On “graduation day” of our Puppy Kindergarten class, my weimaraner puppy snatched our “graduation” certificate from the trainer’s hands and shredded it.
Right there in front of everyone.
She still passed us.
“Sporting breeds are slow to mature,” she said, trying to reassure me.
I really appreciated her for saying that.
A few months later, at our first Dog Obedience Class (at a different club), my now 6-month old puppy was on his hind legs, jumping towards our new trainer at our first class.
Poor behavior, for sure. But also pretty typically of an excited, young dog.
“I bet you wish you’d taken a puppy class,” the trainer said, unimpressed by us.
“We did,” I said.
“Where? Petco?” (Some dog trainers are snobby and look down on Petco trainers.)
“Hidden Valley Obedience Club.”
“Oh … huh. They’re usually pretty good.”
I should’ve left her class, but we stuck it out for the six weeks and got the most out of it, working on the basics.
From there, Remy and I have had other instances like this, over our 5 years together. Let’s just say owning a weimaraner has been very humbling.
Just last summer, Remy and I were at a bird dog training day. This was our very first summer training on birds ever and my dog and I were brand new to fieldwork and hunting.
One of the trainers pulled me aside.
“You’ve got to get that dog under control,” he said.
He was referring to my dog’s excitability, yet again. And how Remy was very much running all over the damn place instead of methodically using his nose to search for birds. (Because he did not know he was supposed to look for birds!)
But the thing is …
All of the trainers I mention above were witnessing Remy in his worst, most explosive moments.
They had no idea how hard we’ve worked, how far we’ve come.
We have our challenges for sure, and Remy will always be an excitable, goofy individual. He really does try, but he’s also … let’s just say, a “free spirit.”
Yet, Remy is a very good dog!
I’m very proud of what he can do. He’s becoming very focused in agility, for example. He follows my lead, for the most part, pays attention and listens. We earned our first two titles this year, and I expect we’ll earn many more in the future.
Why do I mention all of this?
Because you’ve got a good dog, too!
Your dog is a good dog, and you are a good handler and trainer.
We all have different challenges.
We all work at our own pace with the time we have and the resources available. And with the dog in front of us.
We’re all improving overall, and we all have ups and downs as we go. Dog training is not a clear path.
But I will be a better dog trainer one year from now than I am today. And so will you, if you keep on learning.
Good dog trainers vs. bad dog trainers
A good dog trainer knows how to work dogs – that’s easy!
You know what’s hard? Working with people.
No dog trainer should EVER make you feel bad about your relationship with your dog.
I say this because I’ve been there so many times and it really sucks.
My first dog Ace was always the best behaved dog so I know what it’s like to have the rockstar in the group – the dog who makes you look good, the dog who always obeys, who does not challenge you, who remains calm and stable even when another dog is lunging or tearing around off leash.
I worked really hard with Ace and I’m proud of what he and I accomplished. He was the best boy!
But I’m also proud of Remy, probably even more so because he’s more challenging.
There is no way Remy will walk at a perfect heel off leash in a park with other dogs around as Ace could do. Not yet, anyway.
Remy is not capable of remaining in a down/stay while I greet another dog as Ace did with no problem.
Heck, I’m glad if Remy comes when called 50% of the time.
But I put in the work and we make a great team. Sometimes we disagree on who is the “team captain” but the point is we’re making progress.
What good dog trainers do
I’ve been lucky to work with a lot of really talented, inspiring dog trainers over the years too. I don’t care if they call themselves “positive only” or “balanced” or what kind of tools they prefer as long as they are being fair and consistent with the dog.
Here are a few things good dog trainers have taught me or said to me:
1. Good dog trainers comment on improvements we’ve made.
For example: “Remy is really focused tonight.”
Or, “Remy is really following you well.”
2. Good dog trainers encourage me to push my comfort zone.
For example: “I think he’s ready to trial.”
Or, “He’s ready for the Canine Good Citizen test, absolutely.”
3. They single us out when we do something well.
“He’s really calmed down this year.”
Or, “Remy always comes running to Lindsay because she’s enthusiastic.”
4. They offer suggestions without criticizing.
“Try returning to him sooner to reward him for staying.”
Or, “Make sure he waits until you release him. He doesn’t get to decide.”
5. They have their opinions but listen to mine.
“I don’t use e-collars but he’s your dog, so if it works for you, that’s fine.”
Now, I’d like to hear from the rest of you…
- How do you define good dog trainers vs bad dog trainers?
- If you’re a trainer, how do you inspire your clients?
Let me know in the comments!
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Lindsay Stordahl is the founder of That Mutt. She writes about dog training and behavior, healthy raw food for pets and running with dogs.