A dog trainer/behaviourist’s life can be very stressful. We are often expected to make life changing differences to families and are trying to create enormous change whilst working against the clock, often with the dog’s life hanging in the balance. Working with aggression can be dangerous and frightening; working with the owners of such dogs requires a great deal of sensitivity, imagination, patience and mentoring skills. Many people are unaware of the skills, experience and qualifications the modern dog trainer/behaviourist is expected to have and this can affect our self - esteem. Most of us are also under constant pressure to do something for nothing and are expected to be on call 24 hours a day 7 days a week, even without payment. Many of us burn ourselves out by taking on higher levels of education, spending many hours researching our latest case. We eat, sleep, drink and dream of our work and after a while, this can drain us of our emotions and lead to burn out. To try to prevent this I decided to take up a calming hobby; gardening.
To my husband's delight I have taken on the responsibility for caring for the plants in our garden. Our garden has an acid soil and this means that some plants, like azaleas and rhododendrons, thrive whilst others, like roses and many of the bedding plants, struggle. Under my care, initially these plants were not doing much. So, I have been adding suitable compost such as rose compost for the roses along with manure and have been adding general purpose compost and feed to the borders. I have left the azaleas and rhododendrons as they are as they clearly like the soil they are in. My job is also deadheading flowers so that new buds can develop and we get more flowers, which prolongs the flowering season too. Since doing this the flowers have grown stronger, their leaves are darker green and the flowers are bigger and more plentiful and our garden looks a picture (especially with my husband doing all the heavy work and the landscaping). Of course, if we had consulted a professional horticulturalist in the first place, they would have advised which plants would do well in our garden and they would have thrived from the beginning. I wonder if they would have allowed me to call them at 22.30 on a Sunday night for some free advice! Ha ha!
However, I am a workaholic; and whilst gardening was meant to help me to forget all about dog behaviour and training and rest my mind, it has still brought me back to thinking about dogs. I can’t help drawing parallels between gardening and raising a problem free dog. If we don’t pull out the weeds that choke our plants, or if we raise our plants in the wrong kind of soil and we don’t trim off the problem bits, the whole plant suffers, gets weaker or out of control and eventually gets thrown away because it isn’t doing what we want it to do. The same seems to apply to dogs. If we take on a dog or puppy and don’t create the environment that this individual dog needs, this dog may not perform the way we wanted. For example, if you take on a rescue dog who is fearful, this dog may not cope in a busy household much like that plant that is being choked by weeds. But, if we managed his environment by giving him a calm quiet space away from busy and noisy activities, this dog can thrive and achieve his potential. If this dog is expected to cope without changing his environment, he will suffer and may become sick or even aggressive. If we don’t feed our dogs the right kind of food, educate him, or cater for his needs by enabling him to exercise and play, then we may turn him into that out of control untrained Virginia creeper that takes over the entire garden, or that plant that gets thrown away because it never flowers.
Remember, the garden and our dogs are not just there by nature alone. We have to nurture them too. If we don’t nurture them and guide them through life, they won’t do well. And in the meantime, I think perhaps I should find a different hobby………!
M.Res , B.Sc (Hons)
Full member APBC and TCBTS, registered Clinical Animal Behaviourist and Accredited Training Instructor with the ABTC.