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Dog Trainers: Support or Competition?

I've been training dogs for close to 30 years. When I first started, I didn’t have a mentor, so I drove 90 minutes every weekend very early in the mornings to assist a man who bred wolfdogs and taught classes for those who had purchased his animals. I wasn’t a customer, but having become acquainted with him through the wolf/wolfdog world, I became his apprentice. This was no easy job. The man was a drill sergeant. Although my footwork was excellent thanks to a background in gymnastics and I was proficient in administering well-timed corrections, I still got my share of being cursed at and chewed out. The gold standard at the time was the choke chain, and I hated it even then. But this was the way things were done, and I had no friends who were trainers to turn to for advice or support. I became doubtful that I would ever become a professional trainer.

One day, the instructor was working with a puppy. I don’t remember exactly what the pup had done to incur his wrath, but clearly he had given a stern command which the pup was not obeying to his satisfaction. So, he jerked the choke chain. The puppy became scared. Next came a louder, more threatening-sounding command. The puppy shut down completely, unable to respond for fear of making a mistake. A rougher jerk on the chain elicited no response. Finally, the man hung the dog by the chain, all four paws dangling until the dog urinated on himself. That was the day I left and never looked back.

In the ensuing years, although I still had no mentor, I found plenty of information through books, DVDs, and online. I joined the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT) and attended conferences. I began to network. My training methods evolved from using choke chains to kinder, gentler tools and techniques that felt right to me at my core. I eventually wrote books. After the first two (which were about wolfdogs), I wrote So You Want to be a Dog Trainer in the hopes of helping other trainers who were in the same position I had been in, struggling to find direction and guidance. Other books on various aspects of dog behavior in areas I felt were lacking information followed. Along the way, I spent a lot of time fielding advice inquiries, first through email and eventually through social media as well.

I recently decided to create Dog’s Best Friend Coaching & Consulting for Canine Professionals for the sole reason that there are still so many trainers, especially aspiring and newer ones, who need support. Not everyone wants to or is able to attend a training school. Not everything is answered in books or in presentations. Some people live in the middle of nowhere. Questions and tricky problems arise, and often there’s no one to turn to. I know how that feels. I’ve never subscribed to the philosophy that dog trainers are all in competition with each other. There are enough dogs who need help to go around. Of course, there will always be those trainers who are at odds with each other, engaging in arguments about training tools, methodology, etc. These battles have only gotten more heated thanks to social media. I stay out of the fray and suggest you do the same. No one’s mind gets changed by hearing that they’re wrong. What we need to do is to have open dialogue, to help each other continue to evolve in our knowledge and skills, and to support each other emotionally and otherwise. The quote “A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle” is absolutely true. If dog trainers help and support each other, we, the dogs, the owners, and the dog training profession as a whole will benefit. ___________________________________________________________________________________ Don’t want to miss a blog post? Subscribe above to be notified of new postings. You can find my books, seminar DVDs, and blog at and me on Facebook and Twitter. And of course, dog trainers can get personalized coaching and consulting at

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