This past November 7-8 2020, we hosted our second annual Trainer Retreat here in Idaho. It was held at our home just north of Boise overlooking the Boise foothills. It was absolutely an honor and a privilege to be able to unite with so many passionate and inspired dog trainers and enthusiasts who all had the same goal: to better themselves as dog trainers.
The world of dog training
If you’re a dog owner reading this, and not a dog trainer, you probably aren’t aware of just how competitive and downright nasty the dog world can be. When I was first starting out as a wanna-be dog trainer, I reached out to probably a dozen dog trainers to ask them where they suggest going to school and ask if they have any advice for an aspiring dog trainer. The majority of dog trainers never replied to my email, and the few that did mentioned a few schools but didn’t offer any advice. At the time I felt like the dog training world was very, very big. I felt like a small fish in a big ocean.
Looking back, I know now that dog training is a small and very snobby career field. People don’t like to share information. Most everyone views everyone else as competition. Trainers walk around like roosters with their chests puffed out- hiding their secrets from the rest of the trainers.
Inspiration for the trainer retreat
Two summers ago, I had a couple friends come visit me at my new home in Horseshoe Bend. One from Northern California, the other from the Seattle area in Washington. While they were visiting, we enjoyed leisurely days and long pack walks with my crew. My friends commented on what a beautiful part of the world I live in, and how amazing it is to be able to walk-and-talk about dogs, observe their behavior and discuss training openly. They said my home would be a perfect place for trainers to come kick back, relax, and learn about dogs. That got my wheels spinning. As any good business owner will tell you, inspiration is everywhere!
About the retreat
The trainer retreat is a Saturday-Sunday affair. We meet from 10-5 each day. Retreat attendees are welcome to bring a dog to train, or come alone – which, for some trainers, is a lovely break from the day-to-day work of caring for and training our four-legged friends (a 24/7 job at times!).
Each dog is worked individually for anywhere from 10-30 minutes twice a day. We get basic background information on the dog (age, breed, behavior, social history etc) and then discuss what the goals are for the dog.
At the retreat we have everything from small dogs to giant breeds. Friendly dogs, aggressive dogs, reactive dogs, pushy dogs, spoiled dogs, untrained dogs and superstars. As dog trainers, we know the truth about training – it never stops! Whether you’re raising a young dog, maintaining good behaviors, fixing bad behaviors or just plain practicing – dogs are always learning.
My dogs could practically teach The VK9 Method at this point, and yet we still do our drills each day. Whether it’s something simple like focus work or advanced obedience, Rally, Nosework, bite work or some new behavior I came across and want to try. My dogs are, and forever will be, my guinea pigs – and they wouldn’t have it any other way! They love to train.
When you get a group of people together who are open minded and know they can speak freely, the information flows. There is nothing more enjoyable, and more productive, than throwing a bunch of crazy dog people in one room. The conversations were beautiful. There was an answer to every question. And everyone knew that no question is a dumb question. When it comes to dogs, each dog is an individual so sometimes even the simplest question can have a somewhat intricate answer full of variables.
Dog trainers who are truly seeking to perfect their art love nothing more than getting into the weeds. We love to discuss the “what ifs” of dog training. There is always more than one way of doing things, and when you’re problem solving with a group, you have the benefit of lots of experience.
I’ve personally trained well over a thousand dogs now. Multiple that by 12 people who’ve each trained anywhere from 1-500 dogs, and you’ve got a wealth of knowledge in one 10×20 foot room…well, garage to be exact. (Until we get our new training center up and running, we did the hands-on training in our heated oversized two-car garage, in front of the garage outside and on our lovely green turf (with a view that’s to die for!).
In attendance this past year, we had two Valor K9 Academy Lead Trainers, eight dog trainers from around the country, and two dog enthusiasts. Lunch hour was anything but dull. It was awesome to hear all the conversations happening.
What’s the big secret?
Like I said, the dog world is snobby. Trainers tend to think that what they know is some big secret, not to be shared with anyone else. I think that’s rubbish. If you come up with a great training technique, or you have an effective program, or experience has taught you how to handle everyday problems in the dog training world, then the best thing you can do is share what you’ve learned.
Granted, your knowledge – and the blood, sweat and tears it took to acquire that knowledge – is worth something, but there’s no reason to hold back and take it to your grave. Share what you know to make the dog training as a whole better. When trainers improve, the industry improves. When trainers are more effective, use better methods, and produce better results – the industry wins.
To be honest, when I was first getting started in dog training – when it was just a thought in my mind – I didn’t even know if dog training was a career field. I knew about Petco and Petsmart big box trainers, and I knew law enforcement and the military had specialized K9 trainers, but I was clueless as to whether professional dog trainers even existed. (Mind you, social media was not as popular nine years ago as it is now!)
This is just the beginning
Having your dog professionally trained is one of the best things you can do – for yourself and your dog. A well-trained dog is a pleasure to own and a joy to be around. A good dog trainer is worth her weight in gold. But as far as I’m concerned, ladies and gentlemen, Dog Training as an industry is still in its early years…and we have a lot to prove.
One of the best things experienced and knowledgeable trainers can do is reach down and offer a helping hand to deserving people who want to grow and succeed in this cut-throat career field. Good trainers make us all look good. Bad trainers make us all look bad. It’s really that simple.
The trainer retreat is one of the four ways I help individuals who want to grow as trainers. In addition to the retreat, I also offer a shadow program, mentor sessions and virtual training.
My shadow program
The Valor K9 Academy Shadow Program is a six-day immersion experience that offers academics, observation and hands-on training. Students are afforded the opportunity to observe private lessons, consultations, boarding & training sessions, and when running, group classes. They receive instruction in philosophy, training methods, puppy imprinting, business, marketing and more. And they work with a variety of dogs to learn what we call, Core Training Skills.
Several of the students who attended had been to shadow programs elsewhere and said that ours was the best they’d ever been to! The amount of information covered in a six-day time period is the equivalent to what you’d spend weeks or even months learning somewhere else. Many shadow programs are more along the lines of hurry-up-and-wait (reminds me of the military!) with a little bit of learning and a lot of down time waiting around in the break room. The way I see it is, if you’re going to travel cross-country (or from another country as has been the case sometimes) to come learn from me, I’m going to make it worth your while! I put together a tight schedule, organized effectively to maximize learning with a major emphasis on adult learning techniques and strategies to boost learning and retention.
(Click here to learn more about the shadow program.)
My mentor program
My Mentor Program is a one-on-one phone call session for 60 or 90 minutes. It is available to anyone with questions about the dog training industry. Most of my students are professional dog trainers. They have questions about clients, programs, pricing, methods and more. Most of the questions these trainers have are on dealing with difficult clients, cleaning up their website and pricing their programs effectively.
Some of my students are brand new and want to get their feet wet as dog trainers but don’t know where to start. During our sessions I hold nothing back and they finally get answers to their questions. What I share is what I learned from other great trainers (like Michael Ellis), from self-study (aka hundreds of hours online, researching and digesting information), and trial & error.
(Click here to learn more about the mentor program.)
And lastly, Valor K9 Academy Online is our virtual training platform. It’s available to anyone who wants to learn how to train their dog from home. We offer ZOOM and Skype private and group training for puppy training, general obedience and mild behavioral training. We work with a lot of dog trainers all over the country who want to learn more about The VK9 Method of training.
The big picture
A somewhat applicable analogy is:
“Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
By teaching trainers how to train, I’m able to pass on information that will hopefully influence hundreds and thousands of dogs. Bad training is bad for you, it’s bad for me and it’s bad for dogs. Good training is a win-win for everyone involved!
So in the end, when a trainer improves…the dog wins! Better trainers provide better training.
We’re looking forward to hosting the third annual Trainer Retreat in early November 2021. Follow me on Instagram to find out more @ dogtraineramy
(Thank you, Mary Webb, for sharing photos of the retreat with us!)