Beyond Technique, Toward Something Worthwhile…

Posted: May 26, 2017 in Uncategorized

The dog training world goes thru waves of adjustment on a continual basis. One week, everybody is fighting over technique or method and which is “The Best”. Or which is “Science” and which is the complete opposite. You can’t put 3 dog trainers together on Facebook, or a chatroom, or Instagram without starting a veritable war of words. It’s taken me time to gain experience, training, and observation to finally figure out what’s really important to be a dog trainer. I consider this hard won and well earned knowledge. And when I reflect on my own work, I can identify six qualities that make it possible. They have nothing to do with training method, types of tools used, or being a natural-born trainer. Most individuals are capable of cultivating these qualities, with just a little thought. And maybe just a bit of personal introspection. It seems to me that these qualities apply to a great many human pursuits, take your choice, but I am applying them to dog trainers. These traits, when applied by more of us, would lessen, if not eliminate the atmosphere of the dog training community at large. Let’s face it, we are frequently less than welcoming, egotistical, and sometimes just downright mean. Not ALL of us, but still too many. But I don’t need to describe the Dog-Training industry in all of its less than professional behaviors. You already see it clearly yourself. Even the dogs know the best from the worst…Especially, do the dogs know.

Above all else, a Dog Trainer must possess 5 qualities.  Patience, Kindness Persistence, Reasoning Ability, Excellence in Communication, and Humility.

There is much more to training dogs than pure technique. These qualities will also make us better people.  Goodness knows that our society needs better people of every stripe in every endeavor.

As individual trainers, it should be safe to assume that we have all raised dogs of our own. (If you haven’t, then it is impossible to call yourself a “trainer”.) You’ve enjoyed successes, and failures with your dog. You have learned the eccentricities and personality of “Your” dog. You have seen your dogs personality and temperament, and learned to adjust his training, (or lack thereof) to that set of variables. You have spent many hours with your dog, working, playing, relaxing, traveling, and just “being with” your dog. Without concentrating on it, you have developed a “Relationship” with your dog. Without any sort of  “relationship”, neither you or your dog will be truly happy or fulfilled. This important fact must be taught to every student that you work through your program. That begs the question, “How do I teach my students HOW to build a relationship with their dog?”

The 6 qualities above are the foundation. We do not consider them as a “Secret” formula that creates a good dog. They do not “anthropomorphize” the dog, (Treating it as a human being). They DO allow a dogs willingness to learn and comply with us, to fully blossom. They do allow for us to provide discipline to our dogs. Discipline that makes many useful behaviors possible. Let’s discuss each quality individually, and learn how each is vital to practice.


No dog is perfect. They are a living beings with drives and motivations uniquely their own. Never expect a dog to perfectly obey all the time. When the dog doesn’t perform as you want, consider what outside influence may be affecting the dog at the moment. Do not yell at the dog, as this is simply ineffective at best. Never hit a dog with hand or stick, out of anger. This builds distrust. And this is not how discipline works in a dog’s mind. Failure to obey on a dogs’ part is usually the fault of you, the trainer. The dog may not understand the meaning of your command yet. There might be other factors. LOOK for them, and see things from the dogs standpoint. Adjust your technique according to the needs of the dog in front of you. They are individuals with unique needs.

Patience is also important to demonstrate with your human student. Some people will understand your direction with ease. Others will take longer to understand, and imitate your example. Some of them might even disagree with your method. Be patient and prove yourself by showing success with their dog. There are many examples of this that can be cited. During a Scentwork class, a certain dog owner was adamantly opposed to any sort of “Clicker Training”. The masterful trainer that was teaching the seminar, patiently demonstrated the Why and How of using his technique, demonstrated the mechanics involved, and by the completion of the class had won over the gentleman. As trainers, we will always find that people are more difficult to train than dogs. Humans have the attributes of Opinion, Bias, and Ego. Dogs are not burdened with these “higher functions”. But people are, including yourself as the trainer. Be Patient, Be skillful with your technique, and convince quietly.


This is basic Human behavior 101 for anybody. Humans AND Dogs. Any need of bullet pointing features of “How to be Kind” would be an unnecessary burden. And maybe even boring to you. And the techniques are surprisingly similar between people and dogs. Ask yourself these questions: Does this action help and encourage the dog/person? Does this action demonstrate the needed behavior clearly? Will the dog/student leave my class anxious to continue training with me? Will my actions cause my student to enthusiastically recommend my services as a trainer to other people? Does the student feel free to ask me questions, or even question my method in a reasonable manner? Does my customer feel that my fee was money well spent? How do the dogs respond to my approach?


Failures are inevitable. Either with a dog, or a student. Nothing and No One is perfect. How you handle failure or disappointment is the true indicator of being a Good Trainer. Never give up, especially if the problem is a human being. You will eventually encounter a human being that will try to convince you that you are a terrible trainer. This person will also try to convince other people that you are a terrible trainer. That’s the nature of this business, and many others. Learn, Practice, Train, Observe, and Convince yourself that you are doing good work. Be willing to forge ahead, while being humble enough to know that there’s always something to learn from someone else. But also work on being convinced of your method as a successful method.

You will eventually encounter a Dog that refuses to respond to you. It might be a personality clash. It might be a technique that doesn’t quite fit the dog in question. Persistence demands that you try a different technique. Which might require more effort on your part. If it’s a personality conflict, then persistence might require that you promote the dogs success by passing the dog along to a different trainer. That requires humility, but demonstrates that you want the dog and trainer to be successful. You are Persistent in making your customer successful by whatever method necessary. Dogs are a terrific example in the art of persistence. If something doesn’t work for a dog, in gaining what it wants, it will continue to try other methods. They waste no time in repeating methods that don’t work. They have no EGO that controls them from trying something different.

Reasoning Ability:

As a dog trainer, there is great value in just STOPPING. Think about things without the burden of having a decision that needs to be made NOW. We can all benefit from systematically solving problems, and celebrating our successes. An unreasonable person focuses on the negative. A reasonable person finds something positive in each day that bolsters our enthusiasm for our work, and indeed, our life. When a problem presents itself, and it will, reason your way through it. Stop, make a list of possible solutions, make a list of people that might be able to help you solve the problem, make a list of why this problem needs to be addressed, or reasons why you can ignore it as unimportant. Train yourself to react to everything in a controlled way. Ways that don’t make the problem even worse. Be systematic with your difficulties in training, running a business, or dealing with people.

Excellence In Communication:

Most failure has roots in poor, or at least unclear, communication. A dog that doesn’t obey a command doesn’t have a full understanding of the command. Or hasn’t had the consequences of disobeying the command clearly communicated. People are much the same. When they don’t follow our lesson properly, we may be lacking in clearly teaching it. Communication that works successfully requires us to “Think on our Feet” at times. If the student (dog OR human) isn’t getting it, change the communication to fit the student. You will be required to figure out the “why” of the problem. Don’t let a dedication to a particular method stunt your appraisal. Be willing, and capable of learning an alternative if it seems more effective. You might be lead toward something entirely foreign to your current methodology, and that should be acceptable to a real trainer. Above all, take the time to observe, question, listen, and ask someone for help if you can’t solve a problem. Every successful trainer, every famous trainer, has been in that position. Every one of them used their power of communication to move forward. They were then capable of communicating more clearly with their students/client.


Humility used to be a prized possession. It was an admired quality, a gold-standard of how a person was viewed by others. Human society, fueled by bad influences from powerful forces, tends to evolve in what is and isn’t acceptable. The attitudes of media and political figures has degenerated into an egotistical, self-aggrandizing, circus of “Me-First” and “I’m the Greatest____________ in the World.” Today, humility gets you pushed aside by the more aggressive, domineering, and self-absorbed individual. When we should ask, “How can I improve myself?” we tend to find justification for believing that we are special and therefore superior to that trainer. A lack of humility may not affect the dogs you are training at all. (Though it can.) But it most assuredly affects the people we train, the trainers we work with, our employees, our employers, and the training community in general. If you can learn and practice humility, you will find that you will collect the very best trainers and people to your side. They will help you, and you will help them. Our profession will be much improved, and pleasant to be associated with, if not society in general. Personally, I have four individual trainers of my association, that have shown me the value of Humility. Each of them is a far better, more experienced trainer than myself. But each of them has allowed me to stand by their side and learn without feeling lesser of myself. As I gain experience, I know that I will also demonstrate this towards those that I may influence in whatever small way.



I hope you find some value in what I’ve written here. In what is now my tenth year of working with dogs full-time, I now feel that this has come full circle back to me. I have been blessed to meet many outstanding people while learning and growing personally. In many ways, this post has been the longest in coming to fruition. It has quite truly taken me 30 years to write this piece. That long to absorb, observe, and finally accept much of what I’ve written. I’ve seen the Best and the Worst of this industry, and a couple of others as well. So many stories that need to be told, so many that should never see the light of day. In order to honor my mentors, carry on their example, I need to light my own torch, raise my own banner into the wind. We should all attempt to put our best foot forward everyday, and I sometimes despair that the world has lost any interest in this simple task. My small, perhaps insignificant, contribution to this noble responsibility may sway or convince no one. But I’m doing it anyway, because I can. And should.


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