Have I ever told you how much I love what I do? I really do. I love working with dogs on a daily basis. I love taking a wild, hyper, out-of-control dog and turning him into a well-loved, well-behaved family pet. I love the excitement a dog shows when he sees me. I'm the treat lady!
There are also times, however, when I kind of want to forget that I'm a trainer. There are times when what I really want is to just enjoy my time with my dogs. I want to be just another person who just happens to have great dogs and a great bond with them. This is especially true at the dog park.
When I first became a trainer I always wore my company shirts at the dog park. I'd pass out cards, I'd talk about training, I'd answer peoples' questions. What I found was that I never got any clients from it, but I did get a lot of people looking for free advice. To some extent, I don't mind the occasional question, but after a while it got to be old. I'd go to the dog park just to throw the ball for Cody, and what I'd get would be questions about potty training and jumping and barking and obedience. What's worse, is they often wouldn't listen to my advice. Here's an example (based on an actual conversation):
Person: What can I do to get my dog to stop licking his paws?
Me: Is he licking the tops or the bottoms?
P: The tops.
Me: Well, this could be related to two things. The first could be a pain issue- arthritis, soreness, etc. The second is boredom. How much exercise does your dog get?
P: I know he's not bored.
Me: OK, have you had the vet check him for any pain issues? That might be the best course of action. (Note: This is my discreet way of saying I don't know your dog and asking me this question without knowing much history isn't fair.)
P: He went to the vet this week for antibiotics because the licking has caused raw spots. She didn't mention anything about arthritis.
Me: Well, sometimes a vet may not check for that unless you talk with them about it. Maybe you should bring it up at your next appointment. Of course, if you really don't think it's a pain thing, that would bring us back to boredom.
P: I know he's not bored. He's the laziest dog. All he ever wants to do is sleep. (Note: Assuming the dog is young and healthy, this sleeping-all-the-time thing is probably the biggest clue that he's bored).
Me: Actually, sleeping a lot could be a sign of boredom. My dog, Cody, is a very high energy dog, but he'll often choose to sleep through his boredom rather than become destructive. I can tell when he hasn't had enough exercise because of how he acts when we're out of the house; he goes nuts!
P: Oh, that's interesting. (Note: The person just tuned me out.)
Me: Good luck with everything. If worse comes to worse, you could always try to find a salve or try a bitter spray.
P: Yeah, we tried that too. Thanks.
Sure there are some dogs who lick for no good reason. There are some dogs who lick just because they lick. There are some who have serious medical issues beyond basic arthritis and who need serious help. The majority of dogs, though, are just bored. So, unless there's something else you haven't told me, why should I believe that your dog is any different? So, when you ask me for my professional opinion, what would make you believe that I'm lying? Often, I may suggest some alternative therapies too (acupuncture, chiropractic care, etc), and I'll explain why I recommend them. Still, though, I'm met with a look like I'm insane for even suggestion such a crazy remedy.
Anyway, now when I go out with my dogs, I always go incognito. I don't want to be a professional at that moment. I just want to be with my dogs and enjoy them the same way you're enjoying your dogs. Unfortunately, this doesn't always work.
The other night, Hans and I made a special trip to the dog park. It was a rare evening off, and I was excited for it. We were having a lovely evening until one guy said, "Aren't you Myron's daughter?" When I confirmed this, his wife followed with, "You're a dog trainer, right?" I confirmed her question and hoped that would be the end of it. What I got was an impromptu lesson. I tried to be nice. I tried to simply encourage her to keep working or to even set up a consultation with me (it's still free but it's during my working hours), but I was still barraged with questions. Finally, I simply turned to Hans and said, "I'm getting kind of hungry. Care to leave and grab some dinner?" So, my relaxing night off with the dogs was cut short and it sucked!
I suppose this post doesn't have a big point; it's really just a rant. However, I will encourage you to be considerate of other working professionals. If you have a question, ask how to schedule an appointment with them so they can answer it then. Don't approach them during their family time. Not only are you cutting into the precious few hours they have with their family (annoying not only them, but their family as well), you're also just being rude. You're expecting a highly-trained professional to devalue his/her worth and give the goods away for free. That's not at all fair. Please be respectful of that.
And thank you for reading my rant.