Are you a Dog Trainer, Doctor, Lawyer or Indian Chief?

My dad always hated it when people would identify themselves as “professional dog trainer” or a “pet dog trainer”.  His response was, “Do you hear doctors say, ‘I am a professional doctor’?”.  And no, you don’t.

On the other side of that, recently a dog owner/obedience competitor walked into the new dog day care that was opening up and was inquiring about my training classes.  The woman responding by saying, “I am a dog trainer, I never heard of her.”  After a brief exchange, the dog day care discovered that she is deeply involved in competitive obedience and agility with her own dog.

Now the fact that she doesn’t know me is fine and understandable for a few reasons. First, we run in different circles. She is going to obedience classes that teach people to compete with their dogs, which is a wonderful hobby for so many dogs and their owners.  Many competitors have turned that love of that hobby and made a living teaching competitors how to compete with their dogs.  I teach Every Day Families to Have Once in a Lifetime Dogs.  The people I work with have full plates usually kids and careers that the dog plays a different, not less important, just a  different role in that owner’s life.  The second reason this woman may not know me is that despite the fact social networks have probably decreased everyone’s “Six Degrees of Separation”, is that I don’t know every one that is competes in obedience or agility. Actually, I don’t know most of them.  I am either training other people’s dogs or shuttling children to parties, baseball and riding on the weekends. Sometimes I am doing both.  If I had no children, I would certainly be at dog shows on the weekends or just training more dogs for families.

However, what I found interesting and would upset my dad, is that this woman claims to be a “dog trainer”.  Well, yes, she does train her own dogs but I am not so sure that the American Bar Association would appreciate it if I started calling myself an attorney because I went to court and represented myself.  Since I did do my divorce on my own, I wonder what they would say if I said, “I am a divorce attorney”.  My friends would think I need medication and have officially lost my mind and anyone else would agree.

Now my daughter is 8 years old and was born with a very rare auto-immune disease. She is also legally blind.  What this entails is that on average I spend two months each year in the ER, doctor’s offices, labs having tests and even for several overnight hospital stays. I also administer her medication twice a day which includes 9 different pills each day.  Now I know more about my daughter’s disease that many physicians due to the rarity and as one of her endocrinologists said to me many times,, “You need to know more about this than anyone else.”  Some doctors or nurses that I may meet at Starbucks, in the library  or even in the hospital have never even heard of her disease and until Sarah came along, Cornell Medical Center at New York Presbyterian had not had a patient with it. So, that being said, “Can I say I am a nurse or doctor?”  No, but if this girl can be a dog trainer because she trains her own dogs then I can say I am a divorce attorney, doctor and nurse.

Now before you ask, what is your point? my dad use to say, “You have a profession that saves dog’s lives, be proud of it. Don’t demean it by saying, “professional dog trainer”, “pet dog trainer”. You are a dog trainer, plain and simple”. And I say, “I am a dog trainer. I have worked full time providing well for my family Training Every Day Families to Have Once in a Lifetime Dogs.

Many of my friends have put their whole lives into building their career as dog trainers.  When we are not training, we are helping people on the phone.  When we are home our families have to wait for dinner, attention or help with something because we often have dogs in for training and we have to take care of the dogs first.   Many of us trainers have had trouble with relationships because dog trainers work nights and weekends, their partners couldn’t tolerate that.  We have put everything  into this, please don’t minimize our career. When we stop in the  pet store to get dog food, we have to have our game face on because we may run into a student and certainly always need to be on for those in the pet store that refer us for training.  Even on our days off, we don’t have the luxury of taking our dog to the vet in our sweatpants and night shirt.  And for us a day off means we don’t have lessons. We still have phone calls to return and boarding dogs to walk, train, feed, groom and love.

So for all of you out there that claim to be a dog trainer because you train your own dogs whether it is competitively or to show off to your friends or make a difference in people’s lives, please don’t and I promise that we won’t call ourselves, Doctors, Lawyers or Indian Chiefs.


4 comments on “Are you a Dog Trainer, Doctor, Lawyer or Indian Chief?
  1. There are no amateur doctors. There are no competitive doctoring events. Nobody does doctoring or lawyering as a hobby, at least they aren’t supposed to. Dog training, on the other hand, is for anyone who wants to do it. There are people who train dogs as a hobby, who volunteer to teach classes at the local obedience club, who are more knowledgeable and talented trainers than the guy down the street who takes money for it. I haven’t been in the obedience ring in years, but when I’m ready to go I will find someone who competes regularly to coach me, even though I am a “professional dog trainer” I’ll be seeking learning opportunities from amateurs, because the local professional dog trainers I know have NEVER set foot in the ring and have no idea what’s involved.
    The hobbyists, the amateurs, are dog trainers as much as I am, whether they are charging others for their time and wisdom or not. It doesn’t diminish me, or you, in any way to respect their abilities and call them dog trainers. I earn part of my living by helping pet owners train their dogs, but I also train my own dogs because I love training. I was an amateur, a hobbyist, for far longer than I’ve been taking money for it, and proud of all that I learned from other amateurs.
    There are professional skiers, and amateurs. There are professionals and amateurs in golf, in tennis, in equestrian sports. And there are professional and amateur dog trainers. The Search and Rescue volunteer that finds your lost child or Grandma didn’t get paid to train her dog, may or may not be not a professional dog trainer, but she IS a dog trainer.
    One trainer I know and respect tells her classes, “I am the instructor. YOU are your dog’s trainer.” I believe that’s true.

  2. Yes, Cynthia. Owners are the dog’s trainer I agree. However, when one trainer disparages another because that trainer doesn’t compete presently, is completely off the mark. It doesn’t mean that they are NOT a dog trainer. And I do not think people should label themselves as dog trainers if that is not what they do for a living. It is a career, a life’s work. Just like I wouldn’t have the audacity to say, “I am a nurse”. It is a matter a semantics but my dad often would say, “Words mean things and the way you say those words can take different meanings.”.

  3. Charles Henderson says:

    Just like in the medical profession, the legal profession and in life, there are always certain individuals who denigrate others to lift or elevate themselves in status or importance. That’s the “dog eat dog” world we live in. In fact, I believe it should be rephrased, “the human eat human world” because I find that dogs are much more social and accepting of one another as a whole and coexist much more peacefully than humans ever will. I have a pack of 12 dogs-mostly mastiffs, as well as an Akita, a Giant Schnauzer, a Dutch Shepherd and a Belgian Malinois and they get along so much better than most people that I know. We could learn alot from out canine companions if we chose to.

    Nowadays, everyone seems to be a “dog trainer” but in my opinion, the proof is in the pudding. A dog trainer is only worth the results that he or she can produce…everything else is just labels. If you can’t help, fix or train a dog and achieve the desired results, then you are just experimenting….and I find that many so called “dog trainers”, when they can’t help, fix or train the dog or its problem, are very quick to condemn the dog as untrainable when in reality it is that “dog trainer’s” lack of experience and skills that is usually why the dog can’t be helped….I see way too many dogs in high kill shelters that have been condemned because some” dog trainer” has written that dog off as aggressive and untrainable. I know because I have 4 therapy dogs that were condemned as aggressive by a “dog trainer” and scheduled to be put to sleep.

    Thank God I found them and saved them and they have served for many years now as therapy dogs. Nowadays it is en vogue & uber trendy to call oneself a dog trainer. I’m at the point where I don’t like to tell people that I am a dog trainer even though I’ve been doing it for more than 30 years, work with NYPD K9s, have several therapy dogs of my own, am a rehabilitator that has rehabilitated & rehomed over 5000 shelter dogs in the past 5 years, own and operate my own animal rescue shelter and have a flourishing dog training business. This weekend alone, I trained 5 dogs on Sunday, 4 dogs on Saturday (and I’m not talking about sit, stay, come, down, heel stuff-I’m talking about serious issues like socialization and aggression issues) as well as spent 8 hours yesterday doing scent work using Dutch boxes with 5 dual purpose NYPD K9s.

    I know someone who calls herself a dog trainer(certified) & behaviorist(certified) whose one dog ran off on her(great recall) and jumped into a lake in the middle of the winter, froze to death and drowned in Prospect Park and she has another 5 pound pocket rocket that has to run around the house with a muzzle on all the time because the dog is a nasty vicious biter and has bitten her husband, daughters and everyone else that comes to the house and this person talks so badly and negatively about other dog trainers including me. It is totally pathetic! This woman constantly badmouths me about my dog training but meanwhile I walk thru the long meadow of Prospect Park in Brooklyn with all my dogs off leash and they are the best trained dogs in the park..that by the way has been told to me dozens and dozens of times by many other people in the park, and although I believe I am somewhat self effacing, I would completely agree.

    Also, I am very familiar with sport ring, KNPV, PSA, Schutzhund, Mondio, French & Belgian ring. I am a decoy. Those are sports competitions and in that arena it is a game. Most of those dogs could not make the cut in the working dog world when put in very stressful situations with immense amounts of pressure and uncertainty. They may do just fine on the field during a competition but run off when some real pressure is applied. Many competition dogs don’t possess the courage of a champion or nerves of steel to be working dogs but try and tell that to most in the PSA world, and I like PSA! KNPV happens to be my favorite but that’s because it has the most real world applications.

    The most you can do at a sporting dog competition is win or lose at that competition and that, for the most part is a weekend event and then everyone packs up and heads home. Some go home with a trophy, others with a bruised ego. A Search & Rescue person, albeit a volunteer, trains his or her dog with very strict protocols that have very serious real world ramifications. That’s why not too many pass muster and become certified search & rescue dogs. The difference: one is a game and the other is real world.

    Dogs that become problems in the companion dog world that cannot be fixed may be condemned to death and that to me is as real world as it gets because that dog’s life is at stake. A self proclaimed “dog trainer” that doesn’t have the specific skill set to help fix or train the dog properly, therefore experimenting with the problem and ultimately failing, can cause that dog to lose his or her life and that is totally unacceptable to me.

    A “dog trainer” that can’t help, fix or train a dog to be a great canine good citizen is taking the life of that dog into their own hands. Dogs are not accessories to be toyed and experimented with. These are animals with feelings, interests and desires that make choices and add immeasurable value to the quality of all of our lives. Do you realize how many lives that bomb dogs have saved in the past 12 years since the global war on terrorism has started? Do you realize how many lives therapy dogs have touched and helped to heal or brought loving and healing energy to those who are suffering greatly? Dogs are very special creatures. After all, dog spelled backwards is god.

    So I completely agree with your father as I learned everything from my father as well and he had the same sentiment and philosophy back in the day. The difference is that nowadays, unlike the good old days, you can call yourself a “dog trainer” and be extended the same respect, privileges and courtesies as someone who does it “professionally” like your father did when in actuality I frequently come in to help people with their dogs after these poor dog owners have hired, been duped and kicked around by several other “dog trainers” and spent thousands of dollars with no results and many times have made the dog much worse. Most of the time, I fix these dogs in one visit.

    Nowadays, there is a huge difference between a professional and a novice “dog trainer”. A professional dog trainer achieves great results that have real world ramifications. An amateur dog trainer experiments and toys with dogs as a game, hobby or a sport. A SAR K9 and handler may not be a paid professional gig but they are no amateur either. I guarantee you that any certified SAR K9 team takes that responsibility very seriously and trains as hard as any paid professional. Again, the proof is in the pudding.

    The difference is results versus experiments. When we go down range to detect demolitions, get deployed to find tornado survivors, visit patients in the hospital, hit a house of home invaders that has a half ton of heroin or walk into a house with a destructive, dirty dog that pisses and shits all over the house and if we can’t produce outstanding results, those dogs may be destined to die, so results are all that matter.

    There is a huge difference between a professional and a novice or amateur “dog trainer”! Those who dabble in dog training are destined to disappoint the dogs they are “dog trainers’ to while those whose “dog training” serves real world applications demand a level of proficiency and professionalism that affords little room for error or experimentation.

  4. cyne says:

    Charles, you say that you agree with the Captain about not using the word “professional” attached to “dog trainer,” but in your last paragraph you do it yourself; conceding that “there is a huge difference between a professional and a novice or amateur.” Because there DO exist “professional dog trainers” and “amateur dog trainers.” That’s why the terminology exists.
    I hope nobody thought I was “denigrating” anyone in my comment, it was certainly not intended. My intent was to point out that there are many highly talented and capable dog trainers who train because they love training and not to earn a living. They’re deserving of respect and admiration. The “results” that earn the title “dog trainer” are seen in the dogs, not necessarily in the bank account.

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