Toxic Talk: Speak about non-R+ methods and trainers with grace

by | May 26, 2020

As an R+ trainer, you’ve dedicated yourself to helping dogs through positive methods. For many of us, being R+ defines who we are. We pride ourselves in being kind and compassionate professionals.

Sometimes, though, this dedication and passion also leads us to lose our professionalism. We engage in toxic talk.

Despite living in a world of positivity towards dogs, many R+ trainers find themselves speaking badly of other trainers or training methods. (We have big feelings!) While we may mean well, this talk is ultra toxic to ourselves and to other trainers of all methodologies (including positive!).

On the other hand, if you converse professionally when asked about another trainer or method, you’ll benefit yourself, your clients, and help keep positive trainers thriving!

Toxic Talk Hurts Everyone

Speaking badly of (or even thinly veiling negative feelings about) other trainers or non-R+ methods can hurt…

You: How you speak of others reflects on your character. You can quickly lose the respect and trust of clients, other trainers, and referral sources like vets (along with their referrals).

Your clients: You can make your clients feel really crummy, guilty, or defensive if you bash a method or a trainer they’ve used previously. This can affect your relationship with them and what they say about you to others.

Other R+ trainers: Whether we like it or not, people’s impressions of one group member reflect on the whole group. (Think of the bad raps of well-intentioned people like vegans.) If one of us engages in toxic talk, it reflects on all of us. The more it happens, the worse we start to look to clients and vets as a whole.

Not very positive… but we can turn it around!

How to Speak Like the Awesome Pro You Are

You are a business owner. You are a professional dog trainer. You are a leader.

Talk like one.

Have you ever heard your favorite, big-name R+ leaders bash another trainer? Probably not. In fact, some of the most influential names have worked with non-R+ trainers! (Dr. Ian Dunbar and Bob Bailey, among several others, thoughtfully contributed to Cesar Milan’s book in 2010.)

When someone asks you about a trainer or method you don’t agree with, you can answer in a way that is truthful, professional, and constructive! Let’s take a look at two common scenarios and some winning responses.

A client asks about a punishment-based training method:

Client: “When our puppy bites us, we hold his mouth shut and say, ‘No bite!’. Is that what we should keep doing?”

Trainer: “That’s a great question! A lot of my clients ask me about that. We used to think mimicking what a mother dog does was a good way to train a puppy, but we’ve learned that it can actually be a little risky. (Plus, your pup is smart; he knows you’re a person and not a dog!) The good news is there are fun, easy ways to help him learn not to play bite. How would you feel about trying something new to see if it helps him learn faster?”

The above answer does the following awesome things: Validates the client’s actions, avoids directly correcting or shaming the client, educates the client without bashing the method, and invites the client to try something positive. The usual result? A client that’s sold on whatever you recommend doing!

A client talks negatively about another trainer

Client: “I had the worst experience with Jim Bob the Dog Trainer. He never listened to what I said and now Meatball is worse than before! Have other people complained to you about Jim Bob?”

Trainer: “I’m so sorry you had a bad experience. It can be frustrating to feel like you’re not being heard, especially when it has to do with your dog. I want to make sure I understand what you want for Meatball so we can help him be successful. Could you tell me more about your goals for him?”

That answer does the following awesome things: Validates the client’s feelings, addresses the root problem of the client’s stress, gives the client a solution through what the speaker/trainer can do (not what Jim Bob did wrong). Note that Jim Bob was never disparaged or talked down upon. Not once. Not ever.

It may not be easy at first, but the more you do it, the more natural it feels!
Lift yourself and others up. Speaking like a leader pays off in dividends.

PS: Are you regularly asked something that’s hard for you to find the words for? Ask me in the comments!


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