As I wade further and further into this amazing world of “dog and baby,” I can’t begin to describe the privilege it has been to be allowed into the lives of our families at the most vulnerable, raw, and exciting time of their lives.  Not only are they trying to navigate their own place in the world as new parents (and the heaps of responsibility that brings) but they’re also trying desperately to maintain that special bond they have with their dog;  a bond that can, at times, feel tenuous, and frustrating. All those little problems and quirks that used to be so manageable with their beloved pet now carry so much more weight. Suddenly, they’re forced to consider whether the dog will be happy, whether they’re meeting its needs, and whether or not the dog and the baby will even like each other. Such big questions at such a transitional time in life.

Enter the dog trainer.  Every once in a while, we experience this beautiful moment of clarity in our careers. Or perhaps should I call it humility? When we realize that all the things we thought we knew and all the ways we used to do things just don’t work anymore.

Let me expand.

Before I found my way into this niche, I felt like I could confidently navigate most training scenarios using my ever-present trainer “toolbox”.  It’s full of incredibly effective and helpful things, like classical counterconditioning and systematic desensitization, operant conditioning, the four quadrants, etc.  I quickly learned that I would no longer be able to apply these principles in the same way to our exhausted, emotional, and extraordinarily busy families.  How could I ask them to spend half an hour working on tiny increments of a behaviour plan when they hadn’t had time to shower in days? How could I expect them to keep their dogs under the threshold when the presence of a crying baby is enough to put anyone over the threshold?

So, I had to learn new ways of getting the job done. It was almost as if I had to “zoom out” of the training picture.  I couldn’t get bogged down in theories, technicalities, and protocols.  This work involves thinking on the fly, coming up with possible creative solutions for our families, and staying present with them throughout the journey.  Sadly, the journey doesn’t always end where we want it to.  The stakes are so high that we’re forced to make those difficult decisions a lot more often than we want to. A lot more often, perhaps, than we did before.  In the past, every ounce of my success depended on whether or not the clients were “willing to do the work.” I knew we could make it happen if they were on board. That’s why it can be so painful when we encounter a family that is so willing to do anything we tell them, and yet, we can’t take that chance. Not when a child is involved.  

The best trainers I know are the ones that feel like they don’t know much.  There’s always more to learn, to see, and to experience.  Nothing has taught me that more than being in this world where the answer is never simple and there are at least a hundred moving parts involved in any possible solution.  Every family is unique; what they need from us is unique, and how we give it to them is unique.  I’ve been so privileged to see this tiny segment in the industry grow exponentially as people realize just how important it is to have the right people by their side as they grow their families and their “Dog Aware (TM)” skills!


Danielle Hodges, CPDT-KA