Trainer, Heal Thyself

Michael Baugh, CPDT-KA, CDBC

The truth is trainers make the worst clients when it comes to training our own dogs.  We’re great with other people’s dogs.  Our own dogs, however, often leave a lot to be desired.  There, now the dirty little secret is out.  Here’s the other secret.  I have some problems with my dogs.

Okay, they aren’t bad problems, and I won’t bore you with the details.  Still, I decided I needed to pull in some help from other trainers to get my head on straight.  It got me to thinking, how do you choose a good trainer?

You can find information online about choosing a good trainer, but here’s how a trainer chooses a trainer.

  • First, I wanted someone with experience.  Education and book knowledge are essential, but years of success on the front lines are invaluable.  In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell found that 10 years of actual work in a particular profession is what it took to be an “expert.”  I buy that, so 10 years was my benchmark.
  • Second, I wanted a trainer who knew his or her behavior science.  Training fads come and go, but sound, proven behavior science endures the test of time.  My trainer had to be fluent in the science of Learning Theory.
  • Third, my trainer had to have a track record among his or her peers.  I specifically gravitated towards two independent certifications, Certified Professional Dog Trainer and Certified Dog Behavior Consultant.  Certifications from dog training schools tend to promote the school from whence they came.  They don’t carry the weight of an independent third party certification.
  • Finally, don’t frighten or hurt my dog.  Those things have no place in training.  Do wrong by my dog and you’re fired.  Period.

I hate to be the bad guy here, but there aren’t many people who meet all those qualifications.  Plus, there’s a lot at stake here.  I got a “professional courtesy,” but trainers can be expensive.  More importantly, we’re putting the well-being of our beloved dogs in their hands.  It’s important to do the extra work and find the right person to help you with your dog.

Who did I choose?  I really should make you wait until next month’s issue, but I won’t.  I called my good friends at DogSmart here in Katy.  My colleague, Peta Clarke, in Australia also lent her expertise.    Now you may want to know, how are my dogs doing?  They’ll be just fine, so long as I’m a good client and practice what I preach.

( originally published in Texas Cats & Dogs Magazine )


Michael Baugh, CPDT-KA, CDBC

Stella’s never played in the crisp dry leaves of Fall, never played in the season’s first snow.  She’s a Texas Dog from start to stop.  She’s equal part pant-in-the-sun and roll-in-the-mud.  This is her first full Summer with us, and it’s drawing to a close.

This time of year has always been about things ending, and new things beginning.  The lazy days get shorter.  School starts up again.  Dogs who used to romp with the kids now lounge at our feet.  Some things start; others stop.  It’s the natural way, transition.  Even if we miss the crisp leaves and the fresh snow, things change.

Last year at this time, we were saying goodbye to Juno.  We knew she was leaving us, but we didn’t know when.  We knew another dog would follow; but we didn’t know Stella.  Turns out she was out on her own, just a puppy, barely old enough to fend for herself.  She had a hurt foot (there’s still a scar) and a virus hiding in her blood (distemper).  She was a broken dog, on her way to mend our broken hearts.  Starts and stops.

There are songs and movies and poems and books, all about Summer and its end.  It is reflection and hope, sentimentality.  It is the romance gone and the work ahead.  It is the darkness that comes before the day is really done.  It is the fire we light at night, even if it isn’t really cold enough.  It’s that dog by our side, beautiful in the warm glow, the one we didn’t expect to have this year even though we love her just the same.

Photo Courtesy Robyn Arouty Photography

Things change.  Summer starts and stops.  Cool winds will blow from the panhandle towards the Gulf.  Our Texas Dogs, good and strong, see us through, into the winter and past it.  It’s the natural way of things, creatures steady and wise, bound to us for generations.    Last year it was Juno.  This year it’s Stella.  I love them the same.

Stella’s head seems to bob in time with a country song playing in the distance.  It’s what’s left from the distemper (neither of us cares for country music).  She’s been out in the September Sun, rolling in the mud.  Juno was golden, thick coated, built for crisp leaves and snow.  Stella is lean and long, thinly furred, giant-tongued for panting.  She’s a leggy blond, built for Summer.  Her first has passed.   Stop.

And start.

(originally published in Texas Cats & Dogs Magazine September 2010)