My Breakup with the Dog World

Long Banner Beach

I have been in the dog world for more than fif­teen years now.  My inter­est in ani­mals started long before (my first word was my dog’s name), but my first appren­tice­ship with a local trainer and my first vol­un­teer job at a shel­ter began when I was 16.  I got my first offi­cial job as a dog trainer for a big box store at 18, did pet sit­ting and train­ing through col­lege, then landed a job as a dog trainer for one of the largest dog day­care and board­ing facil­i­ties in Seattle.

I only lasted about a year at that job though, we were really not a good fit, but I con­tin­ued train­ing for a local dog club (one of my very favorite jobs and best learn­ing expe­ri­ences).  By luck I applied to train at a long-standing and expe­ri­enced groom­ing salon that was expand­ing into a larger space with an area for dog day­care.  I became their day­care man­ager before the move was completed.

I man­aged there for years and really loved many things about that job but I think it was right around there where I started to get dis­il­lu­sioned with things, even though I wouldn’t real­ize it for many more years to come.  I think at the time I believed it was due to the “you should do it because you love it” atti­tude that plagues the dog world.  It breeds long hours (never-ending hours really), low pay, low ben­e­fits, low appre­ci­a­tion, high respon­si­bil­ity, and sac­ri­fice for the “cause” or car­ing for live ani­mals.  That men­tal­ity stunts per­sonal growth and smoth­ers professionalism.

But that wasn’t really it.  And when I moved to man­ag­ing another larger facil­ity with more staff in the hopes of improv­ing my sit­u­a­tion it started to sink in.  There’s some­thing wrong on a big­ger level, how we think of and respect the dogs and peo­ple around us.

Me and my dog trying out weight pull

Me and my dog try­ing out weight pull

But thank­fully I had found dog sport and the work­ing dog world and my pas­sion for dogs and learn­ing to live with them only grew and inten­si­fied.  I came to see dogs in a new way as my under­stand­ing of them deep­ened.  I got really into ethol­ogy, how evo­lu­tion affects behav­ior, and under­stand­ing how humans and dogs came to part­ner with one another.  I saw many more sim­i­lar­i­ties between us than differences.

When I made the move to train­ing on my own, in my own busi­ness, I look back and describe myself as very generic, noth­ing note­wor­thy in my mes­sage.  I had the skills, but I wasn’t really being hon­est with myself.  I was get­ting dogs trained yes, but I felt like our deep, unique, and mean­ing­ful rela­tion­ship was oh so much more than that.

But I kept truck­ing along.  And on this jour­ney guided by dog, I began to see con­nec­tions between things.  It was harder to see any­thing in the world, espe­cially our rela­tion­ship with dogs, as black and white.  My inter­ac­tions with dogs became a clear indi­ca­tor of my own health.  Was I get­ting out­side enough, being thought­ful about what goes in my body, mov­ing around, enrich­ing my mind and senses, expe­ri­enc­ing, cre­at­ing?  If my dog was telling me to go out­side, I needed to go out­side.  My boyfriend started call­ing my dog my “mood ring”, and he was right.

My dog's first camping adventure

My dog’s first camp­ing adventure

I strug­gled with the dog world more than ever.  On one end of the spec­trum seemed to be the work­ing dog world, which I loved deeply and taught me so very much about what dogs truly are.  There dogs were respected as skilled, sen­sory aware, intu­itive crea­tures and trusted in a way I had never seen before, trusted with human lives some­times.  I saw dogs liv­ing purely and wholly in the moment too in a way that I wanted for my own life, in a deeply admirable “go all in” kind of way.  These dogs were dogs though, not often part of the fam­ily, and not often very con­nected to the humans around them.  This world both touched on this age-old coop­er­a­tive magic that we shared and also did not med­dle in it.  It was beau­ti­ful but also sterile.

On the other end were the trainer-ey train­ers, mostly pet and behav­ioral dog train­ers but in a way that under­stood behav­ior and how to manip­u­late it that was com­plex and amaz­ing.  They could build elab­o­rate rou­tines, impres­sive tricks, and break down behav­ioral processes into a sci­ence.  They under­stood how dogs think, act, and behave on many lev­els, but some­how they seemed ill equipped, or maybe in denial of some of the big­ger con­cepts that plagued our inter­species rela­tion­ship and this struck me as a dis­ser­vice to devoted dog own­ers seek­ing a bet­ter way.  Con­cepts like intense dri­ves in dogs, the con­tin­ued cre­ation of dogs plagued with health or move­ment lim­i­ta­tions, often in favor of eas­i­ness, or eas­i­ness on the eyes.  We were miss­ing much of the dog-like qual­i­ties that I so admired, and this left peo­ple with intense, ath­letic, or behav­iorally mal­ad­justed dogs at a loss.  There was this sense that the world could be com­pletely devoid of dis­com­fort and that every­thing would be man­aged care­fully to ensure safety and con­tent­ment and these dogs had no place there.

I don’t see dogs like this.  For me, the best of dogs and the best of peo­ple have a lot in com­mon.  I think of peo­ple and dogs in the great out­doors, mov­ing together, expe­ri­enc­ing the world, respect­ing one-another’s abil­i­ties, find­ing friend­ship in each other, and using life’s chal­lenges to grow and learn.  We have both been shaped by urban­iza­tion and lost sight of a lot of the things that bring out the best in us.  We are com­plex, pas­sion­ate, adept, and thought­ful beings.  We had traded growth, chal­lenge, and adven­ture, for safety, com­fort, and famil­iar­ity.  We had both lost some auton­omy because of it and for­got­ten what we are capa­ble of.

In my mind I was less of a dog trainer any­more.  I was some­thing else, a dog life coach, a lifestyle coach for dog peo­ple, [insert label here].  My job was to teach peo­ple how to under­stand their dogs and improve their lives in doing so.  My duty to dogs was to nur­ture their best dog-like qual­i­ties so that they could nav­i­gate the world.  It would be silly to think that we could live lives absent of stress or dis­com­fort (plus that would be super bor­ing).  I wanted to teach dogs and their own­ers how to be street smart to life, in a way, how to shuck the bar­ri­ers pre­vent­ing us from doing the activ­i­ties that feed our souls.  If we are hav­ing expe­ri­ences, some of them will be unpleas­ant.  We will run onto mean dogs, rude own­ers, look chal­lenge in the face, and we will have to learn to let go and move for­ward, the faster the better.

So if this arti­cle res­onates with you, I invite you to reach out to me, I would love to get to know you.  If it doesn’t then there are plenty of other train­ers who will give you three steps to get your dog to stop [insert behav­ior here] and I’m sure they’re a much bet­ter fit than I will be.

And if you’re some­one who got a dog to feel the sun on your face, live in the moment, learn, love, laugh, and grow together, know that you are the rea­son I do this, you warm my heart, and I that there are other life-loving, dog-loving folks like you out there and you’re not alone.



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