It's all things dog trainer month on the Gentle Beth blog! In the next few weeks I'll cover education options for aspiring trainers, decode certifications, and provide plenty of resources if you'd like to learn more. This week I'm focusing on what I love about being a dog trainer.
My journey to becoming Gentle Beth began when my husband and I adopted our dog Ralphie. Neither of us had had a dog as an adult, so we hired a trainer to help us integrate our sweet new pup into our lives. That's when I learned that the title "dog trainer" is a misnomer--our trainer focused more on teaching us than on training Ralphie. And this dynamic turns out to be common. Although some trainers work solely with dogs, most of us are actually people trainers. In fact, my education as a trainer included units on being an effective coach to the human part of the team. As a confirmed extrovert, this aspect of training suits me well.
One of my other favorite aspects of training is seeing my clients watch their dogs learn and understand how smart their four-legged family members are. In almost every training session there’s at least one fabulous moment when the dog demonstrates that she completely understands the cue or the game. For example, the human says touch and then holds our their hand and the dog immediately gives it a solid, purposeful nose boop. Every time I witness these moments, I'm just as excited as my clients.
I also love problem solving. I often get to draw on my knowledge of learning theory to tease out a creative way to teach a new cue or to change a dog's perception of something scary. Or I devise an enrichment plan that allows a dog to express her natural behavior in a safe, human-friendly way--like building a ball pit for dogs who adore digging or giving dogs empty toilet paper rolls to shred so they don't destroy magazines.
As I’ll write about later this month, continuing education is essential for anyone who wants to be a trainer. I love learning and always have a long list things I want to learn about like how to use knowledge of dog’s natural behaviors to improve my training plans and training sessions and how to build a better enrichment plan for every dog.
Being a trainer allows me to combine what I learned from earlier careers. As an English lecturer and later as a Pilates instructor, I communicated sometimes complex information and taught people new skills. I gained years of practice observing and understanding dog body language when I volunteered with the behavior department of the Oregon Humane Society. When I worked as an adoption counselor at OHS, I educated potential adopters about a wide range of dog related information. Finally, my years as a dancer and later as an actor taught me to use my body and my voice in ways that I have translated to my training. Using all of that knowledge and experience to help dogs and their humans live better lives together gives me a lot of joy.