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A Dog Trainer’s Journey

How do you accidentally become a dog trainer? Well, it happens. Here's how I accidentally became a dog trainer!

I never set out to become a dog trainer. When I got my first dog, that thought was the furthest thing from my mind. 

When I was a little girl, I wanted to become a horse trainer. And to keep me close to horses, when I couldn’t have them, I spent my time drawing horses and training cats. But, somehow I fell into this fabulous career!

Dog training is such a fulfilling career! I get to make a real difference in the lives of dogs and owners. And I’m going to share with you my journey to becoming a dog trainer! I hope you enjoy the story!

The start of a journey

Before I got my first dog, Zak, I was a bit of a geek and watched every TV dog trainer and brought their books. I even got my responsible dog owner license from the Council before Zakkie arrived. I’d never had a dog before and I definitely wanted to make sure I got it right!

My requirements: I was looking for a dog from the top 10 most intelligent breeds with a short coat, and I didn’t want a puppy. (By the way, that list is irrelevant.) Not getting a puppy was the best of my decisions! I was very unprepared for the challenges a older rescue dog brought! Never mind a puppy!

How I Got Zak

We saw Zakkie’s cute face on Trademe and wasted no time in getting him! Dobermanns were number 5 on the list of most intelligent dogs. When Zakkie arrived I still had no idea what to do! 

Despite all the episodes of “Dog Whisperer” and “It’s Me or The Dog”, so off to the training club, we went. Poor Mr SolutionK9, tagged along to everything. At least Zakkie provided the entertainment at my expense (You can read Zakkie’s Story here).

Raising a Puppy

I wanted another Dobermann. But I learned that many Dobermanns die from heart problems, so I decided to get a German Shepherd puppy. I got a puppy from a breeder (recommended to me) to me who had a litter on the ground. Only to end up with a German Shepherd puppy with a lot of health issues. 

At this stage, I had been doing more research and investing in my own education through getting books. We had also moved to New Plymouth by now. So back we went joining the local Obedience Club.

This time Kaz and I got first in class! But when we went to join Grade 1, Kaz had started sniffing the ground. I didn’t understand what was going on. (The sniffing was the start of her dog reactivity that later became aggression. I didn’t understand this at the time).

Quitting the Clubs

Because Kaz did well at home but not at the club, I decided to stop going to the club and just training at home. After a few more months and lots of investment. (This time in DVDs and Online Courses) in my education to help Kaz, I started making videos of our training. 

Kaz looked good! She loved training! And we turned heads when we competed! I had also started running a small training group to help others. By this time I’d already made Kaz dog aggressive. I did not understand what she needed.

The videos I made of our training got some attention. Dog trainers and breeders who thought I was showing talent and I became friends with a few. Though to be honest, it was not talent. It was determination and not only investing in my education, but actually practicing! Where did I get my training? DVDs and Online classes! 

Further Ambitions 

Because of Kaz and Zak’s health challenges, I was looking into a breed of dog that was healthy. I discovered that that was the Malinois. A breed often selected for Military work (Not pets). The NZ Police won’t even use them because they are too challenging. So, if I was going to have a Malinois, I’d definitely have to step up my training!

My little training group started making great progress! Our focus was on competition obedience.  Our little group did very well, even winning at competitions! I was so proud! Not only could I get my own dog competing, I could help other teams succeed too!

So, I thought I was ready for a Malinois. I was not. I wasn’t even able to fix Kaz’s dog aggression. But, I was about to have a very steep learning curve. Kaz’s competition training was going well. She looked like she loved training and she did. She turned heads in the competition ring and she even earned a trophy on our first outing in obedience. So, to say I thought I was pretty good was an understatement (I still had a lot to learn!)

More Lessons

Malinois bite HARD! And Delta landed me in A&E over a weed. I had trained her to weed my garden, and we both went for the same weed. Malinois are fast! And I thought that I could raise my Malinois from the lessons I learned from my GSD. This naivety made for new and interesting challenges!

I did everything I could to get Delta ready to compete in the bitesport (once called Schutzhund). It’s a very misunderstood sport. The sport was a breeding test for dogs to select the best German Shepherds for breeding. It’s not actually about training dogs to be aggressive. It’s about the dogs being obedient to their owners. Even in the most stressful conditions.

But, I was all the way in Taranaki and for the sport you need a “bad guy” with a sleeve for the dog to bite. It needs careful training or you can actually make a dog aggressive or fearful. You also get judged on how the dog bites. This does have a genetic component. But bad training can mess up the dog’s “grip”.

Getting Help

I was travelling to the Waikato and Auckland for training and seminars to get Delta ready to compete. I even ended up living in Auckland for a while.  I got to work with some of NZ’s most aggressive and challenging dogs at the time. This experience improved my skills in handling different dogs! I also learned to handle dogs in a group.

Sometimes you Succeed, Sometimes you Learn

While some of the people did a better job showing me how I don’t want to do things. Trust me, there were a few. I also had the privilege of spending a lot of time with amazing friends and trainers, like Natalie Ramm! She showed me a different way of doing things. And thanks to her influence I became the trainer I am today.

Good Mentors Make Good Trainers

Without the dogs and Natalie, I would not be able to help the dogs I’m able to help today. But, I must mention the lessons I learned from “trainers” who taught me what sort of trainer I didn’t want to be. 

Again, it was the dogs who taught me the most valuable lessons. The dogs showed me that they didn’t respect these trainers. My best teachers at the time were the dogs. 

I got to work with Dutch Shepherd Choco, Malinois Jazz and Jake as well! Of course there were also the special boys Ryker and Rango. These dogs taught me the lessons I needed to be able to help aggressive dogs. As well as my own dogs Kaz and Delta who I got to see in a new light. I got to connect with dogs on a deeper level. 

The Constant Puzzle

Dog training is a constant puzzle to solve. Every time you think you know it all, a new dog comes along to show you how little you really know. A new puzzle to solve. 

If you want to learn to be a dog trainer, you need to learn to learn from dogs, and people. The good ones and the bad ones. You need to let go of your ego. 

But here’s a tip. Stop looking at “known trainers” the good ones don’t have time for Facebook and YouTube. They’re too busy working dogs. Find these people and learn from them. I’ve been lucky to find these mentors. And that’s the reason I’m the dog trainer I am today.

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