Paradigm shifts aren’t easy

10419603_10103916647748397_2792827974898225307_nA short post today for trainers about paradigm shifts and the human side of dog training.

Behavior change is not easy. Paradigm shifts are not easy. As trainers, we’re asking clients to view their dogs and training through a different lens, a lens that might be the complete opposite of what they’ve been thinking and doing for years. In addition to changing thought patterns, we’re asking clients to change their behavior in order to help their dogs. All of this may be contradictory to what their partners, spouses, family members, neighbors, or even other trainers are telling them.

It’s not surprising that at some point along the way, me may meet resistance or confusion from clients. After all, the training industry hasn’t done us any favors as far as cultivating trust and standards of care. All a client has to do is google “dog training” to get hundreds of conflicting opinions on the best, guaranteed, no-fail way to “fix” a dog. Besides, it’s not easy to train a different way than your family members, or admit to a person that you made some past mistakes training your dog. Remember how embarrassing it is to tell the dentist you forgot to floss? Imagine how clients feel approaching a force-free trainer and telling that trainer they’ve used shock and prong collars?

When clients call us, it’s important to remember that what we are asking them to do is not easy. Yes, we’re asking them to train their dogs in a specific manner, but we’re also asking them to change their behavior and do things contrary to what their friends and family may be telling them to do. We may be the catalyst to them realizing that their previous training methods were less than ideal, a sensitive topic for any dog guardian.

The answer to all this: Empathy. Empathy doesn’t mean we have to agree with what a client is doing. It doesn’t mean we have to think that what a client has chosen to do during training is right. It does mean we have to make an effort to understand where that client is coming from, to understand the motivating operations. After all, behavior exists to produce consequences. It’s our job to identify the antecedents and consequences for our human clients, not just the dogs.

And never forget: The client called you. Despite resistance, the client spent time and money, two very expensive things for humans, to call you and ask for help. The motivation is there. It’s our job as trainers to guide them toward a better relationship with their dogs.

–  Maureen Backman, MS, CTC, PCT-A is the owner of Mutt About Town dog training in San Francisco. She is also the founder of The Muzzle Up! Project and Muzzle Up! Online. To get in touch, email her at  To purchase her training DVDs, visit Tawzer Dog.

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