Ignorance Is Always an Excuse

Behavior Clips

By Gary Wilkes

It’s pretty common for dog owners to blame themselves for their dog’s problems. The majority of them have nothing to feel guilty about—but still do. They don’t really have a justification for their feelings because, (Big Reveal), they aren’t trainers.

They don’t know how to scissor–cut a Bichon or correctly strip the coat on a Schnauzer, either. If they felt guilty about that, you’d immediately disabuse them of that feeling and tell them that those are skills better left to you.

Besides their feeling of failure because their dog is ill–behaved, there is a second, underlying reason for their guilt. They assume they have somehow harmed their dog—which is almost never true. They sense this emotion because of a common cultural belief that everyone should be able to control a dog—despite massive evidence to the contrary. They are convinced that they’ve ruined their dog because they assume that everyone else is happy with their dog’s behavior. If they only knew…

In reality, the vast majority of dog owners get lucky. They get dogs that don’t really ‘need’ training. Their dog adapts to their family without much fuss. Either they don’t care that the dog is an annoyance when guests come to the door or they use some form of confinement like kiddie gates or crates to control the dog’s lack of training. Dog experts help foster this perspective.

Another irony is that many dog experts don’t know how to control behavior and leave the average dog owner in the lurch. They have a menu of services and offer the same things to all clients—whether they need those things or not. I’m not overstating that. Most modern dog experts depend on confinement and cookies to control dogs. That’s like trusting crème rinse to keep a Maltese from matting. Yes, it can help, but matted Maltese need more than just a bath. Dogs with problems need more than confinement and treats.

If you doubt my statement, consider this; a rather well–known dog expert was interviewed by another well–known dog expert in a well–known, high–class dog magazine a few years ago. The interviewee stated flatly that, to own a puppy, one should expect to have at least one very expensive pair of shoes destroyed. The other expert agreed. That was an interesting exchange. It admitted that if you have a destructive dog, those experts don’t have a clue about how to stop it. If you take their advice on how to control your dog, I suggest you purchase a Scandinavian ‘modern’ house—devoid of all things human and as austere as an empty Ikea warehouse.

The reason I want you, as groomers, to know this is two–fold. You see a dog throughout its life and are in the prime position to sense that a dog has behavior problems. When you refer to a trainer, you need to realize that many people in my profession secretly or openly blame owners for the behavior problems of their dogs. This can lead to bad service for your clients.

First and foremost, a trainer should by sympathetic to their client. The fact that the owner is seeking a trainer is confirmation that they need help and are committed to the dog. Will they devote 20 hours a day to convoluted, complex methods that take months to work? Heck, no. They want real solutions, now. That is not too much to ask.

In many cases, they have been living with a ‘problem dog’ for a long time. That same shame over having an ill–behaved dog is what often keeps them from seeking help. Worse, many dog owners go through trainer after trainer trying to find one who can adjust the training to their lifestyle. Again, that is not usually an unreasonable demand. You can take it from me—most owners are plagued because their dogs do things. They jump on guests, pee in the house, destroy valuables and knock down the kids. These are all things that can be solved immediately. (The exception is house–training, that takes longer but can be immediately controlled via intelligent confinement.) If a trainer can’t stop these things, safely, humanely and immediately, they are in the same boat as those ‘expensive shoe’ experts.

The connection for groomers is simple. Those dog owners are your clients. If they get rid of the dog, they won’t have a dog that needs grooming. Your business will benefit if you have connections to trainers who know what they are doing and truly love helping people and their dogs.

My point in this is that your clients aren’t behavior experts. Their ignorance is always an excuse. If they take the advice of experts and it fails, it’s not they who are to blame. In most cases, it’s not the dog’s fault, either. It’s simply a matter of learning a few skills or finding someone who can teach them those skills. Your close relationship with them can head off a train–wreck waiting to happen. Take the time to know more about their dog’s behavior and help them stay on the tracks. When you seek a trainer that you can refer to your clients, look for someone who is sympathetic to their needs. Then ask them if your clients have to start wearing cheap flip–flops and hide their good pair of shoes.  ✂

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