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3 Qualities Every Dog Trainer Needs

Dec 7 / Holly Leake
There is so much involved in being a professional and successful dog trainer.
Obviously, qualifications in canine behaviour and experience working with dogs is essential, nevertheless, there is more to being a successful dog trainer than just knowledge and experience. A lot of people, at the start of their training journey, may pursue a career working with dogs because they prefer their company over humans. While it's true working with dogs is the best career ever, you cannot escape from working with people. Working effectively with a dog's human family is a huge part of being a successful trainer, therefore; certain qualities are needed to achieve this. With this in mind, we’re going to consider 3 qualities every dog trainer needs.

Patience

"This is the magic secret of dog training -- lose control over yourself and you at once lose control of the dog. Your strongest and most irresistible weapon is iron patience."
-Albert Payson Terhune

Unbeknownst to many, dog training requires a lot of empathy. Although our goal is to help dogs, clients often confide in us about their stressful lives, which can be tricky to handle. Some behavioural issues can create conflict in the family, leading to feelings of anxiety and even depression. It's not unusual for clients to break down and cry during consultations, because they are so desperate for help.

If we don't respond with empathy in these situations, we are missing an opportunity to develop a relationship, which will be key in successfully addressing the dog’s behaviour. If we refuse to listen or acknowledge concerns, clients will likely shut down and become distant. In fact, they may never even book another session. Obviously, we are not therapists, but we are in a position of trust where showing sincere concern keeps the line of communication open. This allows us to determine how best to support the guardian and their dog, which is imperative to successful training.

Empathy

“Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” - Aristotle

Every dog trainer knows that training takes patience. Teaching a dog new behaviours, is time consuming and takes lots of practice. If you have chosen a career working with dogs, you likely don't struggle with this at all, however; your patience may wear thin when working with the dog’s family. Failure to follow training instructions and/or neglecting to train between sessions are just two examples of the potential challenges we face. We often have to re-emphasise the importance of following the training plan and do our best to motivate them, despite their insistence that they don't have time.

Becoming confrontational and annoyed, while justified in some cases, is not helpful. We must do our best to communicate honestly and openly, while being tactful and respectful. After all, we have a common goal; to improve the life and behaviour of their dog. So, no matter how frustrated you get, remember to be patient.

Humility

"Great dog trainers have broad skills, not inflexible ideologies." - Ralf Weber

Humility is something that is severely lacking in the world today and yet it’s such an important quality. If we are arrogant about our abilities as a trainer, we may neglect to prepare for our sessions or consultations. We may even decide we don't need to do any further study or gain any more qualifications. Nevertheless, canine behaviour is a field that is constantly changing, therefore, continued professional development is an integral part of providing training that is both effective and up to date with the latest scientific research. It may mean that we have to leave outdated ideologies behind and use new training methods. This requires us to readily acknowledge that we don’t know everything. In fact, every dog we work with will teach us something new and our methods may change, the more we learn.

Sometimes, we need humility to acknowledge that we are not qualified or experienced enough to take on certain behavioural cases. It can be extremely difficult to admit that a dog's behavioural issues are beyond our current expertise, but we can't be skilled at everything. Every trainer has a certain niche, so there's no shame in telling a client you'd like to refer them to a behaviourist who specialises in a specific area of behaviour. As your skills develop, you will soon find your own niche and trainers may refer clients to you in the future. You would never set a dog up to fail by putting them in situations they haven't yet been trained for, so don't put yourself in that situation either.

"It's not only about dog training. It's about people training too." - Leila Grandemange

So, to be a successful dog trainer, you need to be patient with your clients, empathetic to their struggles and humble about your own expertise. All these qualities will help develop a good working relationship, enabling you to help dogs to the best of your ability. Your main goal in life is likely to help as many dogs as possible and, in all honesty, this involves helping their people too.

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