Today I went back to dog walker training. It had been about two years since I originally took the class.
No, I didn’t mess up so many times that they sent me back to training (though I did mess up quite a bit!)! In recounting my early experiences, I was reflecting on why they didn’t go as well as hoped and what could have been different to make them go more smoothly. I found myself wishing there had been another patient volunteer accessible to lean on for the questions that inevitably arose during those first couple shifts.
I decided to reach out to the volunteer coordinator and suggest a mentorship program. That sounds so official, but really I simply suggested that she feel free to pass out my contact information at Level 1 dog walker training sessions. Then, if desired, the newly trained dog walkers could contact me to set up a time to do a dual shift and they would know that I was specifically on hand to answer any and all questions that arose.
They are cleaning the kennels?
You forgot how to put on a harness?
What does that new kennel sign mean?
An unexpected behavior popped up?
I was hopeful that one or two walkers would take advantage of, and benefit from, this service.
Well, as it turns out, the last slide of the training slideshow does indicate a website where the volunteers can find the names and contact info for several volunteers who have offered the same thing! Of course it does! But I had never noticed this in my own training. Nor do I think that I would have used it if I had noticed it tucked in there, to be honest.
The volunteer coordinator said that she would add my name to that list, but that maybe I could become more involved in the training of new walkers in order to encourage them to use a mentor. She suggested that I attend a Level 1 dog walker training class to observe and see if I would be a good fit for teaching one in the future.
At the training session I, of course, met several cool and awesome dog loving people. And while I looked around at them all, and the information was being doled out rapid fire, they all looked so capable and competent. They nodded along and took notes. I couldn’t imagine them forgetting that they should read the information book before taking a dog out. Or that they should return a dog to its kennel ASAP if it is displaying difficult behaviors. It was hard to imagine them struggling.
I was able to offer some pro tips for the newbies. I told them to only pick dogs to walk that they felt 100% comfortable with. I advised them to let how the walk is going dictate if they chose to enter the play yard (and what to do if things didn’t go well once there). I reminded them of the importance of checking the info book, even if they had walked that same dog before.
The flow of the class, however, didn’t provide much time to answer the questions that I knew they wouldn’t even have until they were starting their first shift. I pointed out my name and contact information as someone they would (briefly) have met and may feel more comfortable meeting up with, but I am not expecting many, if any, messages.
I remember the feeling of FINALLY being able to JUST GO WALK A SHELTER DOG (because how hard could that be?!), and I wouldn’t have wanted any additional obstacles (like coordinating a time with another human) to stand in my way. These new walkers will likely be just as eager to forge their way into being experienced walkers.
Will they make some mistakes along the way? Doubtful, just based on watching them today. But probably, because I bet I looked pretty confident at training too and I have committed some doozies of mistakes in this role.
I wish them all the best and I will certainly be on the lookout for newbies to help while I am walking dogs. I hope to catch them in the “I have a question” phase. But if I do see them making any mistakes (ones that aren’t dangerous of course), I will do my best to turn my head and let them believe that their mistakes are secrets between them and the dogs.
In dog walking and life, I think it’s best to give others (and ourselves) some grace and the trust to repair our own small fractures.
“If you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You are doing things you have never done before, and more importantly, you are doing something.” Neil Gaiman
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