7 things you (probably) don’t know about your dog trainer

Any dog trainer will tell you that the most common comment we get when we tell people what we do for a living is: “cool! You get to play with puppies all day!”. While it’s true that puppies are a BIG perk in this line of work, there’s a lot more to our day than that! Although if you know someone who is hiring a puppy cuddler, please tell me where to send my application, I’m willing to moonlight.

Here are some things you might not know about your dog trainer:

We think about you and your dog long after you leave the office. Like, a lot. More than one sleepless night has been spent trying to find the right words to comfort a client who is feeling hopeless, searching the internet and our home libraries for a solution to a tricky problem, and emailing our peers to pick their brains. Updates from past students brighten our day more than you know.

We don’t have all the answers but we usually know where to find them. I know a lot about dogs, but no one can know it all. I will honestly tell you if I don’t know the answer to your question and then I will dig in and find it for you! This is where having a good network is handy. I’m so grateful for my crew of fellow trainers who are willing to share their expertise and opinions with me!

We have strong stomachs. Not vet-level strong, but there isn’t a lot that makes us queasy. Puke, blood, wounds, infections, slobber, scars, every form of dog poop imaginable (and some you don’t dare imagine), it’s all part of the job. Our hearts may hurt sometimes, but our stomachs rarely do.

We may not recognize you in the grocery store but we can spot your dog in a crowd. It’s nothing personal! During most appointments we are focused on your dog’s body language and reading their feedback, so we become really familiar with him. Years after you’ve taken a class with us we may recognize your pup’s spotted toes (hi, Freckles!) at the park but draw a blank on your name. Please don’t be offended if we know you as “Jojo’s Mom”. It’s not an insult!

We don’t take your dog’s behavior personally. No need to apologize when they pee on our shoes or growl at us. Dogs will be dogs and we wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t love them in all their dogginess!

We’re proud of you. Really, really proud. Anyone who tries earnestly gets an A+ in our grade book. I love the folks who approach training with zeal and a hopeful attitude, no matter what their timing on the clicker is or how many training manuals they have read. Commitment and patience matter more. Your dog succeeds when you believe in him, know that we believe in you! 

We truly do this for love. A rare few land a TV deal or publish a best selling book. Most of us do this because it is our passion, not for the piles of money (oh, if only the banks took slobber and fur deposits!). A trainer’s best day is the one where we see a student have a breakthrough or watch a dog overcome a hurdle. Learning something new about canine brains, celebrating a client’s achievement, getting an email that says “we did it!”; those are the moments we live for.

Of course I can’t speak for ALL trainers, but I know that these things are true for me and the wonderful pack of trainers and dog walkers we’ve gathered under the Fido umbrella. We are all grateful every day to have this awesome career and the honor of working with you and your dogs.

Muddy Mutts and Dirty Dogs: How to Give your Dog a Bath (pt 3 of 3)

“I didn’t like the bath and I like the camera even less”

Clean up:

*Oh boy. Is the tub full of fur and the entire floor soaked? I always time my dog’s baths for a day when the bath is due to be scrubbed anyhow, so I’m not wrecking a freshly cleaned bathroom. Rinse the dog hair down the drain and scoop out whatever gets caught. Clean the peanut butter smears and treat crumbs off of the tub walls (a spritz of white vinegar cleans peanut butter off of tile and shower surrounds pretty well, I’ve found). Wipe down the cabinets, they’re bound to be wet from the shake off. Gather up soaked towels and pitch ‘em in the washer.

*Now go find your freshly washed Fido. He’s probably on the couch or your bed, finishing his dry off on your upholstery. You didn’t let him outside, did you?! Then he’s in the flowerbed, digging a hole.

*For longhaired dogs, wait until they are dry and do a second brush out. Don’t skimp! This is the fluffiest he will ever be, so get every bit with that brush and comb. This will also let you deal with any mats you missed the first time around, or those created by the bath.

Now the best part! Pull your dog into your lap, sink your nose into this fur, and take a big whiff of clean pooch! He’ll be squeaky clean and smelling fresh for weeks! Or days. Maybe hours…

“I can’t WAIT to get outside and roll in the dirt!”

Muddy Mutts and Dirty Dogs: How to Give your Dog a Bath (Pt 2 of 3)

Big dogs might be easier to bathe outside if weather permits!

The Main Event:

*Place the dog in the tub. If you have a helper, they should feed treats at a steady pace while you wet your dog down with the showerhead (if you have a detachable one) or a cup. If you’re doing this solo, a big smear of peanut butter on the tub wall just slightly above your dog’s nose level is a good distraction and easily cleaned up afterwards. Make sure Fido is completely wet before grabbing the shampoo.

*Rub a generous amount of shampoo into your dog’s fur. Start from her hind end and move towards the head, getting the back of her legs and belly. Work the suds down to the skin with your fingers. If the dog is going to enjoy any part of the process, this is it! Lather her neck and chest. Don’t worry about her face, you’ll clean that up with a washcloth. I don’t worry much about the feet either, you’re not going to put fresh socks on them after!

That’s not a happy tail, but she’s tolerating the suds!

*Keep the shampoo on at least five minutes if your dog will allow it. If not, no worries. A quick bath is better than none at all.

*Time to rinse! Check the temperature of your water and refresh your peanut butter smear if necessary. If there is standing water in the tub, let it drain. Tip your dog’s chin up and rinse her neck first. Rinse the chest and front legs, then move to her back. Do her belly next, then her hindquarters, tail, and back legs. If you are using a detachable showerhead, get the nozzle as close to your dog’s skin as she is comfortable with to really get the suds out. You want to rinse until the water running off of her is completely clear, residual shampoo will dry her skin and may itch. Give her feet a gentle rinse.

*Soak a washcloth and go to work on her face. Gently wipe the corners of her eyes and top of her head and under her chin. Depending on how shaggy your dog is, this might be a long process! For my longhaired dogs, I cup a handful of water and bring it to their chins, using my soapy fingers to clean out all that beard grime. I then tip their heads back and rinse. Do not pour water over the top of your dog’s head or over their nose and muzzle, they’re not going to like it!

Getting her face wiped clean.

*All clean? If the rinse water runs clear, your pooch is done! “Squeegee” him off with your hands, running them over his back and down his legs and tail to squeeze off as much water as you can before toweling.

*Help your dog out of the tub, a slippery dog may hurt himself scrambling out of a wet tub. Toss a towel over him immediately, he’s going to shake and this will contain the spray!

Containing shake off spray!


*Dry your dog as thoroughly as you can (I told you to grab a lot of towels!). Damp is okay, soaked is going to create a mess! A hairdryer is okay if your dog isn’t afraid of it, but towel dry first and be sure it’s on “cool”, hot settings can easily burn his skin.  When he is dry, set him loose and prepare for….

The aftermath!


Muddy Mutts and Dirty Dogs: How to Give your Dog a Bath (pt 1 of 3)

Fresh from a roll in something stinky or a downpour, Fido is stinking up the house. You pet him and your hand comes away gray and you can feel the grime on his fur. It’s time for a bath! Some dogs handle this experience with no problem, standing calmly while you shampoo and rinse. A few even enjoy the process. Most dogs, however, run as soon as you start gathering the supplies to get them clean. How do you get you and your dog through a much-needed bath without any drama?

“I smell shampoo. Something is afoot and I don’t like it.”

The Prep:

 *What’s the weather like and how long does your dog take to dry? If it’s cold or rainy and Fido needs all day to dry, today is not the day. You can’t send a damp dog out in the cold for a potty break! Send him out right before bath time so you can keep him inside (and away from his favorite dirt patch) until he’s dry. 

*Does your dog have the sort of coat that mats easily or does she have a lot of tangles currently? Brush them out FIRST. Sounds counterproductive, but breeds with long, “hair like” fur will be even harder to unknot once they are wet. Use a slicker brush to smooth them out and cut out any mats that are too thick to brush or pick out. Even short haired dogs benefit from a good brushing before bathing, it will remove all the loose fur that would be headed for your drain otherwise.

“I don’t FEEL like I need a brush and bath…”

*If your dog gets very anxious about bath time, give them something to calm down. Melatonin or ProQuiet supplements are mild, effective, and safe for most dogs (always consult with your vet if your dog has health conditions that may cause problems with supplements or is taking medication of any kind). Calming supplements should be given a half an hour before tub time to give them a chance to take effect. You might also spritz Fido’s towel and the bathroom with lavender calming spray to set a soothing atmosphere.  If your dog is truly terrified of being bathed, call us for help with counter conditioning exercises. A little anxiety is expected; flat out fear needs to be handled with the help of a professional so no one (dog OR person) gets hurt.

*Gather EVERYTHING you need and set it where you can grab it easily.  You don’t want to leave a slippery dog in the tub while you run for the shampoo! Shampoo, towels (more than you think you need), washcloth, treats, paper towel; these should all be in the bathroom before you bring your dog in.

All ready to wash up!

*If you’re using concentrated shampoo that needs to be diluted, mix that up in a squirt bottle or Tupperware container beforehand.

*Put away anything that you don’t want to get soaked. When they shake off, water is going to land everywhere!

*Put a towel down on the bottom of the tub and run a few inches of warm water. The towel will prevent your dog from scratching your tub and reduce slipping, which is scary for them. Leave the water running so you don’t have to mess with the temperature during the bath. It should be lukewarm, no hotter. Hot water will dry Fido’s skin. Put a towel or two down on the bathroom floor, too.

*If your dog is prone to ear infections or has ears that stand up tall and would let water in, gently place a cotton ball in each ear.

Now you’re ready for the main event! See Pt 2 for how that goes down!

Give ‘Em a Hand!

We humans sure like to talk!  On average, we speak 16,000 words per day and that doesn’t take into account all the emailing and texting we do on top of that. Being such verbal, language-based creatures, it’s no wonder that we chat at our dogs. Fido hears everything from office gossip to our deepest secrets, and a furry ear can be a great confidante. It’s when we expect our dogs to understand our words that frustration sets in, on BOTH ends.

Many times in class or private lessons we will hear a client tell a dog to do something, only to repeat the cue or increase the volume of their voice when the dog doesn’t “listen”. In fact, Fido IS listening, but doesn’t know what is being asked of him because he hasn’t been taught what those strange sounds mean.

Most dogs can be trained to respond to verbal cues without an accompanying hand signal, but training goes faster and is easier when you add a gesture. Why? Because unlike chatty humans, dogs are visual animals. Although barks, growls, and whines serve a purpose, the majority of communication from one dog to another is done through body language.  They are so skilled at reading body language, in fact, that you would have an easier time training your pooch to Down using only your facial expression than with your voice alone. The next time you ask your dog to Down have someone watch you. Chances are you raise your eyebrows, wrinkle your forehead, or tip your head forward. Next, approach your dog and make that same expression, without saying “Down”. Did your dog do it? Congratulations, your dog is an expert at reading your body language! Now turn your back to your dog and ask him to Down. Did he walk around you to see your face? Wander away? Did he sit out of confusion? Don’t worry, your dog is completely normal.

Giving a hand signal along with your verbal cue helps especially with commands that were lure trained, as your hand will mimic the motion you used to move the dog into place with a food treat and gives the dog something familiar to lock onto.

Hand signals are also useful at a distance, where our voice may not carry. A big dramatic visual signal for Recall or By Me is incredibly helpful when your dog is off leash at the park. For times when you can’t give a spoken cue, like when you’re on the phone or have a mouthful of food, a physical indicator will help keep your dog in his Sit Stay or move him onto his bed

In more advanced training (our Basic Two class and beyond), we start to teach the dogs to recognize both verbal and visual signals independent of each other, but when you’re starting out it’s best to have both!