One thing about working as a dog trainer -- cocktail party conversation.
Tell the random stranger at the awards banquet that you are an import manager or mechanical engineer, and usually not much goes forward from that.
Tell him you are a dermatologist or a dog trainer, and be prepared to hear his stories, endure his folklore, respond to a barrage of questions (most of which are more appropriately handled by a veterinarian -- and that goes for both dermatologists and dog trainers), and often have to deflect a demand for a free diagnosis of whatever is vaguely troubling him -- which you know he will ignore, because hey, what do you know?
There are people -- sometimes I think, everybody -- who would much rather bitch about their problems than solve them. Their mating call is "Yeah, but." I try to avoid the mistake of offering solutions in these cases, but still find myself sucked in when I am unwary. The correct response is to offer a business card and turn the conversation to something less incendiary, say, that jazzy new abortion clinic on the corner, or one's recent conversion to Mormonism.
Still, I suppose that's better than the engineer's wife who asked what I did for a living, and when I told her, responded with an enthusiastic "How cute!"
It would not occur to me to characterize anyone else's profession as "cute." I mean, assuming she is not a teddy bear stylist or greeting-card kitten photographer, say. And I still wouldn't say it to her face. Who can tell when it's been a bad day on the kitten ranch? Kitten bites get infected! Maybe the teddy bear boutique was besieged by crazed plushies in rut this week. One never knows.
I didn't ask Mrs. Cute what she did. It was apparent that the answer was not "diplomatic attache to Yemen," and was quite likely "nothing much."
Anyway, at the time I was carrying a client load that included some high-maintenance humans and a couple of fairly committed trainer-eating dogs. I'm sure Mrs. Cute did not conjure a 90-pound resource-guarding Weimaraner coming for my face when she pronounced on the nature of my career.
But it is little wonder that people have only the vaguest notion of what I do. Few people bother to train their own animals, and popular culture has provided very few, and very weird, images of what a dog trainer does at work.
The most common archetype is Barbara Woodhouse -- crazy as a sack of squirrels at best, and enough to scare the bejimmies out of most people contemplating going to a group class. If you are under 30, you may think you have never heard of this lady. Fear not; you've seen the parody a jillion times. It will never die.
Cesar Millan's television show comes close to a realistic portrayal of the kind of private counseling and one-on-one work that has been my kibble-and-butter for fourteen years. Cesar's clients are richer and on average loopier than mine. California, ya know. I do not look so good in a shortie wetsuit. I am not so willing as Cesar to take a bite -- don't know anyone else who is, actually. But I've met him, and he still had all his fingers. Neither of us typically solve all your dog problems in a 12-minute segment.
That fake dominatrix from England -- actress, not dog trainer. She's got the costume (for dominatrix, not dog trainer -- I mean, stilettos? Really?) but not the chops or attitude (mere bitchiness is not authority, Honey), and certainly not the knowledge. Anyway, a B&D mistress gets paid a lot more per hour, and who am I to say she hasn't earned it?
Possibly the best capture of the flavor and feel of working as a private dog trainer that I have ever seen in the "media" is in this short work of science fiction.
Fifteen years of bitching about work, and who knew? My husband actually heard something. It wasn't all "Blah blah blah KEN."