Friday, July 27, 2012

Rethinking career dreams

I was at a party this evening for one of my daughter's friends and it was one of those rare parties where it was not the usual suspects when it comes to parents.  This girl is a friend from the schoolyear before last and wasn't in my daughter's class last year so the kids she invited were not my daughter's core group of friends (thus my core group of friend's parents that I'm used to).  I was a little worried about the social aspect of it for myself because I'm not feeling my usual extroverted self today (hormonally challenged, achy and having a flare-up, got a lot on my mind ...) but it turned out ok.

One of the dads was there with his golden retriever who I noticed right away was very well trained.  I overheard him say that his dog is "on vacation" and I asked him what his dog is trained to do and he said he's a search & rescue dog.  My mom trains her dogs to be therapy dogs so that has gotten me interested in "working dogs" so I picked his brain for awhile about that.  It turns out he used to be a professional dog trainer before he quit to be a house-husband so his wife could work full-time and someone would still be home with the kids.  On a segue, my daughter said yesterday she wanted me to go back to work full-time so we could afford for her to go to camp every week in summer, but I had to explain to her that unless I was working for Trainer K. or an equally talented (and humane) horse trainer I would be miserable working full-time.   So that discussion did not go very far.  I'm glad to know that my decision to give up working to be available to my daughter as a parent is going completely unappreciated by her.  Sigh.

Anyhoo ... I was telling the dog-trainer-dad about how I had wanted to be a horse trainer for awhile, but that after a few years of being with horses it seemed too daunting because there is so much I need to learn about horses that I don't think I would know enough to be a trainer before I was in my 60's.  But I know dogs quite well, having grown up with them, taking obedience classes with them throughout my life starting in third grade and reading as much as I can about them.  My neighbors refer to me as the neighborhood dog whisperer. And it's true, I am very good with dogs.   So, I thought maybe instead I should be a dog trainer.

One of the first things I asked him was if he does clicker training because for some reason I don't like that - but it is extremely popular around here.  If you look up websites for dog training in the Greater Seattle area, the majority of them are going to talk about clicker training.  I was happily surprised to hear that he doesn't do that and doesn't really like that method either.  But then I also liked how he said that you can't just know one method of training and think it will work for every dog - you need to know a lot of methods and tailor it to each individual dog or as he put it "You can't just take a sledgehammer as your only tool and think you'll get the job done."  Exactly the same thing Trainer K. says about training horses.

But the more we talked the more it became clear that like how the toughest part of being a teacher is your student's parents, the toughest part of training dogs is the owners.  He said that dog training is 80% owner and 20% dog training.  He can't train a dog perfectly then send it back to the owners without any instruction for them and expect the dog to behave.  And I've seen that with horses too - especially with Toad.  Even when she's being very good with me - and Trainer K. and Kelsey who have also worked with her - if someone new comes along she will often regress back into her spoiled, pushy behavior from when the teenager had her because it was second nature so long to act like that and she's waiting to see what the boundaries are (or if they'll be boundaries) with the new person.

Speaking of not being able to train animals to be one way all the time with every person, I brought Rex in again from the paddock and I'm happy to say he did great today.  I told his owner yesterday I'd bring him in for her and she warned me that he would test me and not want to come in.  For one, he's a 7 year old stallion so he can be bull-headed and think he runs the show, and two, it was sunny and hot out yesterday and he loves the sun.  But when I went to bring him in and he got to the gate and said, "Nope! You can put my halter and lead rope on but we're not leaving the paddock!" and shoved his little feet into the ground and became "the immovable force which is Rex" I turned around and said, "Oh, we'll have none of that!" and gave him a little swat on the butt with the end of the lead rope and he hopped a little, looked surprised then grumbled and followed me like a polite (but slightly slow and reluctant) little guy.  I asked his owner today if that was ok because I didn't know if she was one of those "always be super gentle with my babies and never say no" types (I didn't think so but you never know!)  She said, "No - I can't train him to behave for you.  Only you can do that. If I'm not here and you're leading him I expect you to figure out how to handle it."  So that was good.  And then to my surprise when I went out to lead him in today he just walked right out with me!  It did not even occur to him to pause at the gate.  He is such a good little guy! 

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