If your dream workplace is one filled with waggy tails and tapping paws, consider becoming a dog trainer.
Bengaluru is among the major cities in the country where the job has caught on, with more and more people ready to take professional help to have a fulfilling relationship with their pets. A traditionally male-dominated field, dog training is now attracting women in big numbers.
Personal experiences coupled with a love for dogs is the reason many take this up (one trainer said it was her calling because she “enjoyed helping people and got to play with dogs”).
Nivedita Jithin first heard about the job when she was looking for someone qualified enough to help solve the challenges she faced with her dog.
When her search drew a blank, she expanded her research, and found something interesting.
“I found dog training was an actual profession, though not many were doing it,” she says.
Now a qualified canine behaviourist and trainer, Nivedita quit a lucrative software job to take this up full time seven years ago.
“My job is very similar to that of a nursery school teacher and a human shrink. They teach children values, manners and prepare them for life, and we do the same with puppies,” she says.
Who opts for dog training?
Mostly first-time owners, who are unsure about what to do with their dogs. Some owners come with adult dogs ‘improperly trained’ (see box).
Do all dogs need training?
“I’d say yes. By training, I don’t mean circus tricks, but the ability to listen and respond to its owner. Certain commands such as ‘sit, stay, no’ and a good recall can be lifesaving,” says Sayli Rajadhyaksha, canine behaviourist and trainer and owner of PawsRUs India.
What skills does one need?
Quite often trainers have to teach people how to handle their dogs, points out Nivedita. “So people skills are very important,” she notes.
“With dogs, you need to have a great sense of humour, good timing, and a knack of observing body language to figure out if the dog is too stressed or too excited,” she adds.
What do they teach dogs?
Many things, from social etiquette to leading an independent life. “For example, most dogs are with their owners all day. So when they have to step out for something, the dog goes into a state of extreme stress. We teach the puppy how to have a schedule, be independent and obedient and so on,” says Nivedita.
Social etiquette includes teaching the puppy how to behave when it goes out for walks, when it visits a park or other public places, and when it sees a cycle, a car or other dogs. The activities are customised depending on where the dog stays.
“If it’s a farm dog, we need to socialise it with other animals. City dogs have to be socialised with various sounds and sights and acts like travelling in an elevator, behaving at the veterinarian’s and so on,” adds Nivedita.
“A few common apprehensions are: my dog is an adult, can it still learn? If I adopt an older dog could I train it? How quickly can you train my dog?” points out Sayli.
She says any dog of any age can be trained, provided the owners are consistent and everybody around the pet expects the exact same thing from it.
“Remember, no matter the age of the dog, establish rules for it since the first day you bring it to your house, and stick to them,” she advises.
How much does it cost?
On an average, Rs 1,200 per session for basic obedience training. Behaviour and aggression consultations cost more.
‘Undoing work of others is hardest’
Trainer Sayli says the cost of professionally qualified trainers deters Bengalureans.
“We have invested time, effort and money in studying behaviour. So we charge more than local trainers who are not qualified. Many times I get older “trained” dogs and I have to undo all the wrong done by them. The dog has already practised certain behaviours and is more set in its ways.”
Challenges aplenty in the field
From people expecting trainers to work miracles overnight to dogs that bite, trainers see them all.
Misconceptions abound about the process. People think training involves hitting or punishing the dog, or that the trainer does all the work, which is not true.
“Training is a life-long process which needs consistency from the owners. Incorporating basic commands into the dog’s daily routine helps in constant reinforcement of the training,” says Sayli, adding that she tries to challenge myths through social media.
Some dos and don’ts of dog training
Keep in mind the safety of dogs and the safety of the people around you. For young puppies, make sure the area is contained and hygienic, and they are not exposed to harmful stuff.
For dogs that are aggressive, make sure they are not overly stressed while training. For example, if a dog is fearful of something, we can’t push it to overcome that fear in one day.
Set expectations of the pet parents right. In some cases, some dogs may never get over a
particular fear. We have to be realistic and tell parents that this is how far we can go to keep the dog and the community safe.
Meet Shirin Merchant, India’s first qualified canine behaviourist
Shirin Merchant has not only trained dogs for 23 years but changed the traditional method of training to a kinder and more positive one.
She is India’s first qualified canine behaviourist and the first in India to tackle pet behaviour problems using the science of canine behaviour psychology.
Metrolife asked her some questions.
What kind of dogs do trainers train - special purpose ones or just pets?
They do all kinds of training, ranging from basic pet dog training to therapy dog training, agility training and even behaviour correction training
What kind of situations are trained dogs useful in?
A trained companion dog leads a better life than an untrained dog. Trained dogs are well behaved and hence get to go places, meet people, are welcome in public places and are a joy to have around. Dogs can also be trained to help physically challenged people lead a life of independence. Search and rescue dogs can help people who are lost or in a disaster situation, and therapy dogs help cheer up people and can even help children with special needs.