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Is a dog trainer REALLY worth it?

If you'd asked me if I needed a dog trainer in my life, I'd have served you a quick NOPE. 

Of course, now that I'm doing all the other things I swore I'd never do (driving a minivan, homeschooling my kids, going to bed at 9...), it's time I wave my Hypocrite Flag all over the place. And get a dog trainer. 

That's how life works, right? 

Let me back up here. After my last dog died, I was completely HEARTBROKEN (remember that blog?). The kids asked for another dog, and I said NO every time. 

...Then we had an "Oopsie Baby" in the form of a stray dog who found us. Despite my attempts to find her a home, no one would take her. I didn't blame them; she was in BAD shape. Since we are total suckers animal lovers, we opened our hearts and home once again to a dog, and my kids immediately fell in love with her adorable Judgy Face. 

My other two dogs? Not so much. In fact, I thought she might eat them if given the chance. 

The challenge was that this dog wasn't initially the snuggly puppy that you were probably envisioning. She was a very scared, starving dog who was covered in fleas, ticks, and a pretty nasty skin infection. It was also quite obvious that she'd recently had puppies. She was a HOT. MESS.

HEART: I love this hot mess of a dog - look at that face! HEAD: Jesus take the wheel.

For starters, this dog had some serious resource guarding issues, and I was concerned about integrating her into our home. I didn't know her triggers, which made me apprehensive about welcoming her into a house full of impulsive cuddlers.

A friend suggested a dog trainer. My knee-jerk reaction: WHAAT? That takes time, commitment and MONEY, right? Can't I just watch some Cesar Millan and fix this for free? {Unfortunately for my wallet, no.}

I made lots of phone calls, though I had no clue what I was looking for. I asked questions, and answers ranged from highly directive to extremely vague. I finally settled on a place that sounded the most knowledgeable in terms of the questions they asked - and the solutions they proposed. I scheduled an Aggression Assessment to help us determine if the "aggression" we saw was a deal-breaker.

In the history of my good decisions, this ranks at the top. The trainer we met with took time to help us understand our dog AND how she fit within our family structure (including other pets). We learned about the integration process for a new dog, along with how to look for signs of conflict. I'm a psychologist, and the approach to the situation was grounded nicely in theory, which gave me 200% confidence in the scientific merit of the approach. My husband and I walked out of that session in total agreement: TAKE. OUR. MONEY.

Special shout out to Bryan and Brittany at #tamingthewild for teaching our dog...and us!

We signed on for a package of lessons, each of which built on the previous one. Our trainer, Brittany, was incredible in helping us learn the most relevant behavior cues for our lifestyle - a family with big hearts, loud/crazy kids, and limited time. She answered our questions thoroughly. {Reality: We brought her a LOT of questions; she has the patience of a saint.}  

The biggest thing that our trainer did was help us think through the "behind the scenes" issues that our dog was experiencing as we worked on training - Were there too many distractions? What was going through her dog brain? Were we unknowingly undermining aspects of training? - so that the training would be most effective when we practiced at home. I was truly amazed at how quickly our dog caught on. She's like a new dog; we've still got work to do, but we're set up well for success.

DISCLAIMER: A dog trainer can give your dog a solid foundation for success, but you'll also have to put in some serious work. This is an investment, not a cure. Brittany helped us learn what to do, why that matters, and how to do it, but our dog needed us to reinforce the behaviors at home (~15-20 minutes per day). That was arguably the hardest part, because we're very short on time, with three kids, work and homeschooling. But like potty training, initial hard work and patience will pay off - then you'll reap the rewards. Pinky promise. 

Captain Judgy Pants and I can both "SIT" on command, so we're all winners here.

The bottom line is that a trainer isn't there to "fix" your dog; a good dog trainer can help give you the tools and awareness to help your dog learn appropriate boundaries and behaviors. The biggest thing that I learned is that some of the things I was doing - in an attempt to be a loving dog owner - were actually undermining the behaviors I wanted. Our trainer guided us through the entire process, from fearing our dog to loving our dog appropriately. The thorough explanations she provided helped me be a better dog owner, not only to my new dog, but also to future pets that we may have.

And that, friends, is worth every penny we spent.


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