By Gaby Dufresne-Cyr, CBT-FLE
As the busy season comes to an end, I’m happy to blog again and hear what you have to say. This week, I want to talk about delinquent clients, and by delinquent, I’m referring to clients who don’t do their homework. You know, people who say “Yes, we’ll practice”, but each week have an excuse for why they didn’t. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like to waste my time, even if it brings in money. So, let's look at the delinquency problem and talk about solutions.
Occurrence of Delinquency
Delinquency often occurs because training exercises are perceived as too difficult, time-consuming, or outright ineffective. From my professional point of view, training exercises might seem simple, but from clients’ perception, they can be hard. Some people start off with a bang only to stop after a week or so because of, well, life. Training stops for a multitude of reasons; however, the most common explanation is motivation.
Another reason clients become delinquent in regards to training exercises is the benefit. What will I gain from conducting such and such practice? The reason might seem obvious; we wish to solve a problem, but do we really? Training is responsible for about 30% of the problematic situation; the other 70% has to do with communication and understanding.
In other words, professionals work with clients to build or re-build, functional relationships. If, as a professional, you don’t address the relationship, you will fail. Without a true connection, humans eventually stop training their pets. That is an inevitable fact.
There are countless theories that address possible ways to modify and maintain human behaviour which I won't address today; however, you must know human motivation is hard to tap into and even more difficult to maintain. Just think of exercise, nail-biting, drinking, smoking, gambling, or any other psychologically or physically destructive behaviour and you’ll see just how hard it is to change human behaviour. At Concordia University, the wellness class which addresses human behaviour change is a 6 credits class given over 2 semesters.
Knowing human behaviour is difficult to change, we can now look at ways to motivate clients. You motivate the client, the client motivates the dog. Sounds easy right? It’s not. We need to tap into delinquent clients' limbic systems; these are the same pleasure structures found in dogs' brains. Furthermore, we can motivate clients with the same reinforcers we use with dogs, plus, we can add psychological reinforcers: cognition and social proximity.
First, when you design a training plan, make sure the exercises are broken down into small approximations to facilitate training and learning for both humans and dogs. Once completed, implement the following ideas to tap into your delinquent clients' motivation. Here’s how it works.
1. Explain the exercise in all 3 encoding memory types: visual (picture), acoustic (sound), and semantic (meaning). Why: because each person learns differently.
2. Make sure the client tries the exercise before you part. Why: to set the client up for success and to correct exercise if need be.
3. Send the client off and ask them to check in with you 48h later for an update. Why: to make client accountable, and to receive verbal praise from the professional.
4. Send an e-mail or text to check-in. If the client is successful, send a reply filled with emojis celebrating the 3rd or 4th (you pick) day of training.
- If the client was unsuccessful, ask why and adjust the training plan to make it easier or shorter.
- If the client is feeling overwhelmed, tell them to take a break and celebrate the day off.
- Offer a 5min drop-in or stop-by to clarify the exercise.
5. Encourage clients to softly pet their dogs while the dog receives reinforcement. Why: social proximity will motivate both humans and dogs.
6. Send a tidbit of information relating to the species of dog they have, i.e. “Did you know, Boxers originate from Germany?” or “Did you know, dogs can taste a smell?” Make the client feel smart through camouflaged education.
7. Send a “massage day” virtual certificate to remind clients to simply massage and enjoy their dog. Why: believe it or not, many clients forget why they actually have a pet.
- If it’s sunny, tell them to go out and play, run, or just hang with their dog.
- If it’s rainy or cold, tell them to play a social game.
8. Finally, when clients attend the following session, have a few human treat options already set out: cookies, candy, chips, fruits, granola bars, cheese, etc. to celebrate the end of a hard work week. Why: food serves as a reinforcer for people too.
If you support your clients and they feel you are sensitive to their condition, they will do the work. People who contact us need help, but if you simply address the dog’s problem, you aren’t doing your job. Working with animals means you always work in a triad: trainer, client, dog.
A professional doesn’t rehabilitate dogs and train humans; a professional teaches human clients how to train their dogs, and we, in turn, reward clients for doing the work. Our job is simple; we change dysfunctional relationships into functional ones through predetermined cognitive exercises destined to enrich both partners' lives.