Sunday, October 24, 2010

Undertones of "I can't afford a trainer"

Lately, many instances have occurred where the bottom line is a potential client feels they cannot afford a trainer. Their dog is out of line, their lives are disrupted and yet paying for knowledge seems to be difficult to fit into the budget. This makes me wonder what the dog is being fed, how they are being cared for, do they go to regular veterinary appointments and do they have the proper equipment, mentally stimulating toys, outings and more.

All this costs money and educating oneself, and providing education for the dog is these days no exception. In fact, it is simply a paying for knowledge and that can change lives.

What I hear when someone says "I can't afford a trainer," after they have called and clearly wished to have free advice is "I want free advice", "I don't value your expertise enough", "I won't follow through anyway", "my dog is not worth it" or "it is really true, you can't afford it". If that is true what else is being sacrificed in the name of dollars for the dog. If reading this, I am sure the same concerns may have cropped up from time to time.

Giving away free advice, free techniques may be a part of our job at times, but with serious cases there is a need for much more. It takes analysis, assessment, developing a road map, a plan and it takes follow through from owners. No amount of free email advice, or phone chit chats take the place of visual education and paying for a knowledgeable behavior trainer. It can be life changing for the dog and owner, not to mention the whole family.

In reality, really good behavior trainers will work out a plan that won't break the bank. They will make sure the issues are addressed and provide written documentation. They are worth every penny spent. The reality is a challenging dog isn't just going to get better and the future might hold rehoming or even euthansia. Knowledge, spending a few dollars can avoid this most of the time.

As a veterinarian can save a life, this is true also of a good behaviorist, and behavior trainer. It is well worth it. It is a process. It brings results. It should be a part of owning a dog. Classes, private instruction and serious instruction and behavior modification for challenges that crop up during the life of the dog is a part of responsible dog ownership. The challenges will most often not just go away, a behavior trainer should not be put into a position where they experience guilt from a client who can't pay for the knowledge the trainer developed over years and years of exhausting learning and experience. Yet, this is the reality in a day in the life of a behavior trainer. It is a reality in this economy. Since it is, it is important to develop clear policies and guidelines, to offer articles and affordable alternatives, and even a pro bono program, say one pro bono client per year through an application process or intense need acknowledgement.

What should be asked instead before calling a trainer is "can I afford not to", "what alternatives do I have", "will the behavior trainer work within my budget" and "is the behavior challenging enough where liability could result in negative outcomes". A dog brings responsibility and each is a unique individual with unique needs. Getting the expertise of someone who does this for a living should be dollars well spent especially if it helps the dog on the road to rehabilitation.

The behavior trainer can use phrases like "here's an example of what we need to do next (i.e. send an intake form, reactivity screen)" "here are dates available to schedule an assessment" etc. This gets everyone on the right track. Usually the first assessment will be the most expensive and then per session, hourly or more would kick in. As client dog's progress there is often a progression fee, meaning a lowering of the fee as the risk is diminished, the dog progresses and the owner works hard at the process.

Talking the business end out is really where solutions can be created. Always a better alternative then guessing about what should be done and then seeing things go terribly wrong quickly.


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  2. Nice article. This is a problem that I encounter often enough. Another difficulty is that those who feel they can't afford it are typically also very worried about the efficiency of the training a trainer will provide. Prior to having a consultation or assessment they want to know, just from a five minute phone conversation, exactly how long it will take and exactly what will be accomplished in the smallest amount of time possible. Also, if you get a chance, feel free to check out my blog at: