It’s Worth It, We Promise

As you might imagine, dog trainers are not known for their love of humanity.

They love dogs, or even animals generally. They love the challenge. They love the craft. But they do not necessarily love you, the client. And if it helps at all, they don’t love each other any better.

Add to this a decade of dog training “reality” shows that tend to mislead the general public as to what it is we really do, how long it really takes, and what the result should finally look like.

Should it come as any surprise to us when a client confidently orders up a side of spaghetti with her risotto? [Yes, another cooking analogy.]

Still, dog trainers stew endlessly over having to cope with such random and occasionally distasteful expectations, and frequently suffer offense when our labor or advice goes unappreciated. Meanwhile, our clients wind up feeling underserved or disappointed, because at the end of the day, either their personal wishes were not honored or their needs were simply not met.

Recently, a question was raised on several trainer lists regarding the ethics of squaring a client’s perceived needs with what the trainer deems appropriate to offer, including whether it’s somehow harmful to our profession to discount our usual services in order to meet a client’s stated budget.

Various strategies for resolving this conflict were offered up, some of which will appear in an upcoming feature on Professional Ethics in the APDT Chronicle (part 4 of series by Marjie Alonso).

The discussion brought to mind what an architect client once told me. In his negotiations with clients, he explains that every project has three major variables. These are cost, quality, and scope. He then explains that one may control any two of those, as long as one sacrifices control over the third.

This encourages an honest and practical discussion of priorities, as you can imagine. And of course, the architect reserves the right to pass on any job that offends his personal sensibilities.

I think in an ideal world, a trainer’s negotiations with his clients would run along similar lines. There would be transparency regarding different options, and the opportunity to engage in a frank discussion of priorities and costs.

Maybe we end up substituting crab for lobster or serving up a smaller portion; maybe we convince the client to splurge after pointing his attention to the bliss being enjoyed at surrounding tables; maybe we even pour a free cocktail to make up for not serving the Cesar salad.

And if despite our best efforts to cajole or educate, the client insists on a side of french fries and a bottle of ketchup with his seafood risotto, we can always send him along to the nearest MacDonalds.

© Ruth Crisler and Spot Check, 2013.

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  1. Donna Soderstrom’s avatar

    Awww, gee. Some of us do love our clients. And even have to, gasp! feign a little more interest in the dog than we might feel. My clientele is overwhelmingly couples, so I have the fun of mediating their styles to get something that works for all – the dog included. That statement was not intended to be ironic.

    Last week, for the last night of his puppy class, a really “sure of himself” late 20 -something year old, with his GSD, and wife who is expecting a baby, came up after class and told me he had learned so much. Yes, he had. Their dog is headed to being an awesome dog.

    I don’t get offended by someone with a bit of an attitude, nor do I get frustrated by someone who is quite naive. Great. They need me. It will soon be obvious to them. I can be patient. Don’t we want them to be patient?

    Ruth is not wrong, here, however. Commonly heard line is “if only we could get the owner out of the way, the dog would be fine.”


    1. Ruth Crisler’s avatar

      You have a knack for restoring my faith in our industry. And you’re right– many of us do love our clients and even have moderately good people skills.

      My own took a long time to develop, in the interest of full disclosure. But I no longer view them as obstacles, nor resent their not sharing my personal set of priorities in every case.

      Bottom line, respecting one’s clients makes one a better instructor, just as respecting dogs makes one a better trainer.


  2. The Pooch Professor’s avatar

    I am always, always trying to improve my teaching skills (to people). I work on my dog skills, of course, but I am constantly reading books and digging up as much information as I can on how humans learn and how best to reach them when the subject is one they are emotional about–their dog.

    People who can train a dog but not its owner are common, and are not super useful, in my book. I’d much rather know someone who has mediocre dog skills and great people skills, if I had my druthers.



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