If you get a group of dog trainers together there is generally one thing they agree on: motivating and inspiring clients can be tough. In an age of busy living, quick fix solutions, and information overload, it’s easy for clients to lose ‘training steam’ or find it difficult to make long-term changes. Yet client participation and engagement are key to success – for us, them and their dog.
Here are five pointers to help clients get on board with your training.
- Understand the problem
The foundation of any successful client-trainer relationship is effective communication. Sometimes we’re so keen to help that we rush in with a whirlwind of solutions without fully grasping the issue. And the issue may not always be what we expect. We might arrive to a dog jumping all over us, and start giving advice about how to solve this. But if jumping isn’t actually a problem for your client, and they find their pogo-stick hound highly entertaining, you may find yourself barking up the wrong training tree. Start with active listening – this means not only hearing their words, but also paying attention to their tone, body language, and emotions. Encourage clients to share their concerns, frustrations, and goals. By doing this, you can tailor your training approach to their specific needs, and build a relationship based on collaboration.
- Set expectations from the start
Once you’ve understood their needs, make sure clients have a full picture of their role in the training process and how it ties to the results they’re aiming for. If you’re working in a coaching model, for example, be clear that the effort they put in equals the results they get out, and clarify the ways you’ll support them. And for those offering day training or board-and-train services, it’s vital to get clients on board with those transfer sessions. That way they can keep the good work going.
Back these explanations with policies that protect you and help the client get the most from your service. For example, make those transfer sessions non-negotiable. Be clear in the written contract — and verbally walk clients through the policy — that canceled transfer sessions will be charged and rescheduled. Explain that this policy means the best results possible from the training process, and helps them get the most from their investment. Stay strong in your cancellation policies. If your client is having a busy week, don’t make your training or transfer session the easiest thing on their cancel list.
- Less is more
As dog trainers, we tend to become giddy over discussions about training approaches, the latest dog-related podcast we listened to, and that amazing webinar we attended last week. Your average dog lover just wants to live a peaceful life with their dog. Human capacity for multi-tasking is often overestimated – in reality, we’re way more effective with a single focus. Keep this in mind with your clients. Drop extraneous concepts, training exercises, and handouts where you can. Assess the area with the biggest potential impact and give your clients no more than three simple things to work on at a time.
- Use old habits to create new ones
It’s hard to learn something new, especially when you’re busy and the new thing disrupts your daily life. Habit building takes time, and if you ask clients to implement repetitive training sessions each day, the risk of losing their interest is high. Rather than telling clients what they need to do, have a conversation about what feels achievable to them. Ask them to list some times during the day that may work for training. Could they keep a treat jar in the kitchen and do some target work while the kettle boils? How about working on settling behavior while watching TV? Integrating training into everyday activities (which are already established habits) is likely to be more successful, especially if you let clients come up with these ideas themselves.
- Celebrate the wins
There is no better way to motivate a client than with positive reinforcement! Small victories serve as building blocks for larger successes, so make sure to acknowledge them. This not only boosts your client’s confidence, it also creates a positive atmosphere during training. Yes, maybe Rover is still struggling to walk past the neighbor’s dog without barking, but did you notice how quickly he recovered, and how your client moved him away? Small wins are a sign of progress, and sometimes clients need you to point these out and congratulate them – we’re generally our harshest critics, after all.
Doing as much as you can to make the training process easier — keeping training simple and based in real life, enforcing clear expectations for client participation, and celebrating success — will help clients get further with the training process. This means better human-canine relationships and happier clients and dogs — and a happier you, too!