Friday, May 5, 2017

Families are my speciality

I am almost done with Phase Eight in my training and my wheels of "what will I do when I'm done?" is constantly turning in my head. Too many times in my life, I have started something without finishing it, or completed something but then did nothing with it. I don't want to do the same thing with dog training so I'm constantly forcing myself to make plans, just so I have one--even if they change or don't work out. 

My latest plan is to specialize in working with children and families. This is what started this whole dog training thing to begin with; when we first got Joey. I thought it would be easy to train the children--it's not. It's like training five puppies plus the actual puppy.

I have a special empathy for those who have children and a new dog and want to make it work, because I've been there. I was the one with the "good intentions" and then regretted my decision of getting a dog. I was the one who wanted to make it work but I didn't know how. I did not feel like a dog trainer. I didn't even feel like a dog lover. Joey took all the love and patience out of me, with his persistent diarrhea literally every 15 minutes on our brand new carpet. "Marking" (or so I thought at the time) and being "territorial" in every room. Biting my kids non-stop. (Play biting.) My girls having to give up wearing nightgowns because Joey would go after the flowing lace (ripped it to shreds.) Was an obsessive chewer. I didn't realize that most of these problems were a combination of typical puppyhood, stress and poor management.

And then you have the kids. As I said, five "puppies." They were constantly on Joey and I never could take my eyes off of them. It seemed that every 10 minutes someone would come crying to me about a scratch or a bite. And Joey was never left alone. There was always someone holding him, petting him, cuddling him, kissing him. I was always saying "Leave the dog alone!" That dog never got a break.

That was when we called in a dog trainer for help. He was a nice guy and I liked his training style. But it was obvious he didn't like kids. Though he spoke to them nicely, it was obvious he had never worked with them before. He expected the kids to sit quietly on the couch while he taught his half hour lessons. The kids eyes glazed over and they didn't remember a thing he said. He became frazzled and impatient easily.

So the trainer was a disappointment, and I knew I was on my own. But it forced me to dig deeper into dog training and management techniques. This is what initially led me to dog training, and I discovered a genuine love for it--and dogs!

It's always stayed in the back of my head that "there should be more help for families." I couldn't get that trainer out of my head. I had felt so hopeless at the time and didn't feel much support from him. I wondered if there were any trainers out there at all that specialize in families.

Surprisingly, there aren't. (There are a few, but not many.) As I've gone along in my studies, I've been surprised to learn that most trainers don't know how to work with children and they don't want to work with children. There are some that even purposely choose not to have children, because their dogs are their "children."

I find this amazingly contradictory! If children are the leading victims in dog bites (rather provoked or not), and dogs are being euthanized because of it, you would think this would make more trainers want to help families. But instead, they believe that the parents should train the children.

Parents have enough to do! I can still say (with much exasperation) that the "advice" I got from the trainer that I should "train my kids and train the dog" felt like he had just given me a mountain of laundry to do. Or given me a sinkful of dishes to wash. I was overwhelmed with the thought of teaching what I didn't know and most parents will feel that way too--and therefore, will just "deal with it" the best they know how.

A book I'm reading for school, Kids and Dogs, a Professional Guide to Helping Families, is one of the few trainers that specializes in working with families. Instead of working around the kids, she works with them. She teaches them dog body language (and I should add the parents are there learning too.) She teaches stress signals to prevent bites. She also teaches obedience, management techniques and plays games.

Kids who are hyper? She uses them as distractions. "Let's see how many cartwheels you can do by Brody and we'll see if he still stays in his sit-stay position." 

Or the Red Light, Green Light Game. "Red Light" means the dog has had enough and needs a break. "Green Light" means the dog is good to go! (I use this technique with the younger kids, especially!)

And so, I've found my specialty, I think. I want to be a trainer that will help families, and hopefully a trainer that shows her love for children as well as dogs.

I will end with some good advice from this book that I've come to love:

"Dog-training books say, "Control your kids,' and they expect parents to control them to a level that seems pretty unrealistic to anyone who has ever been around a two year old for more than 20 minutes. Parents are exhorted to make sure their kids don't run, don't scream, don't make loud noises, avoid abrupt movements, and never look a dog in the face. Who could ensure that none of those things happen all day, everyday, for the next twelve or more years? That's not very realistic advice when you're actually in the same household with children and dogs."

"The advice we give parents must be realisitic, and it has to be as easy to understand follow as you can possibly make it. Sometimes, trainers create extraordinary behavior modification plans and proudly present them to the client, only to hear the client say, 'I can't do this. It's too hard.' The kid-and-dog issue is similar. Parents have a lot on their plates. They need to feel that we are making their lives easier, not harder. The easier our ideas are to implement, the more likely parents are to follow through. This factor alone makes a huge difference.

Seventy-seven percent of dog bites to children are on the face. That's a big deal. Almost all those bites could be prevented if parents know how to interpret what they are seeing. Dog aficionados (dog lovers, trainers, teachers) have an obligation to prevent as many injuries as we can."

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