Keep Your Candle Burning: Avoiding Professional Burnout

You’re a professional dog trainer. You may be self-employed, or you may work at a training school or shelter. You’ve completed many classes and attended several conferences to gain a better understanding of the science of learning. If you’re lucky, you’ve had one or more excellent mentors teach you the physical skills—the “chops”—of training. You’re working in your dream job. And yet…why do you sometimes wonder what it would be like to be a barista instead?

Our work as trainers can be relentless, exhausting, and heartbreaking. Often, clients hire us to “fix” a pet’s destructive or dangerous behavior after they’ve intervened in ways that, unwittingly, made the problem worse. We need to empathize with our clients’ disappointment and frustration while teaching them new habits, all while knowing the pet’s life may be at risk.

Because dog training is an unregulated profession in much of the world, we may work among other trainers who lack a solid foundation in education, experience, or ethics. We can find ourselves vacillating between wanting to “out” them and feeling demoralized by their slick, successful marketing efforts.

How can we keep doing our work with both skill and joy? You already know how to teach a long-duration behavior to a dog. The variables that lead to success in teaching an enthusiastic down-stay also apply to our own behaviors as training professionals. We will examine these variables as they pertain to humans. In addition, we’ll look at peer counseling as one beneficial, yet underutilized, resource.

Please note: This Session was recorded in 2017; content presented in 2018 may vary slightly.  

Kathy Sdao

Kathy Sdao is an applied animal behaviorist. She has spent more than 30 years as a fulltime animal trainer, first with marine mammals and now with dogs and their people. Kathy received a master’s degree in experimental psychology from the University of Hawaii. The United States Navy then hired her to train dolphins for open-ocean tasks. Kathy next worked as a marine-mammal trainer at the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. Later, Kathy co-created Tacoma’s first dog-daycare facility, where she began teaching clicker-training classes.

Since 1998, Kathy has owned Bright Spot Dog Training. Services include consulting with families about their challenging dogs, teaching private lessons, and mentoring professional trainers. Kathy is proud to be an original faculty member at Karen Pryor Clicker Training’s ClickerExpo conferences.

Kathy has traveled extensively across the United States, Canada, and Europe, and to Australia, Israel, Japan, and Mexico, educating students about the science of animal training. Her first book, Plenty in Life Is Free: Reflections on Dogs, Training and Finding Grace was published in 2012.