Helping clients through the ups and downs of training their dogs

By Rachel Lane

Helping clients through the ups and downs of training their dogs starts at the initial consultation before you even begin working with the dog. The first thing you need to do is speak with your client and determine their goals. Goals are defined by the client and are completely personal. Do they want their puppy potty trained? Do they want their dog to walk nicely on leash? Do they want their dog to pass other dogs on leash without barking and lunging, and go to the dog park? Listen to your client’s goals, figure out why they contacted you to train their dog in the first place, and determine what would they like to see improved.

Once you know what your client’s goals are, it’s important to help them understand what success looks like for them. Look at their goals and see if they are reasonably achievable, and, if they are not, determine how close you can come to reaching those goals. Potty training a puppy is a reasonable and achievable goal, but a dog that barks and lunges at other dogs while on a leash can learn how to pass dogs comfortably on a leash, but they may never be able to safely go to the dog run.

Be honest and upfront with your client. Help them understand what expectations are reasonable and what might not be as practical. Being clear will help both you and your client. By not promising rainbows and unicorns, you are setting your client, and their dog, up for success, rather than disappointment.

Work with your client to establish a timeline. Clients don’t always realize how much time it can take to train their dog. They usually know that it is a lot of work, but the amount of time that it can take is often a surprise. This is especially true when working through behavioral issues. By creating a timeline, you will relieve stress and frustration from your client. This way they know it is okay when training is not going as smoothly or as quickly as they had hoped.

Break things down into small achievable goals for the client, exactly like you would with the dogs you are working with. Celebrate the success, no matter how small, and move on to the next step.

Next, you need to prepare your clients for the reality that training their dog will consist of ups and downs. Prepare them for the fact that everything might not go in a straight line as they work towards their goals.

By going through all these steps at the initial consultation you are setting your client up to understand what exactly they are getting themselves into. By doing this you are helping them avoid disappointment, or feelings of failure. The client now knows what goals are reasonable, how long they might take to achieve, and what the process will look like.

People tend to feel good about themselves and their dog when training is going well, but the opposite is true when training is not going well. They can start to feel bad, not only about themselves but about their dog as well. The key is to keep your clients feeling hopeful and motivated, even when things are not going according to plan—when they are not making the progress they had hoped or when setbacks arise.

When a failure occurs, use it as an opportunity to learn. Help clients see that it was actually, in fact, not a failure. The first thing to do is ask questions to determine why the problem occurred or reoccurred; what happened? Where did it go wrong? Were your client and their dog prepared? What part of the failure was within your client’s control, and what was out of their control? If it was something in their control, what can they do differently next time to change the outcome? Find the answers to these questions, and make changes for next time. Remind your client that failures are just temporary setbacks and in the long run they are good! They teach us so much. If you do not analyze failures and learn from them, you are doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over again. Setbacks can even make the training process faster, teaching us where the root of the problem lies and what solutions will work.

One of the most important things to do when your clients have a setback is to sympathize, let them take a break if they need to, and then help them move on. They are not going to make progress towards their goals if they are stuck worrying about what happened yesterday.

Help clients stay focused on the big picture. Overall progress will not be set back by one bad day, one bad week, or one bad experience. Show clients that one day of failure does not mean that the process is failing them. As you work with your client, take lots of photos and videos, and keep detailed records. When your client is on day 26 of training their dog and beginning to feel like something isn’t working, go back to your records of day 8. Look at where they were, and remind them of how far they have come.

The final piece of the puzzle is to give your clients something fun they can do with their dog. That can include trick training, puzzle toys, a flirt pole, fetch, frisbee, hiking, nose work, or anything else your client and their dog deems fun. Keep your clients energized and engaged with their dog. By having something fun to do, the owners are able to take a break from focusing on the problems, and, instead, enjoy spending time with their dog. There are, of course, many reasons for people to do these activities with their dogs, but in this case they will have a lot more ups as they go through the training process, and the downs will not seem so bad or as prevalent.