Thursday, March 21, 2013

Inspire Me

Today at work, I used ALL my nurse skills. I took an elderly patient with pneumonia to urgent care, triaged a patient with low red blood cells, transferred a morbidly obese patient to an exam table, assisted with a pap smear, gave a new doctor a tour of our clinic, educated a patient on her diabetes, hunted down supplies we needed for a procedure, helped a home care nurse troubleshoot a patient’s medications, and a few dozen other tasks that blend into the blur that is being a primary care nurse. I’m good at what I do, and I’m always eager to learn more, but there’s a great deal I don’t know about nurse. For example, I can’t read an EKG to save my life (or someone else’s!), and I’m probably not the person you want drawing your blood. These are activities I've never had reason to learn, so I simply don’t know about them.

Being a dog trainer is a lot like being a nurse. There are many behaviors I don’t know how to deal with because I've never had to deal with them. For instance, I insist that all fosters coming into my house be tested for appropriateness with cats before they come to me – if they’re not cat safe, they can’t stay here. As a result, I have minimal knowledge about how to deal with cat/dog issues. I’m not comfortable with children in general, so anyone who comes to me with a dog/child issue gets referred to another trainer. But hot damn! Do I know my way around a reactive pit bull!

I don't have many pictures of me teaching class. Oddly enough, dog people tend to take pictures of dogs, not people.
Here I am teaching puppy class. In theory.
Photo by Paige.
Many, many moons ago when I was first starting to take classes with my own dogs, I worshiped dog trainers. They knew everything! They were demigods of canine knowledge and gatekeepers to behavior solutions. I've since learned that dog training is a highly specialized field. While there are several certificate programs and dog trainer training schools, there’s no single knowledge base that a person has to have before they’re allowed to call themselves a dog trainer. It’s not like being a nurse where I had to complete schooling through an accredited college, take a national standardized test, obtain a license, and complete a certain amount of continuing education each year to maintain that license. Dog training knowledge is largely based on individual knowledge and experience; therefore, not all dog trainers will have the same knowledge, experience, and skills. The person who teaches your obedience class might not be the person you want to see for your dog’s reactivity.

When I’m looking for a dog trainer for myself and my own dogs, there are two factors that are of paramount importance to me: the means and the end. Does this trainer get the results that I am looking for, both with her own dogs and her students’ dogs? After all, dog trainers should be able to do more than train dogs – they also need to be able to teach their students to train their dogs. I’ve taken classes from people who were excellent dog trainers but miserable people trainers, and I typically came to dread these classes. In the same vein, I want to know that the trainer I chose has roughly the same training philosophies I do. I’ve been around the block a few times, and I’m pretty close-minded when it comes to certain training techniques. If I’m planning to stay with a trainer for the long haul, I want to know that we’re not going to be constantly butting heads over training equipment, reinforcement methods, management styles, acceptable stress levels in dogs, or even the types of dogs I own. (Yes, there are dog trainers that don’t like pit bulls or can’t handle reactive dogs in a class not intended for reactive dogs. Dog trainers are people, too, and not everyone can be perfect.)

Important rule of teaching: never be afraid to look stupid for your students' dogs.
Photo by Gail.

Now that I have been around the block a few times, though, I do sometimes appreciate taking the occasion class from someone with enormously different views than mine. At this point, I know what I am and am not willing to do to my dogs in the name of training, and I don’t have a problem advocating for them even if it upsets the instructor. I’m not so narrow-minded that I can’t pick up useful information from these classes. I feel that I learn as much from people who disagree with me as I do from people who support my own views and philosophies.

Another factor that is important to me in a dog trainer is continuing education. It is an incredible time to be a dog trainer. For the first time in human history, scientists are investing real time and energy into figuring out what makes man’s best friend tick from a behavioral standpoint. There’s an amazing amount of new information out there, and in order to stay current and effective, continuing education is essential. Not long ago, I took a class with Jai in which the instructor was not against my techniques or ineffective, he was simply out of date. It was terribly disappointing, perhaps even more so than taking a class from someone who outright disagreed with me. With the availability of blogs, books, and You Tube, I think that there’s no excuse for not staying current on the information in your given specialty.

Ultimately, I believe that the decision of which dog trainer to chose is rather personal. Who works for me (or with me, as it were) may not mesh with another person. Like each dog, each dog trainer is an individual with unique strengths and weakness. My personal goal in dog training is not simply to train my dogs; it is to learn as much as possible about them, their behaviors, and what makes them happy. Curiosity has gotten me farther in dog training and in nursing than any other quality. Curiosity, of course, killed the cat.

But satisfaction brought it back.

I'm in the picture, it's advertising classes, I say it counts. 

1 comment:

  1. Reactive dogs are the entry for a lot of dog trainers. I specialize in soft fearful dogs. My Bailey was a rat-terrier sized Cujo when we first adopted him. We got lucky and found a good group of trainers to learn from.