How to Help Your Dog Trainer


The problem solving aspect of dog training is one of my very favorite things about my job! Sometimes I get a little excited to start a new case, and I think my clients must feel like I'm giving them the third degree with all the questions I ask.

Questions are usually the first step after hiring a trainer. They'll want to know what goals you have or problems you're experiencing. If you need bad behaviors stopped, your trainer is likely to ask a lot of questions! Remember, trainers want to avoid repetitions of the wrong behavior so they need to get a very thorough understanding of what the behavior looks like without having to actually witness it--if possible.

This brings us to the concept of Interpretations versus Observations. Humans love to interpret dog behavior! It's not something that many of us consciously do, it just comes out of our mouths. "He's happy." "He gets jealous when the other dog comes over." "He's just so dominant!" "He loves to ride in the car."

Defining the concept of Interpretations is easier if we first define Observations.
Observations are indisputable statements about the dog's behavior. "He's wagging his tail...He holds his ears back...He orients to the handler...He jumps on people from behind...etc." These are all things that everyone can observe and agree on.

Interpretations are the emotions and motivations we assign the dog based on observations. We consciously or subconsciously receive input about the dog's behavior and then make an interpretation about how he feels or why he's behaving the way he is. Where observations aren't usually right or wrong, interpretations can be correct or incorrect. 

Part of my job as a dog trainer is teaching people how to observe their dog's behavior and what those observations mean.

Several years ago I had a client with a medium sized-dog. They hired me for some basic obedience stuff as well as a few problematic behaviors. One of the things they reported was that she pulled on leash and really wanted to run. We started with the usual training games for leash manners as well as other foundation skills. Ten months later, I boarded her while the family went out of town. As I usually do with boarders, I took her for a daily walk and realized that we'd been working off a faulty interpretation. What had been labeled as a love for running was actually  moderately acute hypervigilance from anxiety.
I don't blame the family. If anything, I blame myself for not personally observing her behavior. 

Dog trainers don't mind hearing your interpretations, but if we start giving you the third degree about very specific behaviors, just understand that we're searching for observations. We need you to be our eyes sometimes!