I wanted to start this blog off with a wise saying: “Find a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life”! This is definitely how I feel about getting to work with dogs as a behaviourist and private trainer for Head to Tail. What I love most is that I get to help dogs and owners understand each other better, come up with personal training plans and that no appointment is ever the same!
My job as a behaviourist is to identify what is going on for the dog and where the behaviour is coming from, so I never have a rigid plan or use the same training approach for every dog. To do this I turn up with an open mind, gather information from the owners, observe the dog, think outside the square and see what training plan would work best. Each dog has its own unique skill set, temperament, personality and history so every case is different and my approach will be different too e.g., a training plan for an anxious dog that lunges at other dogs on a walk is going to be very different to an aggressive dog that lunges at other dogs on a walk as their intentions are completely different!
Another big factor to remember is that dogs have different learning styles just like us and respond to rewards/training in different ways. Some are what I refer to as “eye dogs” that can notice the smallest movement and respond much better to hand signals along with their owner’s verbal cues. Some dogs respond well to working for food (anyone with a Labrador will know what I mean…) whereas other dogs (like mine) aren’t interested in a food reward on a walk and do much better with verbal praise, pat or a squeaky toy. Also, some dogs have high work drive and will work for you for an hour or more whereas others are mentally tired after 5-10 minutes so keeping all these things in mind is important when coming up with a training plan.
To give you a bit of an idea of what a typical day looks like I will talk about a recent weekend where I saw three different dogs:
My Saturday morning started with a 0945 “behavioural walk” appointment. This amazing client and her dog recently had a behavioural consult and follow up appointment with me. Their dog is 10 years old and had been dog reactive for the last 8 years of her life despite other trainers trying to help in the past. We had great success during our behavioural consult & follow up a couple of months prior so for the “behavioural walk” we were able to take their dog to the beach along with my dog for support. The walk went for just over an hour and during that time we let their dog settle in, some redirection training and confidence building with other dogs from afar, play in the water to reduce anxiety levels and I showed the owner what to look for in other dogs on the beach (who might be safe to approach in future and who isn’t etc.).
The walk finished with both of our dogs (mine being the support dog) playing in the water together like two young puppies. The client and especially her dog had so much fun and felt more confident to return to the beach in future.
The next appointment was an initial behaviour consult for a young working breed dog. The owner and I spent a good chunk of time talking about what was going on, I gathered background information on the dog while also observing her while we were talking. I identified that her dog was high energy and high drive who showed some signs of anxiety and that she needs a lot more mental stimulation and exercise than most dogs would. The biggest issue for the client was leash manners and to date she was the strongest dog I have held on a leash and she was only a 25kg odd dog!
We spent the next hour doing some leash desensitisation, putting the walking training into practice, and rewarding her dog by “marking” the right behaviour with lots of verbal and food praise. I also gave them both information on training new tricks etc to keep her dog stimulated mentally.
The last appointment was an anxious dog whom I was seeing for a behavioural follow up (we had had the behavioural consult the week prior) and the goal of the session was to build his confidence by bringing my dog along. He was leash reactive but he came from a place of fear and being overwhelmed by loud sounds in the big wide world like trailers and motorbikes etc. We worked him through a step-by-step training plan to associate other dogs with good things as opposed to stress and slowly building his confidence up again. His owner had done and incredible job training him previously as his work ethic was amazing and he would happily sit for a minute or longer waiting for a treat! The training went really well and her dog learned to regulate his stress levels to a point where he was lying stretched out on his side in the shade only a few metres away from my dog!
I finished up the day by emailing any training notes to the owners, to cover off what we worked on (it’s hard as the client to remember everything said during a training session or consult) and that’s another day done!
Training dogs never feels like work and I am so grateful to be working as a dog behaviourist! Stay tuned for another blog coming soon which will touch on how to get your dog through the silly season.