Bonnie Brown – DTC



A few months ago I put dog training on hold to focus all my energies and time on Dog Trainers’ Connection (my other passion).  That changed when I got a call from a woman who was looking to train her year old dog.  She wanted the training that I truly love – basic obedience, long-line recalls, tricks and training games.  It’s been such fun working with her!

The next call I got was from a man with an aggressive dog.  I was feeling stoked again about helping dogs and their owners.  I agreed to an initial consult.  In my mind I would be visiting his home, observing the dog, making a professional judgment as to the severity of the aggression, then making recommendations.  I emailed him my fee schedule which lists my consult fee and several different training packages.  The man called back and said, “I want the package of 3 training sessions.”  Instead of saying “No, that’s not possible – I need to have a consult with you first,” I said “okay.”  I didn’t feel entitled to say no.  I liked the man and was trying to convince myself that this was the kind of aggression case that I could handle.

During my first visit I observed the dog and learned about its bite history (the dog was biting the owners when aroused and also guests).  I made recommendations for management, suggested they consider seeing a veterinary behaviorist, and talked about various ways to modify their dog’s behavior.  To me it wasn’t a situation to play around with since they were expecting a baby in 3 months.  We scheduled the 2nd of the 3 sessions for the following week, but I got a call saying they wanted to reschedule.  In the meantime, I had a sinking feeling in my gut about the case.  Would there be owner compliance, what about liability and most importantly I wasn’t comfortable around his dog – and you know what they say about dogs sensing fear.

I called my client and referred him to a colleague who specializes in aggression.  This trainer is excellent at fixing things fast, he isn’t afraid of being bitten, has a great deal of experience with bully breeds, he’s passionate about keeping dogs in their homes, and he teaches a course for expectant parents who own dogs – a perfect referral for him!  I assured my client that I would stay involved.

None of my reassurances worked.  I received an e-mail saying that I had let him down.  I was painted as cold and unfeeling.  I know he was hurt and felt rejected, so I continued to e-mail him asking him if he had contacted my referral yet.  He recently e-mailed back that he found a new trainer.

I ended up having so many conflicting feelings.  Kicking myself for agreeing to anything more than a consult, feeling pissed at being painted as the bad guy when I went above and beyond in time and effort (as all trainers do).  In actuality my client was probably beating himself up for letting his dog’s aggression go on for so many years – not wanting to think about the dog being put down (since as he told me, the dog was a member of the family) and wondering how he could find another home for a dog that bites.

I’ve learned my lesson, the next time someone calls me and tells me their dog bites, I’m going to say, “Oh, that’s terrible, I completely understand.  Let me give you a referral of a colleague who can really help you out with this.”  After all, that’s the best that I can do for them as well as for myself.

  1. I have found that by the time someone calls me for a dog that has already bitten them, they are afraid of their own dog. I can handle the dog, but trying to get the client to comply with the training can be difficult. I have found that once they are afraid, there is little they can do to help their own dog. Fearful energy will just feed an already bad situation :o(

    If a dog with bite history is not something you deal with, I commend you for your stance! As you know, each case adds to our knowledge and experience and the life lessons that come with the profession we have chosen. The best of luck to you!

    • Hi Susan – I’m sorry I’m late with my response to your comment. Thank you for all that you said and I honestly hadn’t thought of it in the way you put it – that the owners are most likely afraid since they’ve been bitten and their fearful energy feeds the bad situation. And thank you for your support about the realizations I came to – we trainers go through alot and knowing that you understand feels great! Thanks again!

  2. Bonnie
    Thanks for sharing the story. Maybe sending a detailed profile for the client to fill out before the consult would help. You can then see the case in black and white and have time to reflect on it. If the client trusts you, as some do after a conversation, maybe going with your colleague on the consult would be reassuring.Just bring him along with you. Aggression cases are so tricky as emotions and stress levels are running high for all humans and dog.

    • Leslie – your suggestions make a lot of sense and I think what you said about having time to reflect on the situation by asking for a detailed profile would be a really good way to have time to think about the case. Yes, aggression cases are rough because of the stress as you say. Thanks again and I’m really glad you liked my story!

  3. Thanks so much for being honest and sharing, Bonnie. This happens for every trainer, I think. I can definitely think of times where I have had similar experiences. The most important thing is to learn and move on, and I can see you have done more than that- you have shared what you learned! Hopefully it will help someone else avoid this common pitfall.

    • Sorry I’m late in answering your comment Sarah! I’m still learning about posts and the technical end of our website! I appreciate what you said and it makes me feel good that you can relate to it as well. Yes, learn from ones experiences …that’s key! Thank you so much!

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