By Julie Knutson, GunClub Labradors
Training the Pointing Labrador Book

“Dog Care in the Hands of Professionals”

I’ve been very fortunate in terms of having grown up in the presence of some very special animal people. Special not just in their ability to train and work with animals, but by virtue of their genuine understanding and care of the living animal. To them, animals were not means to a financial end, but God’s Creatures, deserving of respect and care given to an animal not in a position to care for itself.

Because of that, I’d like to weigh in with my take on being a professional dog trainer; responsible for these canines 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. There is much talk about cameras on policemen; I’d like to see cameras on dog trainers as well, but that is going to make me a very unpopular person. Ah well….

A healthy dog requires exercise, mental and physical challenge, downtime, human interaction time, quality food and clean water. These elements should occur in clean environments with plenty of space, protection from the elements and separate from the other dogs. Far more important than treats, beds, toys and other things owners often think are critical – is who is taking care of the dog. Over time, it is important that a dog is eating enough good food to meet all its energy needs, but not more than that. It is important to note how a dog’s appetite is because that is one of the first signs of a problem. On the other end, the condition of the digested food is equally important in assessing the health of the animal. Whoever is not seeing these things isn’t going to know about them.

I had a dog in once that seemed to consume an inordinate amount of water. I noticed this because his water bucket was emptier than any other dogs every morning. His owner was a doctor who initially dismissed my concern as a worried trainer. After I did not let up on my commentary, he took the dog in and found a life threatening endocrine problem, requiring medication on a daily basis. Thank goodness I wouldn’t be silenced. Had I had hired help, I doubt it would have been discovered on my watch. The small things can matter. These include appetite, water consumption, elimination, condition of eyes and ears, coat and joints. The constantly misdiagnosed condition of ‘food allergies’ is often the result of stress. Dogs cannot tell you they are struggling, but the diarrhea is a sure indicator of that. So is salivation, some infections and their overall attitude. Darn it, this stuff is important. Instead, people take their ‘otherwise healthy’ dog into a vet and food allergy is one of the only things the vet can act on. Good news for the dog food industry.

When dogs are a financial means to an end, they are a commodity. I understand the nature of the dog training business. I just wish the dogs had a voice in this enterprise. If their only purpose is to get off the truck, do their run in the field and then cool off and load back up, they aren’t all they could be. There is a huge element to the attitude and spirit of the dog (a whole topic unto itself) which requires a significant investment on the part of the trainer. This is their relationship and what they do, and if it’s only performance based, ultimately the imbalance will show in the dog. It may show as poor performance, it may show in overall health, it may show as a true medical problem. It is the only way they can tell you something is wrong.

I’ve watched trainers after a day’s event stop at the bar and have dinner and drinks before feeding and airing their dogs. No words. I’ve watched trainers drive excessive hours nonstop to get home, without concern for dogs needing to air or water. I’ve watched dogs get thrown into a truck after a poor performance, as if they asked for that. They have no voice. Folks, we trainers are accountable for the total well-being of your dogs. Make sure you too remain accountable for how your dog is doing. These dogs matter.