A day in the life of a dog behaviourist in The Hague, article by Canis bonus. November 2016
Details allowing the reader to recognize my clients, like consult dates, dog’s characteristics and training locations, were deliberately mixed up for confidentiality purposes.
Author: Laure-Anne Visele. Illustration credits at the end of the post
About the author: certified dog trainer in The Hague
I help people from The Hague, Rijswijk, Delft, Westland and region with their dog behaviour.
I have a degree in Zoology, am a certified dog training instructor, and have a Postgraduate in applied animal behaviour (Magna cum laude).
If you want dog-friendly and evidence-based tips, drop me a line briefly explaining the problem and I’ll tell you if I think I can help.
A day at the dog races
My days feel like a constant race against time. Friends think I frolic around with dogs and am lucky to have ‘turned my hobby into a job’, my parents think I need to get my head out of the books, my accountant thinks I need to charge way more, my family wants me to work way less, and my clients would like me to stay longer and work for free. What I think? I need a full-time (volunteer) secretary and a time-bending magic wand.
This is what it’s really like, you guys.
We rush to school as my kid tells me, out of the blue, mid-school run, that ‘school is starting early’. How early or why wasn’t relevant, apparently. We grab the dog and walk briskly. The (geriatric) dog, of course, has other ideas and sniffs every possible inch from here to school, unsure which one to dignify with his morning pee…
I get home and brew myself a huge cup of coffee, put up my sleeves and sigh: time for my mountain of e-mails, and then my mountain of reports. Since I’ve decided I wouldn’t work week-ends anymore, Mondays have become a tsunami of late work. I work my way through mails from clients rescheduling for the fifth time; asking in every last detail what they need to bring to class; needing to be chased a million times to FINALLY complete their registration properly; detailing their dog’s every problem in an mail but failing to complete my history form; enquiring to see if we take special-needs dog, committing to us, letting us do all the background research, then changing their mind; etc. etc. etc.
Two hours later, and I want to finally get cracking on a report that I have needed to send for ages. but I can’t, because the phone is ringing off the hook. I try to handle all the phone calls as best I can until it’s time for my dog’s big walk of the day. After the walk, I barely make it on time to a client consult: a long, sad case. I keep working on incoming calls on my way there and of course miss my exit. I am late for the client and make it to pick up my kid for school with seconds to spare. Report status? Zero progress.
Then, I get a call from the new location (we are moving fields at the dog training school) and I have to whizz past the new field – kid in tow – for some technical details.
I finally get home and have to ask my kid to entertain himself as I get to work on the dreaded report. I finally send it to the clients and with what little time we have before dinner, I decide to say ‘screw work’ and give my kid some quality time. We play some board games, do his homework, do his trumpet practice.
After dinner and putting kiddo to bed, I check my accounts ‘really quickly’. Sure enough, some clients still haven’t paid and their bill which is now a month overdue.
Tuesdays and Thursdays are short-consult days. I whizz in and out of consults the whole day and barely have time to catch a breath. I try to get through my e-mails early in the morning, very quickly (one hour, max), get the kid to school, walk the dog, and and start the morning consults run. With a bit of luck, I’ll get to bee-line past the Turkish Pizza joint to grab my favorite lunch: veggie Turkish Pizza. I’ve discovered it this year and now can’t live without it! My favorite, if you’re interested, is Pizza City in Scheveningen. Tell them I said hi!
After my Turkish Pizza delight, I rush back home to grab the dog (and my skateboard) so we can work on a couple of desensitisation cases. Tons of dogs are reactive to skateboards, so my modest skating skills come in handy. But sure enough it’s pouring it down with rain, and the client’s dog is uninterested in my skateboarding antics. Honestly! My own dog looks at us from the car, bemused and happy not to get rained on. Then it’s off to my last consult: a dog who used to react really badly to other dogs. After a couple of appointments with fake (stuffed) dogs, today’s my first live dog presentation. Thankfully, my old guy is used to it and he runs through the motion quite happily. The session is going great, the client’s dog has made HUGE progress. Yes! Great way to end the day.
Wednesdays are training school – aka octopus days. I would need eight arms to barely keep up with a smidgin of what needs to be done (all at the same time, you understand). I tend to sort out the schools’ logistics, staff management, client relations, administration and financial stuff ahead of tonight’s lessons; this whilst filtering a barrage of phone calls. Every single week, I hope to have some time for my kid on his half day off school. Every single week, I have to tell him: “Mamma is so sorry, darling. Mama has no time right now”. Thankfully, he’s more than happy to play with his little friends instead of me, but oh the guilt.
As winter approaches, I also have to endlessly find solutions to our darkness problem. For some reason, the students are either blinded by our flood lights, or find it too dark. The last attempt was no success. We burnt off a bit of the window sill paint with our flood light. Argh… So, after a day of running around like a maniac, I barely have time to pack, load, assemble, plug in, unplug, disassemble, unload and unpack my FOURTEEN flood lights every week. It’s gotten to the stage where I can’t even say the word ‘light’ without getting a nervous twitch. I c.a.n.n.o.t. wait until we’re at the new location – which has flood lights pre-installed!
At the training school, it’s the usual merry-go-round of briefing the staff – which feels like herding cats at times – checking some lessons, and giving some lessons, and trying to sort out whatever administrative/logistic problem needs sorting out on the field. I then generally get dragged by the team to the local pub because I am “too stressed” (yathink?)
There’s a bunch of post-school admin stuff to be done (logging presences, payments, solving the problems that popped up this week, registering payments, and writing homework). I know how heavy tomorrow will be, so I decide to do this ‘tiny’ admin job when I get home, at 11pm… Come 3am and I’m finally done. When will I learn there is no such thing as a small job?
On Thursday, the day has finally arrived! I am psyched! Finally a whole day when all my consults are at cycling distance of my house and each other. I am going to use my brand new e-bike for work! I’ve been wanting to do this for weeks but something always gets in the way. Today, after I’ve prepared everything on my lovely new bike and am ready to go, I notice that it’s STILL not charging my mobile, which means I still can’t use Google Maps on it, which means I have to dump the bike at the local repairman (again!), jump in my car, SMS all my clients that I’ll be late, and finally be on my way.
When you have no sense of direction and you never drive the same route twice, trust me, Google Map is no luxury. Turns out Google Map sucks the living life out of my phone’s battery and I can’t cycle ten minutes without a charger. Argh!
This Thursday, for some dark and unknown reason, the dark God of Transportation has it in for me: bike-disaster day turns into car-disaster day as, when I turn my key to start the car, on my way to my last client of the day, the car won’t start! So it’s back to my last client’s house waiting for the roadside assistance for what feels like two years. Ah well, that leaves me time to finish working on yet another report. Other good news: no battery in the car = no way of charging my phone = I can’t be called and distracted away from my report. Silver lining and all that.
Friday is my vet clinic day. I give express behaviour evaluation consults there. The time pressure is insane: you want to make the right behavioural diagnosis but you only have 30 minutes to do so. I NEVER manage to stick to the 30 minute window. I tend to emerge one hour later with a solid strategy and dog owners with a fresh dose of courage and motivation. To keep their momentum going and make sure they follow-up, I need to send them a ‘short’ report ‘quickly’. There are only two problems with that: ‘short’ is not in my vocabulary, and there’s no such thing as a ‘quick job’ for me.
I love my Friday consults. I love the feeling that I have colleagues (it can get lonely to nomadically move from one client appointment to the other) and I love the short lines of communications with medical staff. It means we form a multi-disciplinary therapeutic team and we can take effective decisions quickly.
But yeah, the time pressure is enormous, and I tend to get pretty severe cases there. This week was no different: I got a very large dog with a severe bite history and a well-established aggression problem (towards other dogs), who is starting to show overt aggression to the family’s other dog, who happens to be… teacup-sized. The only ethical recommendation is strict safety measures and the quickest re-homing possible of the small dog, and a referral to a specialist centre for the big one. I hate breaking bad news to clients. Sometimes they hope you have a miracle solution for them. And sometimes we do. But not this time.
Even though I try to keep Fridays for clinic work, I often have to fit in urgent consults. This week, I squeezed in an owner-directed aggression case – always something that makes it on top of my waiting list. When am going to process the report is anyone’s guess as I am going to stick to my resolution not to work week-ends. When I get to the client’s house, all tired and stressed out from my rushed week, I am welcomed by a haven of peace. I am instantly in love with their house, the clients, the dog. We hit it off and we have a great consult.
A nice way to end the week!
At the week-end
At the week-end, I try not to accept work-related commitment, but that’s not always possible. This week-end, I went to an all-day seminar, so it meant getting up at insane o’clock in the morning, as of course it was nowhere near where I live. Then there’s still the notes to process (if you don’t do it immediately after the seminar, you don’t do it ever). And I still need to find the time to do my mailboxes (the school’s and the practice’s), and the two companies’ administration. Oh, that and a gazillion reports. But I am determined: I will-not-work week-ends…
What a week
This week, as usual, I see the two extremes of my job:
Meh: Clients trying to guilt-trip me to get a discount whilst I bravely resist, forcing myself to remember that I barely clear minimum wage some months. Clients pretty much telling me that their dogs ate their homework, yet demanding progress. Clients ‘yes butting’ their way through every-single-suggestion I make. Clients wanting a robot more than a dog, who push and push and push as long as the – by now terrified – dog doesn’t comply. Clients calling me several times a day to ‘ask a quick question’. And then the worst: the client whose every single issue was resolved ahead of time and, who, without as much as a thank you, blames me for not resolving long-established problems they had never mentioned.
Wow: Dogs showing miracle, beat-the-odds, night-and-day progress. Clients who walk through fire and back to get their dog better, and have heeded every recommendation. And of course, I get to be with my favorite creatures in the world all day: dogs. And then, there’s one of the main perks of my jobs: the intellectual challenges. I’ve been doing this job for over seven years, but I still get really interesting cases. The dogs who don’t respond to the usual go-to approaches. I love/hate these head-scratching moments. They are enriching, but it means more time to dig into the literature and confer with colleagues.
So it’s a hard grind, but it’s exhilarating to work on the cutting edge of dog behaviour issues.