By Rangnath Tamboli* and Saba Poonawala**
The life of a dog behaviourist can be quite different. For many, it’s not something that they think of while they grow up. It’s quite unconventional, but this in itself is the beauty of it. It is a field that requires passion, dedication, care, self grooming, and being as fit as possible, developing a strong mind and having more patience than your normal average job, reading and learning immensely with each day, studying the body language of a dog, understanding the psychology of a dog owner, and we come back to the most important part again – dedication!
So here is how we typically start our day –
- We HAVE to start early. It’s not as easy as going to someone’s house or your own training center and teaching a dog how to sit. The important part here is that an awareness is created with the client where they start training their dog at an early age. Most habits are developed by the age of 4 months. So the sooner, the better! We have to base out customized plans for each dog. Just like each child is different, each dog is different and requires a different customized training plan. This is based on the food pattern and lifestyle of the dog. A dog will be willing to learn until his last breath, but it is the owner that needs to learn more to build the best bond with the dog and get desired result.
- Which dog to start with? – Here you have to understand which dog has what kind of drive – food or toy, and what is the dog’s typical day pattern – when is the dog most active, and you visit or work with that dog accordingly.
- Mentally prepare about what type of dog you’re going to meet – Is it a case of aggression? If yes, what type? Is it home obedience? Is it a male or a female dog and what is required of you as a trainer? Should you meet the dog in the house or at a neutral territory? If it’s a behaviour modification – what is the problem – resource guarding, leash pulling, excessive jumping etc.?
- Work with the correct equipment – Do you need a leash, positive reinforcement collar, the correct harness, the correct toy that gives you a good drive for the dog (we really recommend toys by “Bark Butler”), and the best treats for the dog. As you advance in the training, there are more positive reinforcement equipments that you should use.
Other Important Aspects of Training:
The owner’s body language with their dog is very important for us to study. Here you need to see, if the dog is commanding the owner or the owner is commanding the dog! Most problems arise if there is a lack of balance in this equation. If the dog feels it can dominate the owner, that’s problem number one.
Similarly, if the owner is very hyper, it may lead to a similar behaviour in the dog as that’s what the dog is learning. If the owner is very aggressive himself with the dog, it can lead to negative reinforcement and more problems arise here. So here, the trainer needs to teach the owner how to conduct himself with the dog.
We also need to read a lot on different dog breeds, breed standards, temperaments, medical conditions pertaining to different dogs, and as also what is the owner’s requirement. This means, which dog is good for which family type. Families with active lifestyles can manage dogs like Terriers. Families with sedentary lifestyles can even opt to adopt senior dogs. As such, the breed study (pedigree or indies) becomes important.
As a trainer, we also need to participate in many local events to create a name for ourselves as well as challenge our own potential, for our competition is mostly with ourselves first, and then with anyone else. The training method is very important here. What methods we use to work with the dog, impact the dog’s lifestyle for the rest of its life. This is a great responsibility for us. So, positive reinforcement is the way to go. It is the method we use too.
To sum it all up, we would like to say that it’s a great field to be a part of. But most importantly, here you need to be an animal lover and a dog lover for sure. It’s about the passion that’s there in what you do that brings out the best in you. It’s about the dedication and the tenderness and empathy, with which you approach each case. You may be the last hope for that particular dog. You have to think of each case as your own, like it’s your own dog, yet maintain a distance and be able to command respect rather than demand respect from the dog.
The trainer should be able to observe the dog correctly – keenly observe minor aspects like their tail, legs, stability, ears etc.
Personal fitness is an additional benefit. You must be able to think on the spot as you will get several impromptu stimuli and presence of mind is the key here.
The way you conduct yourself with the dog, the dog’s safety and your own is something the trainer needs to be careful of as well. As a trainer, knowing about the dog’s diet and food pattern, knowledge of the different foods available there in the market is good to know. Expanding your knowledge towards medical conditions like basic allergies or hip and joint related problems etc. are all added benefits to the trainer’s book.
It’s a wonderful field to be a part of! You get time to do work around your own schedule too. As an individual, you may come back home being far happier than what you would otherwise. There is immense satisfaction in what you do because you know you have come back home making a positive difference in a living being’s life.
*Teachers trainer for advance dog training
**Co Founder – Pune–Chennai Dog Training Academy. She can be reached @9970371714