Working with dogs! What does it really mean?

Been wanting to write this article for pretty long but didn’t manage to get down to it. Having new developments in my work as well as packed with cases and workshops while squeezing in time to read more books and research to upgrade my understanding and knowledge of dog behaviour.

Having been in this industry, I’ve met and interviewed many people who say they want to work with dogs because dogs are easier to deal with than humans. I bet that’s what you’re thinking now! Well, truth be told, there is no such thing as working with dogs only. Maybe if you are in the wild alone with these canines. If not, it is purely a fantasy thought and talk which will never ever come true.

Let’s break it down further; you will never work only with dogs simply because as a human, you have the capacity to rationalize, put emotions before logic and form personal opinions about how dogs should be cared for. Once again, I might get shot down once again for stating the facts of how we humans think when it comes to dogs, but the truth hurts!!

When you choose to step into the dog industry, may it be as a professional groomer, trainer, behaviourist, a volunteer in a shelter, a stray feeder or a rehomer, you will be working with humans on an emotional level. This isn’t an industry where someone can retire from politics or corporate culture. This is an industry where politics can be worse than running for the presidential title. I may be exaggerating to some extent as I’ve never ran for president, nor have I been in any political situation before. However, the fact is, when it comes to emotions, opinions becomes logical to each individual party. Everyone wants to have their say, and everyone thinks that they are right because that is what their emotions tell them.

Why are there so many animal welfare organizations around? Yes, more is good! But when there are too many in a small sector, it simply shows how political that industry is. Is it so difficult to compromise, learn and act like an adult and to work in unison with the very same goals in mind? Yes, it is true that not everyone is right when it comes to dogs, let alone, other living beings (that includes humans).

It is interesting to hear how people are so critical over one another’s organizations, pet shops, veterinarians, TV show trainers/ behaviourists, etc… I believe every one of us behaviourists or trainers have one way or another been criticized by others, be they in the same profession or as an individual. At the end of the day, none of us enter this industry expecting to be a millionaire or with an intention to mistreat dogs. Well, I can’t speak for all, but so far, people whom I’ve worked with do have a genuine love for dogs and carry the same passion as I do. Yes, we do this professionally and for that, we receive fees for our services. Everyone has bills to pay and mouths to feed. But many of us do this for one simple reason! We love dogs and we are intrigued by the way dogs learn and communicate with us. Yes, we are here to help dogs. But truth be told! Dogs DO NOT need our help! It is we humans that need help to understand dogs in the way their world works. This is one reason why I do not handle a client’s dog throughout a session. It makes more sense for owners to handle their own dog while I instruct and educate them on how to handle and understand what their dog is communicating to them through body language, etc…

What is my point? My point is, DO NOT enter this industry if you are not willing to work with humans and if you are not ready for someone to tell you about YOU! Make it a point to slow down, understand the people you are working with or helping and help them understand your opinions. If it is too difficult to ask, you can always google to get all your answers. Something I don’t understand is, why is it so difficult for a dog lover to search the Internet or make a phone call to a professional to get the answers to a behavioural problem or a certain behaviour the dog shows? There is a reason why researchers do research and there is a reason why professors and doctors out there sacrifice time, money and sleep to study dogs. Therefore, this industry will never ever be an industry where people just work with dogs. This will never ever happen – Deal with it!

In reality, this is an industry where humans let their emotions rule their logic so be prepared to get criticized by people. Although you may be doing a lot in helping dogs – be it strays, ex-breeding dogs or domestic dogs, you can never escape the scrutiny of dog lovers.

As a good friend of mine who is a dog trainer always say, we are never 100% right though we are formally trained in dog training and behaviour. It is a lifelong learning journey for everyone. The day you stop learning from the right source and get ruled by your own emotions, is the day you find yourself struggling with a dog’s behaviour that makes you so stressed till you resort to physical abuse. Trust me, I’ve seen it countless times where dog lovers who preach about treating dogs well and slam others – because they personally feel the other owner, trainer or rehomer is not doing it right – are the very ones who resort to such physical abuse. Abuse that arises out of stress and the emotional tension tied to the failure of controlling or handling a dog with major issues.

I hope dog lovers will learn to be mature and understand the facts before entering this industry.

This industry is for people who want their dogs to teach them about themselves, who dare to be real and who are thick skinned. That’s the truth 😉

Ezra Koh