Tuesday, June 15, 2010

How To Choose a Professional Trainer

I remember the first time I sent one of my Wires out with a professional field trainer. It was horrible! I felt like I was sending her away, she would never be the same, how could I do that to my wonderful little dog?

It was the best thing I ever did!

Too many of us believe our dogs will just simply die without us. It's our ego's, it's our sense of loss that bring us to those conclusions. After 30 yrs in this breed I've learned it's simply not true. Your dog will (or should) bond with the trainer in a very short time, and while they will be happy to see you when you come for a visit, they will also look to the trainer for direction. However... if you go for a visit and your dog is not a happy camper, is obviously not bonded to the trainer, is not jumping up and wagging their tails.....it might be time to take them home and look for someone new.

One thing I found amazing...even when gone for a long time.... every single one of my dogs came home and acted as though they had never been gone. They knew which chair was theirs, what time dinner was, greeted their doggie friends and human friends like they had never been away. They have amazing memories!!!

Our breed, the GWP, is known to be a one man dog. Once they adopt you as the boss, they can and do become very attached. Some dogs become too attached and end up with separation anxiety problems. Not fun to live with!

One way to stop this is to send a young dog out with someone else for a period of time. A friend, family, fellow GWP owner, just another home. I feel this teaches them that good things can come from lots of people, life doesn't end when your favorite person is not there. They learn to adapt, to accept change, to get over things.

I like to send out my youngsters when they are right around 6-10 mos. old...sometimes for a week, a month or maybe longer. And if you are going to send them out somewhere, why not get some training done? Have them learn something? Something useful for the future?

But I want to do it myself!
Well, of course you do. And if you have the time, the resources, the land, the birds, the experience, the knowledge, you go for it! A great bond can be made by the owner doing all of the training. And when done, both you and the dog can have a great sense of accomplishment.

However, if you don't have the time, the resources, the land, the birds, the experience and or the knowledge.... you can sure screw up a potentially great dog! Our Wires are pretty resilliant, but a little bit of knowledge is not a good thing when it comes to training a dog. Make a mistake, use the wrong techniques and a good dog can quickly become a gun shy, bird chasing, run off, boot polishing mess.

Reading books, watching videos, going to training days will help you not make these kinds of mistakes, and I always suggest new dog owners do all of these things. If you are determined to do it yourself.... arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible. Join one of the Bulletin Boards on the internet, read the training blogs, talk to as many GWP owners as you can. And keep an open mind! No one training technique works on every dog, they are as much individuals as we are. And last but not least... have fun! Laugh off the little mistakes your dog makes, there is always tomorrow.

When looking for a professional field trainer there are several things I consider.

Do They Know The Breed?
First and most important to me .... Do they have experience with GWP's? Do they know this breed? Have they owned them, or worked with them in the past? What is their overall opinion of the breed? Do they like them, hate them, have few kind words about them?

There are a ton of Pro's out there who have had great success with GSP's, Vizsla's etc., but have never worked a Wirehair. If they believe a gun dog is a gun dog, and they all train the same, I would be very hesitant to send them one of my Wirehairs. These dogs are NOT GSP's with a longer coat. They think different, they train different, they mature different.... good or bad, it's what it is.

I'm not going to go into all the why's, or if it's a good or bad thing, I'm just giving my opinion. If you are looking for a field trainer, find out if they have experience with GWP's.

Priorities and Goals for your dog
What are your goals? Do you want a weekend warrior that will be a comfortable gun dog? Are you looking for a dog that will be a nationally ranked competition dog? Are you a breeder looking to produce the very best dogs possible and want your breeding stock proven? Some trainers can do all of the above, some are competiton guys only, some specialize in hunting dogs, some are breeders who know what they are looking at.

Discuss what you want in your dog when the training is complete. Ask the trainer what type of timeline you might expect to complete those goals, a month, 2 or 6? Is being steady to wing and shot important to you? A dead on retriever, advanced water work?

One thing I would suggest is to keep an open mind when discussing your goals with an individual dog. Not all dogs have the same amount of talent. Not all dogs are going to be top notch water dogs, or field trial contenders. Ask the trainer to give you an honest evaluation of your dog, and try not to get your feelings hurt if they don't turn out to be what you expected. Then again... you may have a star athlete whose talents far outshine your goals. If so, take the time to consider allowing the dog to go on and showcase those talents!

Do You Like This Trainer?
The next thing I feel is very important is- Are you comfortable talking to this trainer? Do you have a good rapor with them? Is asking questions easy ? Do you feel their answers to you are up front or a canned speech. Are they honest?

Personally, I want to be kept in the loop when I have a dog out with a trainer. I appreciate a phone call or email from time to time letting me know how the dog is doing. I want to know if progress is being made, is the dog moving forward, are there problems? If I call them, I want a return phone call within a reasonable amount of time. Hey, I'm sending them money, the least they can do is keep in touch with me! That's my dog they have and I want to know what's what!

With todays technology there is little reason for a trainer not to keep in touch. And a bonus would be a photo or two, maybe a short video of the dog working. I know, trainers are busy guys and usually a one man band, so their time is limited.......but sending out an email takes about 2 minutes... writing my check every month takes about the same amount of time. I feel it's a pretty good tradeoff.

Location, Location, Location
Another consideration is location. Are you willing to send your pooch off to a trainer many many miles from home? The best trainer for your dog may not be as close to home as you may like, or you might be lucky and they are within a couple of hours drive.

Being close has it's advantages for sure. You can go there and participate in the training process, you can see your dog and keep track of his care and progress. And best part is... you can learn how to train and handle your dog. If you do go to your trainers for a day to watch, be prepared to work and help. Don't expect to be entertained.....go grab the pooper scooper and pick up. Go fetch fresh water and fill the dishes, make yourself useful. Remember, trainers have dogs from many owners and they all need to be worked. You can't expect them to drop everything and take care of you all day long... you wouldn't like it if your dog sat while another owner got all the attention. Fair is fair.

But what if the trainer you like is very far away? This can be a dilemna and a very difficult decision to make. In the past I've sent dogs to California, Georgia and now Iowa. Trust me, I had to think long and hard about it before I sent any of my guys out. It wasn't going to be easy for me to keep track, I could only go a couple of time a year to see them, and I was going to have to depend upon and trust these trainers.

Before I left a dog with anyone, I knew them. I had watched them work dogs, I knew what their strong points were, I had talked to other owners who had dogs with them. If I had a bad feeling about them, my dogs were not going. I didn't care what their success records were. I had to be comfortable with them. And the dogs had to be comfortable with them!

When Good Things Go Wrong
I will say that there were a couple of times that I made the wrong choice for a certain dog. The dog and trainer just didn't gel, their techniques just didn't work for that dog. When I knew I made the wrong choice, I brought the dog home. No hard feelings, it just didn't work out.

But I've also made some really great choices and these folks have become very good friends and mentors for me. I may no longer have a dog with them, but I will always recommend them to others, will always trust their judgements and look to them for advice.

Bottom line, sometimes sending a dog out with a Pro is the right thing to do for your dog. If you want a competitive field trial dog, a Master Hunter, a NAVHDA UT dog and if you don't have the know how..... or the time......don't feel guilty where your dog is concerned. Think about it this way... they will be out doing what they were bred to do every day, not just here and there when you have the time. You will get back a trained, confident, reliable dog.

Sometimes, it's just the right thing to do!