DEAR OLD TRAINER: My dad just got me a dog named Miko. She is a Belgian and is 6 years old. She is big and tough but is nice and loves me and I love her. My dad said I have to take care of her and I feed her and walk her and she is my dog. I want to train her but I am not a grownup. Can girls be trainers?
Allison, Ventura, Calif.
A: Yes, but it takes a lot of hard work.
Dogs don’t care how old a trainer is and don’t give a hoot if it’s a man or woman. Some of the best trainers I know are women.
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If you want to be a trainer there are three important qualities you need— a deep love of dogs, confidence, and patience. If you lack any one of the three the dog does not respond as well so it’s harder to train her.
Part of loving a dog is learning to understand what she is trying to tell you. All dogs talk dog language to the person they love. Concentrate on watching how Miko behaves so you will understand her. Watch her ears and eyes and tail. Before long you will start to see how she moves them to let you know what’s on her mind.
Confidence means you have no doubts you can train Miko. It’s the most important of the three because a dog will know if you don’t have it. It’s hard to explain exactly what confidence is because it is not just one thing. You acquire it by trying things that are hard to do and practicing until you can do them. Every time you learn something new you get more confidence.
Part of confidence is admitting your mistakes and learning from them. All trainers make mistakes and fail now and then, but the good ones admit the mistake and think of a different way to show the dog what they want. If you fail, but you keep trying and then succeed, it gives you more confidence.
So if you try something and it doesn’t work, just love on Miko a little and tell her you made a mistake. Tell her you are going to try another way to do it and explain you need her to help you.
Patience is hard to learn sometimes. It means you always give Miko time to think about things and to understand what you want. You blame yourself instead of her when things go wrong.
Rule Number One for young trainers—old ones too, for that matter—is, “when the dog doesn’t understand the trainer’s commands, it is the fault of the trainer.”
All dogs always try their best to do what their trainer wants them to do. Keep in mind Miko is trying hard, so give her plenty of time to figure out what you want. Treat Miko the way you like to be treated.
Train her every day, but only for a few minutes at a time. Let her rest or play with her for a while, then hold another session. Always talk to her first and explain what you are going to teach her. Always love on her and brag on her when she tries.
Of all the things I have listed, loving her and bragging on her are the most important.
A trainer for more than 30 years, Jack Haskins has rescued, trained and placed more than 2,500 dogs. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.