If there is one thing that training dogs has taught me, no two dogs are the same. Sure, two dogs may be similar, but they will never be the same. They have their individual preferences and personalities causing them to learn in different ways just like people. We often see when we start basic obedience with puppies that some will be lured into a down with no problem at all, while others require you to break out every trick in the book to get one elbow down.
Raising a litter of puppies will show you the differences; you have a whole litter of puppies that have the same parents, same environment, same everything yet you end up a bunch of pups that are completely different. Different breeds may cause dogs to share behavioral traits but even still there is no formula for working with a particular breed.
Knowing how to manage different personalities in dogs is crucial to be a successful professional dog trainer. When going to a private lesson or even a group class for the first time you have no idea what you’re walking into.
The only way to truly prepare yourself for dealing with other people’s dogs is to get hands on with as many dogs as humanly possible. Make mistakes and learn from them. Each dog is a new learning opportunity that you can grow from.
When talking about experience with training dogs, I often hear people say that they have taught their dog all these different behaviors. That’s good experience don’t get me wrong, but that doesn’t mean that same person could teach a different dog those same behaviors. Working with your personal dog is easier than training a client’s dog. With your personal dog there is a preinstalled bond there, you already know all this information about the dog before you try to teach them anything. You know what treats they like best, when their attention span is about to run out, when they are most active, and arguably most importantly, you are the provider of food and (hopefully) leader of the pack.
When working with clients you must be open and ready for everything. As many poodle owners will tell you, they are unlike any other breed out there. They are highly intelligent and sometimes difficult to motivate. If you aren’t their number one fan and make training fun and interesting, they have no problem refusing to do what you ask. This caught me off guard the first time I worked with a poodle, I had never experienced a dog that flat out said, “No, I don’t want to”. I didn’t get the hang of speaking poodle till I worked with more of them and I’m glad I did. Currently “doodle” mixes are very popular, and you are most likely going to end up working with one at some point in time.
When I first started training, the “challenge” dogs used to frustrate me to no end but as I had more and more dogs on the end of my leash, I began to appreciate them. The difficult ones will teach you a valuable lesson and leave you better prepared for the next dog.
Working with different dogs will keep you on toes and force you out of your comfort zone. I can personally say it made me a stronger trainer especially when you can’t write on your website, “Will train your dog… unless it’s a Siberian husky, cocker spaniel, or Bernese mountain dog.” Well, you could write that on your website, but it probably wouldn’t be received well. For everyone else, work with as many different types of dogs as possible, don’t get frustrated, and be open to trying new things when nothing else works.
At our School for Dog Trainers, for each practical exam our students train with a different dog. Students are not required to supply their own dogs for the course like other programs. They get to work with dogs from a variety of different canine specialties. This gives students the opportunity to work with a variety of personalities in an environment where they can make mistakes without consequence. Every dog whether they are a pet dog, service dog, or police dog provides a different lesson.
As a former student of the program I can confidently say, getting a different dog each practical is incredibly beneficial. The practical exams that I didn’t pass were probably the ones that I learned the most from. They were the dogs that required me to think outside of the box and figure out what worked for that particular dog. It may have been discovered too late to pass the practical, but the lesson was learned.
Even after the program we encourage students to continue their learning by working with family/friends’ dogs, and getting together with a local shelter to train their dogs to make them more adoptable.The great thing about working with a local shelter is the access to dogs of all different breeds, ages and sizes. The wide range body language, quirks, and behavior issues will provide you with an enormous amount of experience and confidence, both training and handling different types of dogs; making this relationship mutually beneficial.
Regardless of your experience level, the only way to get better is to go out and work with as many dogs as possible. Ask yourself what type of trainer you want to be. Research your area, find out what resources are available to you (shelters, rescue groups, etc.), and get your hands on as many different breeds and types of dogs as possible!