The Compassionate Dog Trainer

March 26, 2021

Empathy is one of the most important skills we possess as humans. The ability to understand and relate to another person’s feelings from their point of view rather than our own. This provides healthy relationships in both our personal and professional lives.  Empathy allows us to show compassion. Compassion is necessary when training dogs.

Photo Credit: Adam Griffith, Unsplash

Each day we meet dog owners who struggle with behavior.  Behavioral issues range from housebreaking to jumping or lack of impulse control to aggression.  Dog trainers know that most problems are the result of learned behavior, as well as, a lack of structure, rules and consistency.  It is easy to mislay an empathetic understanding with blame when clients fail to follow training practices and advice you teach them.   Blame is not an effective approach in helping your client and it could cost the dog their home.


Photo Credit: Tamara Bellis, Unsplash

We need to remain sympathetic toward owners and their situation, while transforming them into successful trainers for their dog.   No one wants a dog who lunges at animals or people they pass on a walk, nor does anyone want the inside of their house used as a giant canine bathroom.  Owners don’t intentionally do the wrong thing. They simply don’t understand how to fix the behavior.

People love their dogs and inadvertently allow human emotion to hinder training success.  Here are some possible reasons clients struggle with dog training success:

1. They feel bad imposing rules on the dog.

2. They don’t like change and therefore, struggle to enforce change on their pets.

3. They lack understanding as to how dogs with structure thrive compared to dogs without structure.

4. They believe they don’t have the time needed to train their dog.

It is our job to help them understand that:

1. Dogs are happy and well-adjusted when they have routine and rules in place.

2. The absence of a leader confuses and even frightens dogs.  Dogs hate to lead the pack.

3. Human-Canine bond strengthens through dog training.

4. Training increases dogs’ confidence.

5. Training encourages the dog to respect you. Not in a  fearful way, rather similar to the way a child respects their parents.

6. Most importantly, training is the key to achieving training goals and stopping negative behavior.

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When dog owners hire us, we want to form a team and work together to accomplish the client’s goals.  You help more dogs when you are empathetic to their owner’s situation and help them overcome obstacles (even if they placed those obstacles in the way of success).  Regardless of the situation, show empathy toward your clients and work hard to change their train of thought. Only then can you help the most important subject of your job:  the dog!

Katie McKnight


Want to learn to train dogs?  ISCDT’s  18 week online program is a hands-on program where students are required to work with dogs. Skill and ability is determined through a series of videos submitted to the school. We also offer a 2-week and 4-month in-person internship. To learn more about the courses we offer, visit


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