By Gary Wilkes
Many of your clients need training services and ask you to help them find a qualified trainer. Trainers that come to your salon may solicit that kind of recommendation. They will undoubtedly sell themselves in the best light possible – an understandable and normal thing to do. This is where it gets interesting.
As groomers, it is impossible to escape some contact with trainers. Many of your clients need training services and ask you to help them find a qualified trainer. Trainers that come to your salon may solicit that kind of recommendation. They will undoubtedly sell themselves in the best light possible – an understandable and normal thing to do. This is where it gets interesting. Some of them will suggest that they use ‘scientific’ methods and are well versed in ‘learning theory’. Those are the ones you have to question closely.
The creation of a science of behavior is a goal yet to be achieved. Yes, there are academically trained people who call themselves scientists who do science-like things. They do ‘research studies’, go to professional conferences, and write peer-reviewed papers for journals. However, they present an image of science-like activities without providing the real deal – like food stylists who can make a raw turkey look edible for a cooking magazine. If you swallow it you may regret your decision.
CORNERING THE MARKET
The primary purpose of claiming scientific knowledge of behavior is to create a distinction between the speaker and ‘others’. Those others are characterized as less knowledgeable and therefore less effective. That is not a valid distinction unless proven. Just like grooming, training can only be evaluated by outcome. Someone who has attended multiple grooming expos to learn how to groom a Bedlington Terrier may or may not produce a better result than a groomer with 30 years’ experience – who has never attended a grooming expo. How would a logical professional groomer decide? A blind trial. Have ten groomers clip Bedlingtons and then judge them without knowing who did which. To date, there has never been a blind trial conducted to validate that ‘science-based’ training compares to traditional training. If the improvements of science are so dramatic, you should be able to ID science-trained dogs from traditionally trained dogs with a blink of the eye. Good luck.
FINDING THE RIGHT TRAINER
The essential qualities of a good trainer start with things that are unrelated to training.
- Good trainers have empathy for their clients. That means they have to be a ‘people person’. That doesn’t mean they are social butterflies. They must be able to adapt to many personality styles and still hold the client’s best interest at heart.
- Good trainers provide good service for their money. If they use inefficient methods that milk the client for weeks and months without addressing specific issues, that referral isn’t going to reflect well on you.
- I shouldn’t have to say this, but a good trainer has to like people as much or more than they like dogs. The job is to satisfy the client’s desires and needs. Many trainers offer only services they want to give rather than what the client needs.
- A good trainer has experience to back up theoretical knowledge. Hearsay is not the best way to become skilled. Beware of trainers that create their perspective by parroting some expert they saw at a seminar. A seminar never gives enough time for the majority of attendees to get any hands-on experience. It is the same at a grooming expo. To gain real skills you have to actually do something.
- Good trainers don’t hold clients hostage with big up-front costs that are non-refundable. Nor do they automatically give full refunds if the client isn’t happy. In essence, the client is renting their time. If they did the work with full disclosure from the outset, then it’s no different than taking banjo lessons. If you get the instruction, you pay for the time. This can put a groomer in a bit of a bind. If a client is dissatisfied with the results of training, they may hold it against you. That makes picking the right trainer pretty important to you.
- One of the areas that creates great conflict are ‘board and train’ services. When done correctly they can offer a busy professional (or a clueless owner) a rapid improvement in the dog’s behavior. But if the trainer doesn’t include the owner in the process, it may be a waste of a lot of money. If a trainer approaches you with that model for their service, ask a lot of questions about how much focus they have on ‘passing the baton’ at the end of the training. You might also ask how they support their clients over the long haul.
- Check the trainer’s credentials with a very critical eye. Being a police dog handler does not prepare someone for handling a nasty Bichon. Likewise, someone proficient in agility training may never have handled a pushy Rottie with success. Try to find an apples to apples pairing – someone who has offered pet dog training, preferably in-home. I have never found a one-to-one correlation between certifications and competence in dog training. That includes academic degrees or professional certifications from organizations that use an advanced degree as a criterion for membership. Someone who has been teaching elementary school children and wants to make a break to something less stressful may know next to nothing about dogs and yet have fancy letters after their name.
- The least likely, but best way to discover someone’s ability with dogs, is to watch them train and handle. You might even give them a test – have them put a wacky dog on a grooming table and trim its nails. You will see clearly if they have the calm, firm, sure hands and good judgment that mean they have the right experience for the job. If they don’t have the handling skills of a first-year groomer, you might want to either educate them or find someone else.
I use such skills with my clients on a regular basis. It’s not an add-on, it should be a prerequisite. ✂