Dog Training Clients Blind to the Role They Play

As a dog trainer, how do you get dog training clients to “see the light” when they are blind to the role they play in their dog’s behavior problem? Have you thought about that before? It’s often been a challenge for me and for other dog trainers I coach.

My bets are it’s probably a significant and frequent question that comes to mind with some of your clients.  I think there is a huge “gap” with many dog owners, between what their expectations are and what they think their dog should realistically be able to do in any context around distractions.

In order to better understand these dog owners, let’s try and break them down into different types of owners. Now you may be able to add more types but here’s a quick list of owner-types.  

  • A first time dog owner
  • An owner whose first dog was a perfectly compliant dog and now has a dog that has a multitude of issues
  • An owners who gets a companion dog for purely selfish reasons
  • An absentee owner

If we can understand each type of owner and how they approach living with their dog, perhaps we can better understand how to help them see the light. Let’s take a look at these owner types:

A first time dog owner Many people get a dog and don’t know the first thing about dog ownership much less begin to read and learn about their dog once its home with them. Because they haven’t educated themselves, their approach is so unstructured, dog behavior problems surface. Their only logical explanation is that it is the dog’s fault. There must be something wrong with their dog.

An owner whose first dog was a perfect dog These owners get a second dog with the only thought in mind that the next dog will be, must be, as perfect as their previous dog. It never fails that when they raise the bar with these high expectations, they are setting their new dog up to fail. They forget that every dog (like children) is different and requires a slightly different approach to training. Their thinking stays with the logic of: “There must be something wrong with the dog.”

An owner who gets a dog for purely selfish reasons This naïve and selfish owner gets a dog to satisfy “only” their own personal needs of love and affection. Other than short, required potty breaks, their only needs are for their dog to love them. The dog becomes their couch cuddle buddy, television viewing buddy and sleeping buddy. They become inseparable. Dog behavior problems inevitably surface and once again this dog owner’s thinking turns to: “There must be something wrong with the dog.”

An absentee owner This owner takes no personal responsibility with providing structure in the home for their dog, training or solving the problems that inevitably surface when the dog tries to provide leadership in his own way. Their dog is usually sent off to boarding school for training with the thought: “That alone will fix everything.

Once my dog gets back home, he’ll be good as gold.” When behavior problems occur, the absentee owner will once again call the trainer in to fix the dog because, “There must be something wrong with the dog.”You can now see a common thread with each of these types as each looks to blame their dog for the problem. Regardless of the owner-type, getting them on a program doesn’t always guarantee they will work the program.


Reasons why dog training fails with clients

More often than you like and as hard as you try, dog training programs with your clients will fail for a number of reasons:

Failure reason #1: The dog’s behavior has not produced enough pain, embarrassment, frustration or stress to motivate the owner to fix the problem.

Solution/explanation: This is one of those sticky situations where dog training fails “even before it begins” because this owner makes excuses like, “He’s just a puppy. He’ll grow out of it.” Your job is to try to help them stop it before it gets worse.

Failure reason #2: A dog owner is not truly committed to keeping the dog and fixing the problem. There is only a “conditional acceptance” of their dog meaning: “They will only keep the dog if the problem gets resolved.”

Solution/explanation: Their dog can read them like a book and knows by their energy how they feel about him. Instead of saying, “I’ll only keep him if he stops soiling in my house,” or “If this doesn’t get fixed, he’s out of here!” They should make the commitment to unconditionally keep their dog – no matter what.

Failure reason #3: As far as the owner is concerned, there is something wrong with their dog, and the program will be centered on the dog’s behavior.

Solution/explanation: All behavior problems exhibited by dogs are stress-related and can usually be traced back to the relationship between the owner and the dog. It’s always something the owner “is” or “is not” doing. The more you understand how the owner’s emotions influence their dog and how stress is created in their dog’s mind, the more information you will have to motivate them to be a part of the solution, not the problem. They will also better appreciate the value of a good plan to fix their dog problem.

Failure reason #4: No consistency in working a plan to resolve their dog behavior problem. Many times I find that owners get lazy, put it off to the last minute or just don’t do the work at all. Sometimes owners tend to take an “ala carte” approach; that is, pick and choose the easy parts and avoid the challenging and critical work.

Solution/explanation: Teach them to be true to their selves and fair to their dog. Stress the importance of working the entire plan. Usually each part of the plan relies on the cumulative work done on all parts in previous weeks. Consistency and repetition breed habit in dogs. They should consistently and repetitively work the plan – all of it.

Failure reason #5: Not enough one-on-one exercise and obedience training with their dog. Dog walkers and big back yards tend to be more convenient.

Solution/explanation: Today time seems to be an even more precious commodity than even last year. We have less of it and often times are selfish with the free time we do have. If your client has made a commitment to own a dog, he deserves his fair and equal share of free time with his owner. Some owners will understand this and change. Now they can use it wisely to consistently exercise with their dog and do regular obedience training as well. Dog training and resolving problems in dogs for clients is no more or no less like anything else in life; results are directly related to the amount of time, attention, and perseverance your client is willing to understand and put into it. You can only do what you can do.

Jim and Boo smallJim Burwell, Houston dog trainer for 25+ years, serving 9,700+ clients, and trained 20,000+ dogs, 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.

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