I entered the field of dog training late in life, following my initial career in law enforcement. When I consider the things which made that 30 year career successful a long line of teachers parade through my memory and make me smile. They saw my potential, fueled my interest in learning and guided me toward my goals. They prepared me for the success which followed.
At this stage in my life I think the older trainers and behavior consultants among us have an important role to play by preparing the next generation of canine professionals. Each of us can contribute to the development of the next generation. If we look around we may just see someone whom we can help, just as my beloved teachers helped me. Sometimes we find such individuals in an unexpected way.
In the fall of 2018 I received an email from the receptionist at a veterinary clinic in the city of Verona. That is within my service area but I had never had any clients there.
Sarah, the receptionist, explained that the veterinarian had acquired Fear-Free certification and was looking for an appropriate (force-free) dog trainer to refer clients to. Sarah had done some research and found my web site so she invited me to visit the clinic and meet the staff.
I countered with an offer to present my A-B-C’s of Animal Training presentation to the entire staff during one of their regular training sessions, and to provide (free) dog safety DVDs and puppy packets for them to distribute to their clients.
In addition, I prepared a packet for each employee with handouts from sources such as AVSAB so their clients could make an informed choice about finding a professional trainer. My goal was to educate and support the clinic staff so they could better serve their pet clients.
In return I have enjoyed numerous referrals for training and behavior services and have almost weekly appointments in Verona. Nearly all of my new clients come directly from referrals, so the benefits to my business expand exponentially.
What I did not expect was to develop a mentoring relationship with Sarah.
Sarah revealed that she was a volunteer at the county humane society, was helping a trainer with classes there, and was studying for her own professional dog trainer certification. Sarah also wanted some help with her dog, Jobin, teaching him polite greeting manners when visitors came to the front door.
We scheduled an in-home training session and I waived my fee in appreciation for the introduction to the veterinary clinic. Jobin proved to be a great student and his greeting behavior improved to perfection.
It just happened that Pat Miller was scheduled to present a local weekend seminar in the weeks ahead and I invited Sarah to join me. We drove to and from the event each day, giving us plenty of time to discuss our mutual force-free philosophies and goals. During the seminar we discussed what we were learning and bounced ideas off one another.
In April of 2019 the therapy dog organization I belong to invited me to provide a training presentation for their members. Once again, I pulled out the A-B-C’s of Animal Training and asked Sarah if she would assist me by operating my video camera.
Her assistance allowed me to produce a DVD to give to the therapy dog organization for the benefit of members who could not attend, and give Sarah a copy as she continued preparing for her certification exam. It was a win-win collaboration.
Sarah subsequently passed her exam and is a brand spanking new professional dog trainer. At half my age I see a long career ahead of her and am happy to support her professional development.
One of my common behavioral practices is working with dogs who are leash-reactive to other dogs during neighborhood walks. I have found it helpful to use my own two dogs in this process and I invited Sarah to assist me, either as a handler for my dogs or with Jobin. This makes my job easier gives Sarah valuable experience.
We also discussed the common complaint from dog owners that their dogs pull relentlessly during leash walks. Indeed, this has proven to be the most difficult task for several of my clients. I have long thought of filming a training process teaching a dog to walk with a loose leash and Jobin fit the bill.
Sarah and Jobin joined me for a 90 minute filming session in which she resumed her role as camera operator, with great skill. During this time Jobin learned how to walk on leash like a pro and Sarah now has a DVD which she can use with her clients.
I have also proposed to several local force-free trainers that we meet once a month to chat about dog training and behavior, discuss a challenging case, or watch a training DVD. It will be a great opportunity for networking and mutual development.
The bottom line is this.
If you have learned from those who shared their experience, expertise and wisdom with you…think creatively about ways to pass it along. There is far more work than any single trainer can handle so sharing the workload is beneficial. If we help one another develop our skills then we become more effective, so pet owners do not become frustrated and seek those who use aversive methods out of frustration.
Be a mentor to a younger trainer and your legacy will carry on long after you have hung up your leash and bait bag. Become the teacher that others fondly remember and smile about!