I used to train dogs professionally.

That is, I was paid for providing the service of training dogs. I got money for it. It was my trade. My profession. How I earned my living. How I paid my bills.

Something has been playing on my mind recently. In fact, it’s been bothering me for years now, so here’s my full and frank confession about some of the things I did.

I cheated as a dog trainer. Totally. Cheated.

I would take dogs down to the river. Other people’s dogs. I was supposed to be doing stuff like rigorously teaching them things like how to sit and stay and generally behave themselves. I should have been working on getting the dogs to comply with my every instruction. But, for a LOT of that time I was doing no such thing.

Here’s what I did.

I’d go down to the river, all decked out in proper dog training gear. I really looked the part.

As soon as I was out of sight….OK, here goes. As soon as I was out of sight and got close to the river bank, I’d let the dogs off the lead and I’d lay on my back and (God, this is hard to say)…I’d just, sort of, mess about. I’d do things like throw them a tennis ball. Muck about, engage them in play, I’d be larking, frolicking, capering, the whole gambit of things you get told off for doing at school. I did it all. Oh God, there was so much play. I’d be totally covered in grass, my face would be pretty much covered in mud and dog slobber. Professional? Does THAT sound professional???

I forgot the principles. Maybe I lost my principles. Maybe I never had any.

Just look at things I WASN’T doing….

I forgot to do any alpha rolls on them. Totally forgot. Never did a single one.
I forgot to keep correcting them when they were messing about.
I forgot to tell them off when they did something silly.
I forgot everything I’d seen on TV.

I know what you must be thinking, I’m more beast than man. I know. I know.

I was just down there, by the river, doing the whole Huckleberry Finn routine. Dossing about with these dogs. Dogs who I was being PAID to train and turn in to good canine citizens.

My only redemption is that, if I’m reaching for some sort of justification, I was working my ass off at trying to make friends with these dogs. You know, get them to like me. I totally forgot that I was meant to be dominating them, not being all pally pally with them. I was, I repeat, getting paid for this. And yes, it did cross my mind several times when I was laying by that river and just having the absolute time of my life with all these dogs that I had to pull myself in to check and say out loud: “I’m being paid for this.”. Wow. No rolling them over to make them see I WAS BOSS. No domination. None of it. What a joke I was.

Somehow, goodness knows how, all those dogs did end up trained. They did end up being very well behaved and I never once had an owner who thought their dog wasn’t 100% improved from their time spent with me. I used to think: “Wow, if only you knew. I spent around 10% of my time with your dog, you know, actually teaching them stuff and the other 90% I was just mucking about with them down by the river. Playing and enjoying their company.”.

Well, here it is. My confession. I look back and I can’t remember how I taught them to do a single damn thing. I can only remember the unbelievably privileged time I had having unadulterated fun with all those dogs, chasing balls, playing hide and seek and chilling out on a hot, Summer day by the side of the river with a dog by my side watching the natural world play out in front of us. How they ended up so well balanced, so obedient, so confident – well, I can only assume I fluked it.

I’m much more serious now. If ever I have to train anyone’s dog in the future, I promise. I’ll wear a suit and tie. No messin’. Honest.

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