A day in the life of a dog trainer

It’s a Sunday morning and Jensen, the poodle, waits impatiently at the front door. He’s ready to gallop into the car, eager to catch up with his buddies at doggy training bootcamp...

A couple of kilometres out from the training ground in rural Victoria, Jensen (pictured, below) starts yelping with excitement.

“You can hear him coming from the cattle grid,” Jimmy says with a laugh.     

Jensen’s owner, Tracey, says they’ve been attending the advanced recall class for years and both of them feel a strong connection to the group.

“He loves it,” she enthuses. “Absolutely loves it.”

Sit, stay, drop

Happy days – back in 2019 when Jensen won Best on Ground. Source: Jessica Mayo

Twelve dogs and owners begin milling around a sandy field, ‘warming up’ under the watchful eye of trainer Jimmy Graham, from Jimmy’s Dog Training.

The wind whistles through the surrounding pine trees, competing with owners throwing various commands at their furry friends – ‘sit’, ‘sit’, ‘stay’, ‘down’, ‘drop’.

One of the first official activities calls for owners to leave their dogs sitting and walk a short distance away. So far so good. Then they call them. When they’re halfway towards them, they cry ‘stop’.

“Nobody’s very keen on ‘stop’,” Jimmy observes wryly.

One man leans forward with arms stretched out as if performing a spell but his young staffy is oblivious. Jensen’s ‘shadowing’. It’s fair to say most dogs overstep the ‘stop’ mark.

Jimmy suggests using props – a rake or a stick just to put in the dog’s line of vision to encourage it to stop before it gets to you.

Bandit, the husky, runs away from the rake. Dolly, the kelpie, is distracted by a treat on the ground – score! “You’re cheating!” cries her owner.

Another exercise requires dogs to stay sitting in line while their owners’ parade past them. Most are good with this but the next exercise where owners walk away, momentarily obscured behind a small fence, is more challenging.  

The temptation to follow is real. Meanwhile, Jimmy, who stands just off to the side of the fence starts provocatively bouncing a tennis ball. It’s enough to drive a dog to distraction.

“Some days they’re batshit crazy,” Jimmy admits. “But they’re good today. Dogs have got their own little personalities. This is the advanced recall class so they’re typically dialled in.”

It’s in the family

Owners parade parade past their dogs. Source: Heather Gallagher

While Jimmy’s family pedigree is farming and dogs, he hadn’t considered a career with canines until an auspicious gathering.

“We were watching the footy with family friends and there was a Maltese shiatzu barking its head off at something out the window. I did a basic correction and my friend was like ‘How did you do that?’ and I said ‘I just told him not to bark.’”

The friend recommended Jimmy to another friend who recommended him to another friend. Meanwhile, Jimmy was cutting his teeth doing dog grooming and dog sitting. After six months, with referrals piling in, he took a leap of faith and Jimmy’s Dog Training was born.

With more than 13,000 Facebook followers and ongoing referrals, Jimmy says he’s never advertised, the work’s just come to him.

“It’s quite humbling that people say ‘You’ve gotta see, Jimmy’. We’re booked out for a month in advance,” he says.

“We’re just doing the basics well – we’re not curing cancer or putting a man on the moon. Every dog knows how to sit. We do basic training – obedience and behaviour modification. They might be trying to take the ears of every dog they meet or taking the leg off the postman.”

Jimmy and Jess

Jimmy is the face of the business, while his partner, Jess, makes sure things run smoothly behind the scenes. Together the pair have two children, Matilda, 3, and Mason, 1, and 12 dogs. It’s hectic and no two days are the same; and that’s just the way Jimmy likes it.

“Standing here on a Tuesday morning, I literally don’t know what’s going to jump out of the car,” says Jimmy.

Occasionally, Jess tries to schedule a day off, but Jimmy says the phone will ring and that’s that.

“Dogs don’t take a day off so I can’t,” he says. “They won’t stop chewing the back door because it’s Saturday arvo.”

“It’s more of a lifestyle than a job because it never stops. Sometimes at 11.30 at night, I’ve still got the ol’ treat pouch on.”

Jimmy with his hands full! Source: Jessica Mayo

Training the dog or the human?

With his Akubra, bushy beard and laid-back style, Jimmy is good with dogs AND people. He says if you’re considering dog training, it’s important to be able to relate to the trainer and you should be able to get a sense of the person over the phone.

“If it feels right, it’ll probably work,” he says. “See if you like the cut of their gib. At the end of the day, it’s gotta be the right fit for you.”

And, he’s not into playing the blame game when it comes to dog’s behaviour.     

“There’s no such thing as bad behaviour, there’s an opportunity to train your dog,” he says. “Everything a dog does is a learnt thing. They learn through the outcome of their actions.”

Situational behaviour

One issue, Jimmy admits is that dogs are clever with ‘situational behaviour’. That is, they might be angelic at training and then pick up where they left off at home.  

“They’ll be like I’ll pull my head in for an hour and then get back home and it’s back to normal. It’s just Mum or whatever. I tell people they need to train when they don’t need to train.”

Jimmy says a lot of dogs have complete freedom at home with food to graze on and access to every room. Then owners try to restrict them while walking.   

“A lot of people leave their dogs to do whatever they want…and then for that hour we go for a walk, we try to tell them they can’t do anything.”

Jimmy encourages owners to train their dogs in ‘low stimulation’ areas like their driveways before taking them out for a walk.

“Typically, they won’t listen under low stimulation,” he says. “But when you’re in a high stimulation situation, like they see another dog coming, they go into what I call ‘dunny roll eyes’. You could have a T-bone steak in your hand and they’re not going to listen to you.”

Meanwhile, back in advanced recall, Jimmy calls the end of class, declaring ‘free time’.

Jensen takes the opportunity to lovingly jump on the nearest dog.    

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