"Hi! I've heard a lot about your training and I wanted to see if you could help me and my dog. We've been training for a while and, while I like my trainer, I don't think we are getting anywhere. Looking forward to working with you!"
Surprisingly, this type of message from a prospective client is not all that rare. Now, I'm not saying that to toot my own horn. I'm saying it because there appears to be a lack of communication between trainers or instructors and their clients which causes the latter to seek out help elsewhere.
Are You On the Same Wavelength...or Galaxy?!
There is an assumption that specialty dog training instructors or trainers are interchangeable like standard car parts. Basically that all Scent Work instructors are the same. This could not be further from the truth.
"Oh, you mean to say no one is as good as you?"
Every instructor has their own background and history they bring to the table, whether it be their own personal training or competition journey, their training methodology preferences or the manner in which they teach. All of this will distinguish them from their colleagues, even those who also teach Scent Work. Their personality, how they speak and form their sentences to how they choose to describe certain exercises or organize their curriculum, classes and exercises, all of this will be customized from trainer to trainer.
The same applies to students. No two students will have the same set of criteria, goals or things that are important to them and their dogs. Some students simply want to do something fun with their dogs and that is why they are playing the sniffing game. Others want to stretch their dog mentally and physically. There are still other students who want to compete, with a subset interested in titling while another group focuses on earning as many placements as possible.
The point being, everyone is coming at this from different standpoints.
I'm hoping you can see how this makes things rather complicated.
If you have a trainer or instructor who is focused on honing a team's skills to the finest point possible so they can shave seconds off of every run working with a student who simply wants to have fun with their dog, and has no intention whatsoever in ever competing, this partnership is probably not going to work out so well.
It is for this reason that students need to actively communicate any and all concerns they may have with their instructors or trainers.
But What if I Make My Trainer Mad?
I've had people sincerely ask me this question before.
They are so worried that if they talk to their trainer or instructor about their concerns regarding the training, that it will make their trainer or instructor upset.
I know, personally, I would be heartbroken if one of my students censored themselves like this.
My job as a trainer and instructor is to partner with my students to help them achieve their dog training goals. The crucial part of that sentence is "their training goals", not mine.
I WOULD be upset if they DIDN'T tell me about an issue or concern they had, and how I found out about the problem is learning that my student was suddenly working with someone else!
"Does that mean I'm stuck with my trainer or instructor forever?!"
Of course not.
My guess is your trainer or instructor would want to work with you to try to see if the situation could be salvaged at the very least, and ideally improved. It is very possible that from their perspective nothing is wrong at all! Your dog may be doing well in class, is progressing nicely and you keep coming and paying...all sounds good from where they are sitting! They are completely unaware that there is a storm brewing.
"But what if my trainer tries to fire me as a client?!"
This is a possibility that is raised when students hear through the grapevine that someone else was "fired" by a trainer or instructor.
Understand that when this does happen, it is rare, and is oftentimes due to a complete and utter breakdown in the relationship. This could involve a horrible level of toxicity to not paying for services rendered. Basically, there are irreconcilable differences between the trainer or instructor and the client.
That being said, being "fired" as a client is entirely different from being actively referred to another trainer or instructor who may be a better fit for you and your dog.
The latter is your current trainer or instructor looking out for your best interests. Using our prior example of the professional who specializes in working with uber-competitive clients, they may recognize that their approach is stressing you and your dog out. It is not what either of you need or want. In that situation, they may refer you to a colleague who is still experienced, professional and knows what they are doing, but has an approach that is more in-line with what you are looking for.
That is not firing you. That is helping you.
Isn't Getting a Second-Opinion a Good Thing?
Absolutely! However, it is important how you go about doing it.
Let me try to explain what it looks like from where I am sitting: let's say you've have been working with another trainer or instructor for a number of months or even years, and now you contact me because you don't feel as though you are making the progress you thought that you would. Even if I do not know your trainer or instructor personally, they are still my colleague. I'm professionally bound to honor the working relationship they have developed and cultivated with you over those months or years. They also have a complete background and understanding of WHY they may be doing things that neither you nor I do.
For example, maybe you haven't done a ton of blind hides yet because they are working to build up your confidence as a handler and do not want to undercut you. But instead of saying that implicitly, they have simply designed their curriculum to ensure that blind searches come into the picture when they're certain you are confident enough to withstand a potential, "No". However, you want to prep for trial and the hides will be blind, so why aren't you doing blind hides yet?! ... Can you see the issue here?
Whenever someone contacts me looking to potentially take me on as a new trainer or instructor, and they are actively working with another colleague, I will ask them:
- What are their training goals for themselves and their dogs?
- What do they like about their current training?
- What do they wish would change about their current training?
- Have they spoken with their current trainer or instructor about their concerns?
If they share who the instructor is, I will 'cc them on the email conversation so they are in the loop, stating that I am happy to partner with the two of them if they like and am always available to help.
At the end of the day, all trainers and instructors are trying to help their clients, both human and canine. While we may technically be "business competitors", I see all other trainers and instructors as colleagues first. We're on the same team. They have cultivated this working relationship, which means lots of man-hours and hard work, and it may be in the best interest of the person and dog to see it through. If I can help them do that, than I will.
Try to see your trainer or instructor as your training partner. That doesn't mean I'm asking you to follow every word they say as if it were gospel or that you should idolize them...please don't.
Be an active participant in the process. Ask questions. Ensure you understand the WHYS, not just the HOWS. Trust your gut. Something doesn't make sense or doesn't seem to be working for you and your dog? Say so. It could very well be that you misunderstood or that your trainer or instructor didn't explain something well enough. We're human too. That exercise may work for 99% of our clients but we need to tweak the exercise itself or change how we describe it so it makes better sense for you. That is what good training and instructing is all about.
Also know, we are not mind-readers. It is true many of us can read dogs well, but oftentimes we will miss subtle cues from you. We may mistake your apprehension with you trying to wrap your head around a given exercise, when in reality you don't think this is going work for you and your dog at all.
If you feel that way, talk to us. We want to know. Because then we can help you.
Talk to your trainer or instructor. It will make your Scent Work training journey that much better and effective in the long run.
Author: Dianna L. Santos, KPA-CTP, CPDT-KA, CNWI
Dianna has been training dogs professionally since 2011. She has done everything from teaching group training classes and private lessons, to specializing in working with fearful, reactive and aggressive dogs, to being a trial official and competition organization staff member.
Following a serious neck and back injury, Dianna was forced to retire from in-person dog training. But she was not ready to give up her passion! So, she created Pet Dog U, Dog Sport University and Scent Work University to provide outstanding online dog training to as many dog handlers, owners and trainers possible…regardless of where they live! Dianna is incredibly grateful to the amazingly talented group of instructors who have joined PDU, DSU and SWU and she looks forward to the continued growth of PDU, DSU and SWU and increased learning opportunities all of these online dog training platforms can provide.
In June 2021, Dianna and her business partner, Sean McMurray launched Cyber Scent Work, Inc., an organization that operates in the gray space between training and trialing in Scent Work. With Cyber Scent Work, Inc., handlers have the opportunity to earn Qs, titles and ribbons while also receiving helpful training advice regardless of whether they qualify or not! Be sure to check out Cyber Scent Work, Inc., you will be happy you did!