Thoughts of a Dog Therapist – NOT A ‘PROPER’ DOG TRAINER!

Not a proper dog trainer

A friend of mine previously recommended me to help a couple with their dogs behavioural issue.

Nowadays, whenever someone contacts me the first thing I do is explain that I’m not a behaviourist anymore, I’m a Canine Therapist and I explain the difference between conventional training or behaviour methods and the methods that I use.

I feel it is important to do this because people don’t always understand my methods or don’t want to try them. They don’t necessarily want to work on the deep set issues behind the behaviour, they just want a ‘normal’ trainer to give them regular techniques to train their dog, and that’s completely their choice.

However I wholeheartedly believe that every dog behaviour comes as a response to an emotion that they feel, e.g. anxiety, anger or fear. With training or behaviour work you can change the behavioural response to the emotion, but with canine therapy you can calm the emotion, which then takes the dogs response to it and in some instances stops it completely. If we had anxiety or anger issues we would seek help from a therapist or doctor, we wouldn’t just get it trained out of us.

The owners that contacted me decided to try my methods and we did a communication session via zoom. During this communication I relayed exactly how the dog felt about the situation and the reasons behind the behaviour. I ran through some things that they could try to help resolve the situation, but it was obvious that it wouldn’t be a quick fix and would probably take a long time for the behaviour to reside and really the whole relationship between the dog and it’s owners had to change for the behaviour to get better.

This hasn’t happened and the behaviour hasn’t improved and recently they have been back in touch with me and questioned whether I thought they should get a ‘proper trainer’ in to help them.

At first this comment really angered me, probably more than it should have and I spent the rest of the day dwelling on it. This is because I am a ‘proper trainer’ I have spent years of my life and thousands of pounds learning how to be one. I know about canine behaviour, I know about pack structure, dominance theories and reward based training. I have committed myself fully to knowing everything there is to know in order to be a ‘proper trainer’ and yet I choose not to do it. I choose to be a Canine Therapist and use the methods I do now instead. The reason I was so angered was because me and my methods weren’t taken seriously. Because I didn’t use the traditional methods, they had already made their minds up that this wasn’t going to work and hadn’t bothered so why even use my services in the first place?

There is no official qualification to become a dog trainer or behaviourist and no set way that you have to do things. There are certain training courses that people In the profession hold in higher regard than others but this is mostly just personal opinion.

You can do degrees in canine behaviour but I don’t believe this makes you better than someone who has years of experience and has attended courses run by different people or organisations.

When I started in 2009 I trained with Jan Fennell, her methods were the only ones I was ever planning to use at the time. I had watched her on TV as a teen and was amazed by what she could get a dog to do. Then Victoria Stilwell and Cesar Millan were on the TV and regardless of what you think of either of them them, they both opened training schools to teach other trainers or behaviourists how to apply their methods in their consults and there are countless other training programmes around the UK for people to sign up to and learn how to be a trainer or behaviourist. I have attended a few others over the years myself.

Once I qualified I started practicing on my own dogs at home and then I slowly started taking on paying clients. I had quite a lot of success but I also had some failures and soon found myself bringing home certain dogs that people couldn’t cope with, but once they came to me and I was working through their issues on a daily basis, they were absolutely fine. It didn’t take me long to realise that there was something missing from the training. Something that I was giving these dogs that their owners possibly weren’t.

Then I took on several severely traumatised dogs and found the missing link. These were dogs that had been moved from home to home so many times that they didn’t know what they were doing right or wrong, or ones that had been so badly abused that they couldn’t even be touched. When you have dogs like this you can’t just go in and train them using the methods that I had learnt over the years. I couldn’t even get near most of them without being bitten and some would attack a lead as soon as they looked at it.

This is when I realised where general training goes wrong and it dawned on me that it training a dog is like baking a cake. The lead work, recall, obedience, agility etc is like the icing, It looks amazing and everyone admires it. But in order to have that amazing icing you first have to bake the cake for it to go on.

What I had to give these dogs was time. Time to settle and time to trust me before I waded I’m with my actions and commands. When all the other dogs had come to me I’d just persevered, I didn’t care if it took me a week, a month or a year to train them. These ones needed the same understanding but without the training being thrown at them.

I started to look for ways to help them settle, trust and get over their past traumas and fears, and I soon came across the Therapy methods I use today. Initially they were supposed to just be another string to my bow that I could use to help these specific dogs or future foster dogs, but I started to notice a change in the behaviour of all of my dogs when working in this way, it was amazing.

Over the past five years I have found that I have wanted to use my traditional training methods less and my therapy methods more, because I feel that this is exactly what our dogs need. The more dogs I help, the more I see that emotion is the underlying cause of the behaviour, so surely this is the most logical place to start, remove the held emotion and you will remove the emotional response, therefore improving the dogs behaviour. I believe that a dog needs to be emotionally balanced before it can fully learn any traditional techniques thrown its way and that canine therapy is the cake that holds the traditional training icing.

I have since revisited that comment about using a ‘proper trainer’, and as much as I want people to realise that when they are using my services they are using someone with 11 years worth of experience in canine behaviour and training, I also want them to realise that my methods are different and the reasons for this.

My hope is that one day all of the canine therapists will be seen as ‘proper trainers’ with their methods accepted in the same way the traditional methods are accepted and with us working together for the good of the dogs in our care. After all you can’t ice an unbaked cake.

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