The Evans Guide for Counseling Dog Owners aims to validate the field of "dog owner counseling" and provide guidelines to trainers who offer such services.
Written over 20 years ago, author Job Michael Evans indicates that dog training at that time was primarily associated with how-to books and large, park obedience classes geared towards mastering AKC CD-level obedience exercises. Often neglected were problems arising in a domestic setting, like aggression or destructiveness.
Evans identifies "dog owner counseling" as one-on-one work with a pet owner to address problem behavior, especially the owner's role in unknowingly creating and perpetuating it. Obviously times have changed, as much dog training nowadays is essentially some form of dog owner counseling. Private training to remediate behavior problems is widespread and well accepted.
Not surprisingly, some of the book's specific content is outdated (e.g., a reference to the frequent use of Ovaban to treat behavioral problems like aggression), and the general training philosophy (early Monks of New Skete approach) will not be embraced by every contemporary reader.
Remarkably, however, much of the general content remains relevant, often amusingly so. One could log on today and find Internet forums with discussions similar to this passage from Evans's book:
"We now have within the training field a new type of trainer, someone overloaded with doctrinal baggage. This person is fully acquainted with the latest psychological terms, and can rattle them off at a moment's notice, but he cannot train the heel."
Evans remarks on the divide between those from a heavily academic, theoretical background and those with a more practical, hands-on foundation. He is clear that "in this field, hard cold experience is the best teacher." While he acknowledges that counseling skills are not the same thing as dog training skills, per se, Evans emphasizes that the counselor "must first be a skilled dog trainer" and must master the fundamentals of standard obedience training.
Similarly, in approaching behavior problems like aggression, Evans stresses the need to lay a foundation of basic obedience. He asserts, "Too many counselors, especially those with little interest or expertise in obedience training are attempting to treat aggression without providing the dog and owner with any structural building blocks such as come, sit, stay and especially down-stay." Evans carries this theme throughout, emphasizing the need to be practical and realistic. Irrespective of one's particular philosophy, this passage sums up the bottom line nicely:
"Our job as trainers and counselors is always the same: we help clients to stop moaning and complaining, we help to eliminate feelings of helplessness and we set them to work on training. Instill hope in your clients."
Reflecting the strong influence of William Campbell, Carol Lea Benjamin and Dr. Michael Fox, Evans highlights the dual roles of stewardship and leadership for any dog owner. True to the thinking of the time, he discourages the use of food treats and asserts, "the majority of problem dogs perceive themselves as the Alpha figure in the house." Yet he focuses as least as much on the problem owner as the problem dog.
Borrowing from family therapy, Evans notes that dogs are "identified as causing all the trouble, and the counselor's job is to show the family that the trouble proceeds not from one individual but from the relationships between all the individuals with the (dog) and with each other." To that end, much of the book discusses the basics of dealing with clients and emphasizes the role of simple interpersonal skills, including listening carefully, using humor effectively, sensitively delivering criticism, and carrying oneself with humility and professionalism. Different types of owner personalities are described, as are techniques for effectively dealing with them. His brief chapter on children and age-related concerns is nicely done.
One may not agree with every detail of style and technique. Nor will every practical concern be addressed. True to older perspectives, Evans is more interested in helping the trainer to help the client than in helping the trainer to cover his own back. No mention is made of insurance, liability, lawyers, contracts, or the like - often paramount concerns among today's trainers.
Rather, Evans discusses practicalities such as making a good first impression, using forms and interviews effectively, and general steps towards self-improvement as a counselor. He readily refers the reader elsewhere for information on specific training techniques and dogs in general.
The tone is conversational, warm and helpful, and the book is easy to quickly read. While this is an older manual, it is nonetheless worthwhile reading. The budding dog trainer may gain some practical tips and will certainly benefit from plenty of food for thought with regard to conducting oneself, handling clients, and respecting the relationship between dog and owner.
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