Funny thing today. I met with a new personal doctor. In our meet and greet conversation we talked about such things as my work schedule, my sleep, or lack of sleep schedule, the things that cause me stress, etc. As I was trying to explain to him the reasons I don’t do a better job of taking care of my personal needs, I could see by the look on his face that he wasn’t buying it. What is so hard about drawing lines, making priorities and following through. Well….nothing really, I just don’t do it.
So, my doctor asked me to describe a typical day in my life. I’m sure it’s no different than many of my colleagues and probably easier than some. As I was going over it, it dawned on me that I have failed miserably at setting up a livable schedule, it’s no wonder my dog looks at me like she does some times and is probably the main reason I sometimes drop balls or disappoint my clients. For purposes of providing a glimpse into my world, here is what I told him:
- 6:00 am – Waking up, head to coffee maker.
- 6:30 -10am – Hit the computer, typically in jammies with coffee in hand to begin the process of returning email messages, posting training plans for those who need them via remote access, preparing training plans for the days private and group class clients and field phone calls and return messages and facilitate SKYPE sessions with remote clients. Feed my own dog and if she’s lucky go on a short walk.
- 10-10:30 am – Hit the showers, get dressed, gather training materials and bait bag, gather training supplies needed and out the door.
- 10:30 – 4:00 pm Hit the road, travel to first private client (approx 45 min drive) train dogs (11:30-12:30, 1:00-2:00, 2:30-3:30) and then head back toward the training studio in Paradise or our training location in Chico to set up for group classes
- 4:00-7:00 pm Travel to, Set up for and run group classes (Tue, Wed, Thur sometimes Sat)
- 8:00 pm arrive home. Greeted by a very, very patient dog who is looking for some attention and her dinner. Some nights (no class nights) we actually make it to play date where she gets to run and play with her friends for an hour.
- 8:30-9:00 pm Dinner and off to the office for an hour or two.
- 9:00 – 11:00 pm Type and file training notes from the day, send out promised literature, check on critical training clients online notes and begin the decompress process. Pick up the house, play with the dog (training games or toy play at this hour), etc.
- 11:30 or 12:00 (sometimes later) it’s hit the hay time.
As you can see, I have some real work to do on my scheduling and boundary setting skills. It’s not feasible to reduce my client load (fiances you see) but I know there are more effective and creative ways to balance the work load and personal needs. After this discussion, while waiting for my class clients to arrive, it dawned on me that this has been a recent topic of discussion, again, in many dog training forums I belong to. Dog trainers tell each other and hear from coaches and mentors that in order to prevent burnout, stay healthy and stay motivated, it’s critical to set boundaries and clearly identify what you will do, when you will do it and when you are not available to your clients. So, if we are setting boundaries and expectations with our clients, why are we still working way past our stated work hours? It’s because we don’t stick to our guns. We answer text messages, email and phone calls at times clearly past our stated available time. We, in effect, condition our clients to contact us because it works for them. Each one we answer off hours sends the message to the clients that there really are no times of day or days of the week when their trainer is not available and thank heavens they can get help when they want it. Funny how we teach our client’s that “Dogs do what works” and then we trainers are flabbergasted when a client continues to call, text or expect immediate email responses from us after hours…duh!
So, what is the message here? Dog trainers, and I’m speaking about this one for sure, must learn how to more effectively balance their work and their personal lives, making time for the latter. We love our clients and we know they love and depend on us. In order for us to continue doing what we do so well, we need to be at our best. We need to sleep well so we can think clearly and stay safe with the growly crowd (I mean dogs but humans too if it fits:). We need to eat healthy food at regular times, take days off and we absolutely must be fair to our clients and let them know what our policies are and stick to them…strictly and professionally. We must take care of our own houses before we can help others….like putting oxygen on first on a plane. Remember too, a burned out dog trainer who quits the profession or one who suffers physically and emotionally from lack of good health is not available to the very clients we work so hard to to help!
Why did I put this in a public blog post? It has taken me a while to convince my own mom that I do have a “real” job, that it is not all puppy play and fun and games, it is often difficult, frequently emotionally challenging and usually very, very rewarding. I think anything we can do to bridge better communication and set clear expectations with our clients is a win-win.
Have A Good Dog Day!