throughout your evaluation interview. But by doing this, you accomplish two things.
Let me explain
- You will keep your client on track for further fact-finding and,
- You will build an emotional rapport between you and your client.
I find that not all clients reveal their intentions during your initial evaluation so it’s a good idea to ask them what courses of action they have considered.
Using Ernie’s owner as an example you might say, “Have you thought about doing anything else to fix Ernie’s problem?”
Her answer to this question will better help you understand her level of commitment.
Some owners will glaze over everything you say with something like, “I just want to get it done in the fastest way possible.”
Owners seem to want to only fix the symptom and not worry about why.
Treat the cause – not the symptoms
Your client needs to know that it’s very important that you find the cause of their dog’s stress and anxiety and not just treat the symptom(s). That’s your fact-finding mission.
Let’s take a closer look
Here’s a good example of why that’s important: A dog has been put in the back yard because of a house soiling problem. Being separated from the family causes the dog much stress and anxiety.
This causes him to relieve his stress of being alone by barking. Putting a bark collar on the dog to quiet the dog is only treating the symptom. Not being able to bark to relieve his stress and tension might even cause him to find another way to find relief like being destructive.
But curing the house soiling (root cause of the barking) gets the dog back in the house and reunited with his pack. No bark collar. No barking. No dog behavior problem.
Remember, clients call you, the dog trainer, because they are emotionally upset about what their dog is doing. Understanding how they feel emotionally will better give you an idea of their commitment to working on their problem and how the problem got started in the first place.
Find the root cause of the existing dog behavior problem, treat it and create a lasting solution with a much happier client.
Jim Burwell, Houston dog trainer for 25+ years, serving 9000+ clients, has a profound understanding of dog behavior and the many things, we as humans, do that influence that behavior – good or bad. Jim has the ability and the experience of mentoring and teaching dog trainers how to excel and grow their dog training talents and their business.