Qualities of a Good Trainer
In most instances when talk is about dog training, it hinges on techniques and methods – the basics which are used to develop in the dog the habits and natural abilities which will enable it to do a good job. Dog psychology is touched upon but rarely trainer psychology – what makes the trainer ‘tick’. I have met a number of good trainers, who all have their own particular style even to the extent of allowing their dogs to do things which to the layman would appear totally taboo. But at the end of the day, they come out with not only a good dog but a top dog. Perhaps therefore we should try to learn just as much, if not more, from studying the trainer and develop in ourselves the necessary skills and qualities required.
A good trainer has a compound of qualities which are strongly inter-related – experience, knowledge, patience, natural affinity with dogs, enthusiasm the list can go on and I’m sure that most of you could add to them, they are almost taken for granted. However there seems to me to be certain qualities, personal characteristics running through good trainers that make them successful.
Like a good manager can recognize what makes a worker tick and get the best out of them, a good trainer recognizes what makes a dog tick. A dog may do some of the jobs because it enjoys them, others it must be encouraged to enjoy until it does so and if we go to the other extreme some parts of its job it must be made to do through a concern of what may happen if it doesn’t. Most dogs go for a retrieve because they enjoy it and many dogs do not run in because they are concerned about the consequences if they do. If you are the lucky owner with a dog that enjoys everything and wants to please you then all is done with a positive attitude. But the skill of the trainer comes from the ability to show the dog what is required at a pace which matches the dog’s intelligence, and do it in such a way, not always text book fashion, that the dog succeeds. Small steps are taken, one at a time, concentrating totally on what is to be achieved and using every part of your person required achieving the results. That is the key, together with consistency so that the dog knows exactly what you are communicating. Once it has learnt a lesson from one command or a series of commands then that is the way it should always be done.
A good trainer progresses the training at the dog’s pace and takes time to impart the lessons so that the dog really does learn and is not either guessing or performing correctly because of the place and habitual routine. In this modern rush and bustle of a commercial world where everything is packed for convenience so many owners look on their dog as they would convenience food, a prepared – pre-packed product, ‘heat and eat’. It’s a dog with a pedigree of all the right ingredients so all one has to do is wait for it to grow up and then be used, it should come naturally. The ingredients may be all there but you need to know what final product you require and how to handle and mix those ingredients to come up with the right finished article. A good trainer watches the mix along the way and adds a little here or knows that enough has been applied there. By ‘tasting’ the product along the way the trainer can recognize whether certain ingredients have been skimped, forgotten or even left out and add them at a later date.
The top trainers always appear relaxed and unhurried, although providing motivation to the dog at the right time. By having a calm and confident approach they impart calmness to the dog and provide one of the main qualities of leadership. I know that often they are ‘keyed up’ inside even nervous, especially in competition, but by showing it to their dog they could impart it often with negative consequences.
The good trainers play their voices, whistles and actions like a musical instrument, they read the dog’s actions and act or react accordingly with a promptness that lets the dog know they are the boss and are always watching. Your dog is not an actor, it usually behaves as itself. Some are mischievous, others devious and some downright dishonest but you can usually read this and a trainer should act the part that gets the dog performing correctly. Play angry, play happy, play encouragement, whatever it takes to get the end results you require from your dog. Patience certainly is a dog trainer’s virtue and anger is such a negative and destructive emotion when out of control that it should play no part in training a dog. Controlled, ‘acted out’ anger however can be a useful tool.
A good trainer should be able to judge why a dog is going wrong. However, I have noticed with good trainers that they do not put the dog in a position where it does go wrong. Careful planning, steady progress and attention to detail ensure that an exercise becomes successful so the dog can be praised not reprimanded, a much more positive approach. Again a good trainer knows just when to praise and how much to reward. Sometimes it is just a look other times it is more dramatic. Praise is not given every time a dog does something but when it does it better or exactly as the trainer intended. Once a dog knows it is doing right a good trainer tones the praise down even removing it totally, reserving it for when it is really required.
Watching the top trainers, the four ‘C’s’ always come to mind Calmness, Consistency, Communication and Concentration and they put the work into their dogs. As one professional emphasized ‘You don’t train a dog by leaving it in the kennel’. They know their dogs and just as important the dogs know and respect them because the messages are loud and clear. To bring on a good dog, don’t just work on the dog, work on yourself, for the everyday handler most of the faults in training and handling a dog lie with the handler not the dog. Have confidence however in yourself and do things with conviction because if you are unsure and ‘woolly’ in your actions and commands the dog will become the same or take advantage. Believe that your dog really does want to do things for you and with you, ALL you have to do is play the part and show it what you want – well perhaps not quite ‘ALL’. As in all walks of life some manage to ‘play the part’ better than others.