By Gary Wilkes
In the world of training there are many claims of mastery and efficacy. Few are ever proven. Real masters let their work speak for itself. Self-promoting “masters” rarely show anything outside of video tape and photos—and boy, do they look good in photos. For groomers who have to trust their instincts to find someone to help their clients with behavior issues, it helps to have a guide to analyze training results. If you are interviewing a trainer or a client to get a review of someone’s services, here are a few things to consider.
Can a successful solution be easily defined? This is the first step in creating a working relationship between the trainer and the clients. If the client says “I want the dog to stop getting into the trash” and the trainer recommends eight weeks of obedience training, there is an obvious disconnect. Sometimes the solution is counter-intuitive. A person who wants to stop a dog from barking all day may not realize that getting the dog housetrained might be the first, best solution. Dogs that cannot be left indoors often end up as chronic diggers and chewers from shear boredom.
What degree of skill is necessary to create a solution? Some behaviors require great skill and many years’ experience to resolve. A general course of training at a big-box store isn’t going to be of much help to someone with an obsessive, compulsive dog. Likewise, aggression should be handled by people who have a great deal of experience with aggression. Many trainers claim skills and knowledge they don’t have. Someone who works for a franchise is automatically limited to the skill-sets that come from the franchise. A person who teaches classes in the park may not be qualified to handle one-on-one training.
How long will it take? This is where skill and knowledge really come in to play. The late Dr. Sophia Yin did a “study” of how her Manners Minder treat dispenser could teach dogs to lie quietly when guests came to the door. It took four months. In reality the process takes about ten minutes and a couple of touch-ups. If a client pays hundreds of dollars for long-term classes and doesn’t see tangible progress within the first week or two, there is usually something wrong. By the same token, long term housetraining issues in a chaotic home may take a couple of months. The best rule of thumb is that if the logical goal is to stop a behavior, the solution should be relatively speedy. If the goal is to teach a behavior such as “peeing outdoors” or teaching a fearful dog to be more comfortable in stressful surroundings, the solution is going to take longer. (Note: I do not use punishment for dogs peeing in the house. That invariably leads to a sneaky dog. If the client says “I never see him do it” it’s a sure bet that the dog has simply learned to avoid humans when it has to go. Housetraining is a behavior that must be learned.)
How much work does it take to accomplish? Pet owners have lives. They have their dog groomed primarily as a convenience and because you do it better than they do. Asking them to spend hours a day to fix a behavior problem is doomed from the outset. Behavior solutions must be simple and not arduous. Expecting an owner to work like an employee is unreasonable. Likewise, having them hide in the garage to pretend they’ve gone away can be done once or twice but beyond that is unlikely to be maintained.
How much diligence is necessary for an owner to maintain the success? Once the solution is achieved it is critical that the problem behavior be gone or the newly learned behavior will remain without an immense amount of work. If simply maintaining the behavior takes considerable focus every day then it’s not going to be maintained.
What does it cost? Cost is a huge part of every training and behavior solution. Call someone about training and then remember the price they quote you. Now imagine someone just told you that your salon plumbing needs that much money so you can open the doors tomorrow. Whatever the number, it’s going to be a shock. Unless you cater to ultra-rich clients, $500 and up is not an amount to sneeze at. These clients are the same people who have other obligations like kids in school, automotive repairs and… grooming. Training and behavior services always have to charge what the market will bear without breaking the bank.
Does the trainer have written materials or publically posed videos for review? With the emergence of YouTube, blogs, Facebook and a host of other public forums, a trainer has the opportunity to tell you more about themselves. There are two caveats for you when studying this—first, people may present themselves as something they are not and second, a master trainer may be successful enough to not need to promote their service. If interviewing a trainer, it’s a good idea to ask to see written materials they give their clients or video examples of their work.
Was the client satisfied? After all is said and done, the issue is always about the client’s feelings. Some are pleased with minimal services and low costs. Some fairly brag about spending thousands of dollars on a board-n-train that removed the need for a major time commitment. If you are evaluating services, just remember that nobody pleases everyone all the time. I was once fired because I wasn’t “rough enough” with a Doberman, even though I had accomplished more than the owner requested.
Getting to know more about training and behavior services is a key to helping your clients deal with the most likely reason they might get rid of a dog. If they get rid of the dog, they don’t need a groomer anymore. From helping clients choose the right dog, adapt to a new dog or keep the one that’s driving them crazy, you, the groomer, are the person most likely to be consulted. Having a handle on behavior is an insurance policy for keeping your clients.