Category Archives: Dog Services

Can Your Dog Trainer Solve Your Problems?

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At my very first clicker expo, one of the talks I attended was “Common Trainer Mistakes” by Ken Ramirez. The mistake Ken closed his talk with was “Assuming All Training Can Be Done By Anyone”. I thought of this talk again while reading this blog post recently. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a worthwhile read. In it, my friend and colleague Andre Yeu argues that good trainers are turning down hard cases for fear of not knowing enough. He makes some great points and his post resonated with me. I am The Dog Trainer Colleague Who Undersells Herself, and I might suffer slightly from both Imposter Syndrome and the Dunning-Kruger effect he references. Andre warns that when well informed trainers pass on difficult cases, clients are more likely to fall into the hands of aversive “shock and pop” trainers. My differing perspective is that taking a case you might not be ready for is unethical and just as likely to lead clients into the hands of trainers who offer sub par, harmful solutions. Accepting a client without certainty of your ability to solve their problem is a common trainer mistake Ken warned us of.

A quick glance at my books reveals that I’ve spent over $20,000.00 on continuing education over the past five years. Last year I had four times the continuing education credits required to maintain my certification. While I am not a seasoned veteran, I’m good at what I do and I take the responsibility I have to my clients seriously. There are many specialties in training and many paths I could follow to broaden my abilities. I could focus on puppies, manners, tricks, various sport training, working dog training , body conditioning for canine athletes, or behavior modification. Within these specialties are further subspecialties. Some trainers only teach agility. Others only work separation anxiety cases. While I am focusing on behavior modification, many of my clients are interested in more than just manners work. While I would never purport to be an expert in a specialty I have only a basic knowledge of (when was the last time you saw a gun dog working in Manhattan?) I feel that it’s important to have a foundation in all of the above disciplines to best serve my clients needs. The trainers I most respect are humble education junkies, continuing to expand both their intellectual knowledge and their skills. As Aristotle said, the more you know the more you know you don’t know.

Aristotle

Shouldn’t we know what problems we’re qualified to help our clients solve? This is the crux of the issue. There are great schools and organizations, but there is no one school, program, or organization that teaches it all. I  must put my own curriculum together and connect the dots by myself. While I have fabulous mentors guiding me, it’s not the same as attending a well designed comprehensive program where material  builds on itself. Unlike therapy for humans, there are no supervision requirements. When you are continually learning, it’s hard not to feel like you know nothing when there’s nobody there to tell you that you’re doing a great job. We rely on our clients satisfaction to keep tabs on our capabilities, but there can still be a seed of doubt. Could I be doing this better? Quicker? Is there a different approach?

It’s up to each individual trainer to listen to their inner voice and make responsible decisions about accepting a case or referring out. I would rather decline a case than provide a partial solution to a client’s problem, leaving them questioning the efficacy of humane training methods. If we are thoughtful with our self assessments and honest about our current level of knowledge and skill sets, we can make very good decisions for ourselves – and for our clients – about what cases we shouldn’t take on. In this profession, clients come to us with high stakes problems. If a case is handled incorrectly, the safety of a client or the public at large may be compromised. Rehoming or euthanasia may be on the table. If a professional has 90% of the knowledge they need to help these clients, 90% of the knowledge they need is not good enough. The sliver of information missing could result in prolonging the suffering of an animal in severe physical or emotional distress or suggesting euthanasia to an animal that might otherwise be helped.

While not every trainer has the luxury of being surrounded by a community of other excellent professionals to refer to, we are lucky to have that here in NYC. There is an excellent network of trainers, behavior consultants, and veterinary behaviorists in the NYC area that are happy to work together. On the occasion I feel a case might be beyond my experience level, I provide the client with immediate management suggestions while sending the client to both a veterinarian (medical issues can cause behavior change) and a colleague better equipped to handle the case. If you are a fellow trainer, for the good of our profession and our clients, I urge you to to do the same.

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Tips For Dog Owners
  • Read your trainer’s biography and philosophy. If they don’t have one listed, keep looking.
  • Make sure your trainer has obtained a certification. This is not necessarily proof of competence, but it’s a good start.
  • Ask for your trainers official resume listing the courses they have taken and continuing education they have done and/or the seminars and workshops they have taught to other professionals.
  • Ask if your trainer has solved your problem before.
  • Ask who your trainer turns to when they’re stuck. Look up that person’s biography.
  • Ask your trainer in what scenarios they refer out to other professionals. If they don’t list any scenarios at all, keep looking. Even the most experienced behavior modification professionals need to refer to veterinary behaviorists on some cases.

How To Select A Dog Walker in NYC

There are many iconic scenes that come into one’s head when thinking about NYC. Bagels & Lox. Broadway. Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Dog walkers managing a tangle of leashes with 15 dogs in tow.

I wish the last one on that list wasn’t so, which is why I’m here to help you select a dog walker in NYC.

Grayson wonders why the dog "walker" isn't walking those 7 dogs. Hmmm.

Grayson wonders why the dog “walker” isn’t walking those 7 dogs. Hmmm.

When Lauren’s Leash was a dog walking company, we did things differently. Each pup saw the same walker every day. Most of our pups got walked on their own. Some socially appropriate dogs had a buddy or two, but never more. If a pup was a social walker, they walked with the same dog(s) every day just like they walked with the same human every day. We were the first company in NYC – and only the second company in all of the USA – to offer GPS tracking on all our walks.

Walking dogs solo or with a buddy, guaranteeing the same walker daily, and providing GPS tracking on top of it without charging so much you price out most of the market is fabulous for the dogs but a terrible business idea. Even if solo or buddy walks are more expensive, they still bring in much less profit than when a huge group of dogs are walked together. By the time you pay your employees a good wage, pay for liability insurance, workers comp and disability (which is astronomical in the industry), shell out monthly for the software, and take the time and energy to find and properly train quality employees, you’re barely breaking even. Lesson learned: Given the quality of our service, I should have been charging way more than I was charging. Since discontinuing walking services, I have yet to find a dog walking company in Manhattan that operates the way I did. So many walkers and dog walking companies operate under the table, charging $10 or $15 to take your pup out with a hoard of other dogs. The dogs spent more time tied up outside of buildings, unsupervised and stressed, than they spend actually walking. You couldn’t pay me to put my dog in those circumstances.

Finding a dog walker that is trustworthy and knows what they’re doing can be very, very challenging. If you have a challenging dog, it can be nearly impossible. Dog walkers have little or no education on dog body language, problem prevention, and management. They think they know what they’re doing, and most give awful training advice when asked. This advice is well intentioned, but misguided. I have heard dog walkers give advice about medication, how to train the dog to walk on a loose leash, and what to do to rectify X, Y, and Z behavior problems. Most of the time the advice is inaccurate, sometimes it’s harmful.

Professionals have education and training and have passed tests to prove skill and competency. Don’t ask your dog trainer or your dog walker for medical advice. Don’t ask your dog walker for training or behavior modification advice. Stick to asking professionals for their professional opinion. If someone you know who is a professional in one area gives you advice in another area, ignore it. You wouldn’t take surgical advice from an architect and you wouldn’t trust a surgeon to draw up plans for a building.

Here are 10 things you must consider before hiring a professional dog walker:
  1. Whether you hire an individual or a company, whomever you choose must be both bonded and insured. Ask for proof of this. Your dog walker should also have gone through a background check as part of the hiring process. Make sure this happened. You may not ask to see it, but you may ask about the company’s hiring process.
  2. Your walker must be certified in Pet First Aid & CPR. Make sure your individual walker has been certified. The owner of the company being certified doesn’t count if they’re not the one walking your dog.
  3. Look for a company that has been certified by Pet Sitters International, the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters, or through the DogTec Dog Walking Academy. Huge bonus if the owner of the company or a member of the management team have professional credentials in dog training or as a vet tech.
  4. Look for a company that uses GPS Tracking technology. This software is available. There is no excuse for not having it. Keep in mind that the technology isn’t perfect, but choosing a company that chooses to use it means you’re choosing a company that cares about the quality of their work and holds their employees to a higher standard. I have heard owners of giant, “reputable” dog walking and dog running companies in NY say they won’t use it because “What if the dog walker goes to Starbucks?”. Really.
  5. The company should set up a meet and greet with the person who will actually be walking your dog. It’s great if a manager is also present on the meet and greet, but the person you need to meet and feel comfortable with is the person who will be coming in and out of your home on a daily basis. Ask lots of questions at the meet and greet. What is the policy if the walker arrives and the pet has (insert a scenario – had diarrhea, won’t come out from under the couch, growls at the walker on day 1)?
  6. Choose a company that will send the same walker every day, barring emergencies or illness. A rotating cast and crew is a terrible idea. When you have the same walker daily, that walker bonds with and loves on your pup, knows your pups behavior quirks, feeding schedule, medication needs, and your preferences about your home and how tasks should be accomplished. Your pup should be super excited to see your walker every day. Get a camera to make sure this is so (and to make sure your walker is arriving on time and keeping your pup out for the time you’ve paid for). Find recommended dog gear, including cameras, here.
  7. Accept now that if you choose a dog walking company, you are likely going to get a new walker every 6months – 1 year. Dog walking is not a permanent profession and even the best companies have a high rate of turnover. This is not something to complain about, it’s the way things are. If you luck out and get a college student who is in NY to stay for a while, be very very grateful.
  8. Dog walkers come in all shapes and sizes. Many of my best walkers were students, but others liked walking dogs because they weren’t naturally good with people or because they were artists who needed a flexible working schedule. When I hired employees, I made sure to choose employees that were good with the dogs. The biggest part of my interview process was watching to see how the candidate interacted with my dog. Genuinely loving dogs was a MUST for me. These are people who will be doing their jobs largely without supervision. I didn’t care nearly as much about how candidates interacted with people. When you meet your walker on your meet and greet, watch to see how they are with your dog. If they’re good with you, that’s a bonus.
  9. If the company is okay with walking more than 3 dogs at once, this speaks volumes – keep searching. If your company does walk dogs with a buddy, your pups buddy should be chosen based not only on proximity but also by size, temperament, energy level, walking speed, and play style. If your pup is introduced to other dogs in the area that might be a good match and it doesn’t go well, don’t force the issue. Buddy walks are not the right fit for every dog! It’s better to pay more for a solo walk to guarantee your pup is not stressed out. Also keep in mind that if you want your pup to be walked with a buddy your pup needs to have loose leash walking skills and appropriate social skills with other dogs. Buddy walks are not for socializing your dog, they are for dogs that are already friendly and well socialized.
  10. Do not expect your walker to be a professional dog trainer. Do not leave your puppy in it’s critical socialization period (under 16 weeks old) to be socialized by an amateur with good intentions. Socializing your pup to NYC, loose leash walking in NYC, and modifying aggressive leash behaviors are advanced skills! If you’d like someone to take your pup out during the day and also work on training skills like loose leash walking, or if you have a new puppy or rescue, sign up for day training before you sign up for a dog walker. Your dog and your future dog walker will thank you.

 

If you have a dog walker or a dog walking company that you LOVE – or if you are a dog walker or dog walking company that meets the criteria above – please reach out and let me know!