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A Powerful Message to All Dog Trainers

It's Monday so naturally, my inbox has some weekend shenanigans that need taking care of. One correspondence in particular stirred negative emotions within me, but I decided to look to God's word for guidance on how I could best handle a particularly negative situation wherein a dog owner did something that they absolutely should not have done and did not know where they went wrong in doing so. If you think it's weird that I'm a dog trainer that reached for the Bible, check out my previous blog post here.

I consider myself a teacher because I teach owners and I teach dogs. Folks tell me I'm really good at it, which is awesome, but sometimes I struggle. I know that other trainers struggle too because they tell me so. Our struggles are so similar, yet we handle things so differently.

Sometimes my students (the human ones) do things that upset me because they don't have the knowledge they need yet. What may be common sense to me as an industry professional, is knowledge that isn't easily available to my students - which is why they hire me in the first place because their google search often takes them down a path that isn't even relevant to their goals. So when they come to me with questions, I want to make sure that I am crystal clear with the answers and not leading them astray.

When I encounter a situation where a student makes a mistake, and then they seek me out for guidance, it's my job to answer them in a way that is helpful. They are not coming to me to be belittled or reprimanded. They trust that I will give them the guidance and answers they need to resolve the issue at hand. In the moment though, I wanted to spew harsh words because to me, much of what others should not do feels like common sense. But it's not. What I know about dogs is not common knowledge for everyone. Sometimes I forget that.

I remembered reading something about harsh words in Proverbs, so I flipped open to Proverbs 15:1...

"A gentle answer turns away wrath but a harsh word stirs up anger"

I could easily be harsh to my students and tell them that what they did was wrong and stupid and should never be repeated... But that won't teach. In fact, not only is that sort of response bad for the dog owner, it's bad for me. Being angry over this sort of mistake wastes time. Being frustrated and complaining about it wastes time. And it's bad for the dog. If a dog owner thinks they are only doing everything wrong, they stop trying to train at all and they either live with a chaotic dog that desperately needs the guidance, or they give up the dog and call it quits entirely.

I know that many dog trainers really struggle with this and if you get a bunch of us together, the majority will fall on the topic of discussing all the terrible things their clients do when trying to train their dogs. I don't understand why time is spent doing this, but I see it regularly and wish that trainers would spend more time collaborating with one another on ways to help dog owners, not tear them down.

If we shifted to being gentle in our answers when these dog owners are seeking our guidance, they will actually learn how to handle those difficult situations instead of being told that what they did was wrong and that they just need to be better.

Don't waste time being frustrated when someone asks you how they could improve a bad situation. They're seeking your guidance, not your wrath.

I love dogs. I really do. But I love people, too. If you became a dog trainer because you hate people and would rather work with dogs, you're missing something that is fundamental to a joyous life. I know that if you feel hatred towards people it is probably based on past experiences with those who did not treat you the way that you think you should be treated. If you are struggling with loving those who have not done you right, I encourage you to rethink those feelings. Your resentment towards particular humans, although they feel justified, are clouding how you interact with those who seek out your professional guidance even though they are not the same people. I understand that there are moments where it feels impossible to do anything but hate those who have said nasty things about you, but those ill feelings do absolutely nothing to improve the way you live and interact with everyone and everything else. Hate does not serve you.

"But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you." Luke 6:27-28

Why though, should I pray for those who mistreat me? Why should I love anyone who has done me wrong or hates me? But... What good is my hatred? How can my hate actually help to make things better? It can't. Hate is not what will help you. Love is more powerful than hate - in all relationships. Dog and owner. Owner and Trainer. Trainer and Dog. Trainer and Everybody else. Because you're not just a dog trainer, you're a whole person dealing with other whole people who are dealing with dogs that need your direction. If you've been blessed with the skills to work with people and their dogs, that's what you should focus on, not what someone else feels about you or the negative feelings that you have towards another.

Some trainers currently view other trainers as their enemies. The competition. The reason they are not doing as well. Some trainers attempt to tear down those who practice different training methodologies or those who are experiencing greater success. For those who have been attacked in this way, although this is not for dog trainers alone, it is for every profession:

"But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back." Luke 6:35

If it seems repetitive, it's because it is. Just like training is often repetitive, as is the book of the BibleAnd to those who are actively attempting to tear apart someone else for mistakes you yourselves have made...

"How can you say to your brother, 'Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,' when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye." Luke 6:42

It seems so easy to point out what someone else is doing. But when it comes to pointing fingers, how often do we call ourselves out when we do something unsavory? Are we nicer to ourselves than we are to those we criticize for the same things?

When I read the message this morning that stirred feelings of anger and frustration because a dog owner did something that they shouldn't have done, but really did not know any better, I was reminded of all of the times that I had done something without knowing it was not appropriate. Because I chose love instead of hate, I gave a gentle answer. I provided clarity and didn't burn them for doing the wrong thing. I let them know what was right. I talked to them about why what they were doing was not something to be repeated. And I provided enthusiastic encouragement to try again even though the first time was a total flop.

What if as dog trainers, we treated other dog trainers the same way? Instead of grabbing the torch and pitchfork, what if we chose to guide them and lead them into a helpful direction and supported them in their learning? This harsh mentality of burning another business because they aren't good enough or don't agree with us is leading to the tear down of good humans with good intentions who stop trying because they don't have a supportive community. If we treated each other with respect and honesty always and stopped viewing one another as competition, we could help so many more people and so many more dogs.

How you interact with the dog owners who hire you, the dogs you work with, the trainers that are in your community, and how you interact with yourself matters.

Are you being harsh in situations that really need you to be gentle?

Do you love what you do? Do you love the dogs? Do you love the people?

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