There’s a great divide in the dog world right now (at least in my area), between dog walkers and dog trainers. But… why? In this article, we’re going to discuss the purpose of each profession, where the line in the sand lays between them, and what we can do as a community increase understanding and empathy on both sides.
First off, let’s take a look at what the main functions of these professions are:
Dog Walkers: Most clients are looking for a walker for one or two reasons: exercise and socialization. Both are important aspects of our dogs’ lives.
Dog Trainers: People turn to dog trainers for basic obedience and behaviour problems that they cannot fix on their own. **In this article, behaviour modification specialists will be grouped with dog trainers, although I know that there are some who would put them in separate categories.
The problem with these definitions is this:
DOGS NEVER STOP LEARNING.
Learning is a 24/7/365 thing. Both dogs and humans learn in the same way: making associations between occurrences/actions and consequences. If we as dog walkers forget this, we are forgetting a HUGE part of puzzle for dog behaviour. And dog behaviour is what we rely on. Every time you are walking that dog, the dog is learning about you and their surroundings and how to cope with the stresses of life. They are learning what is appropriate and what is not appropriate. What is scary and what is not. Dog walkers that ignore this are inviting behavioural issues into their client’s life.
If we are at the dog park and the dog hides under the bench or tries to squeeze itself between our legs, and we ignore that because the dog “needs” to be socialized, we affected the family’s life but not respecting that dog’s fears and potentially making them worse.
If we are out on garbage day and the dog is extremely afraid, but we need to get the dog exercised and force her to keep walking with us by dragging her along (or even just staying in one spot and not allowing her to go home), we affected the family’s life but not respecting that dog’s fears and potentially making them worse.
What is the reason that some walkers will give for this?
“I’m a dog walker. It’s not my job to train the dog,”.
The thing is… you ARE training the dog. You may not be training the dog to sit, lay down, go to bed, or do other “tasks”, but you are affecting the associations that dog makes with its world. And that matters.
On the other side of this coin though, is another story. There are walkers that DO understand they have an impact on the dog’s behaviour and feelings about their word. These walkers DO want to train and influence that behaviour and DO believe it is part of their job. This is great! Except when it’s not.
Andre Yeu, founder of When Hounds Fly: Positive Reinforcement Training, wrote a great article, where he touches on the 4 Stages of Competence, developed by Martin M. Broadwell, and how it relates to dog trainers. But it is also relevant to dog walkers. I think a lot of walkers are in either of the following stages:
1. Unconscious incompetence
The individual does not understand or know how to do something and does not necessarily recognize the deficit. They may deny the usefulness of the skill.
2. Conscious incompetence
Though the individual does not understand or know how to do something, they recognize the deficit, as well as the value of a new skill in addressing the deficit.
I don’t mean to insult ANY dog walkers out there. There are so many who are expanding their knowledge and taking an interest in understanding canine psychology and how their actions affect the dogs they walk. There are things that walkers understand that dog trainers do not. But I would like to see more dog walkers in stage 2, more walkers who know their limits, more walkers who refer their clients to qualified R+ trainers, more walkers who want to know more!
Dog training is hard and requires education in techniques, theory, and philosophy. I cannot name a single GOOD dog trainer that has based their entire practice on being self-taught. And unfortunately, a dog walker that has to handle a dog that needs training, may not have anything more than what they have seen themselves. The problem here is that the pay of a dog walker does not support continuing education. It’s a work-to-live job (in my experience, living in Toronto). Trainers charge what at first seems like a crazy amount of money for their services. What we don’t think about is all the studying they do, the workshops they attend, the hours they spend bettering their practice through education… That’s where their money is going. How do we as dog walkers make sure that our knowledge is up to date and that we are using the most modern, ethical practices in our work, if we don’t have the means to?
And this is where the line in the sand is drawn. Some trainers resent walkers for their lack of knowledge and blame them for making behavioural problems worse, which in turn makes some walkers resent trainers for that opinion.
I think we can get around this though, by 3 simple things:
Showing Compassion & Empathy. If walkers and trainers can develop some empathy for the struggles of the other profession, and outwardly show compassion towards those struggles and hardships, we are already on the right path towards erasing the line in the sand.
Supporting Education. Knowledge is power, and the more you have, the better you’ll be. Both walkers and trainers need education, but there needs to be some way to make it accessible and affordable. There are some awesome endeavors out there that are working to make this happen, and if we support them through sharing the available workshops, courses, and resources they have, we can make these things accessible and affordable.
Working Cooperatively. Walkers, trainers, groomers, day care attendants, and any other professional that works with dogs, all have a common interest: caring for canines. We all need to understand our limits, and play within them. If you are not educated on how to fix behavioural problems, DON’T TRY! Refer your client to a trusted trainer. If we can gather around this idea and create networks of people we trust within the industry, that line in the sand will REALLY start to wash away.
If you are a dog walker interested in furthering your education, check out the courses designed SPECIFICALLY FOR DOG WALKERS at educanine.org
If you are a dog owner interested in getting a dog walker, ask about their education, give them time off to take courses, and trust their knowledge.
And lastly, if you are a dog trainer, continue being kind to your dog walker colleagues and help build education within the canine world!