What lens are YOU looking through?

We are a society quick to lend our opinion. Go to any social media platform where questions get asked and you’ll see what I mean. Within seconds of a question being posed, there are usually answers coming in one after the next.

Maybe it is because we really do want to help. Maybe it is because we want to feed our egos as a purveyor of knowledge. In most cases, I imagine both reasons come into play.

Regardless of the reasons that people chime in, the receiver is going to have to sift through those answers and make decisions about what, if any, advice to act on. 

A critical piece of information the receiver ought to have would be knowledge of what lens the advisor was looking through when they gave the advice. Without some idea about the provider’s actual experience, how is one to know if the advice is sound or not? How do we know if the suggested course of action is actually a good fit?

Here’s a hypothetical example of why the lens matters:

Larry jumps on social media to pose a question to his friends. 

“Hey, I have a new puppy and she is biting my kids a lot. It seems like it is just because she wants to play, but it’s scaring them. How can I get her to stop?

Within moments those little dot icons are spinning. Larry’s friends are hot on it to offer their help.

Answers keep coming in. Larry’s not quite sure what to think. He thanks everyone, but realizes he’s got a lot of conflicting advice. Maybe he’ll just start at the top and work through the suggestions until he finds one that works…
He is pretty confused about what to do. That means Larry’s dog is going to end up pretty confused too…

…because confusion always travels down the leash!

So what does all this lens stuff mean?

How does perspective and experience impact the advice we give and recieve?

Before we take a deeper look, it’s important to recognize that people are generally sincere in their effort to help. I doubt they are jumping in to the conversation because they have ill intent. They are just sharing their experience and what worked for them.

The down side is; what works for one, may not work for the next. The solution may actually be a really poor fit because most people don’t bother to ask questions before they start doling out advice. They make assumptions that everyone’s lens is the same as theirs.

And you know what they say about making assumptions. 😳

Let’s take a look at each of our advisor’s lens.

Lens 1

Iheartdoggies is the owner of the elusive, Bordeaux, Chihuahua/Dachshund, Poodle mix. She paid a pretty penny for it, and it did only minimal biting as pup. By the time the adult teeth were all in, there wasn’t any play biting at all. The owner is being completely honest.
But she has failed to realize that the genetic mix created a disaster of a jaw line, (not to mention a few other health issues) so this dog really can’t put much mouth pressure on anything…including solid food. The connection between the genetic factors and the behavioral ones don’t occur to her. She genuinely believes puppies just grow out of the play biting phase.

Lens 2


It isn’t Mallys4ever’s first rodeo. She has raised numerous dogs in her time. Her enthusiasm is contagious, and she’s excited to help other dog lovers. Almost as excited as she is about her new found passion for competitive dog obedience. She’s just finished a course with an accomplished world class competitor in the field of dog bite sports. The take on how to work with puppy biting IS fantastic. It isn’t about stopping the biting, it’s about directing it to the outlet of a tug toy and teaching the pup how to play with his teeth when allowed, but not using those teeth when not invited to do so. This technique works, it works smooth as butter!!

But it should be mentioned that the world class competitor is also working with world class dogs. Dogs that don’t live in the house as pets with small children roaming about. They live a structured life in a kennel and get structured training sessions each and every day under the tutelage of those expert hands. It is a wonderful set up for success and Mallys4ever is able to replicate most of that set up. She lives alone with her two dogs. Works from home and is pretty much the perfect pet owner. Dogs that end up in her care have struck gold!

Larry, however, works full time outside the home. His wife juggles a part time, home based career while also managing the two children (both under 5 years of age). Their pup is a nice little Labrador purchased from a friend whose dog had a litter, 4 males, 3 females. This family took one of the black females. She’s a pretty soft pup overall but gets excited when the kids are in high gear. Larry is also hoping to do a little hunting with his pup when she matures…He has heard that teaching her to tug might not be a good idea.

Lens 3:


Bigbruno is a good guy. He’s a Boxer breeder and a good one at that. He breeds and raises resilient, bounce back, lovable knuckle heads that are well on their way to being over the biting stage before he even turns the pups over to their new homes at 9 weeks of age. The guy is big hearted, fair, and puts out some pretty great dogs.

He’s happy to offer experienced advice. But he doesn’t know that Larry has a somewhat soft natured pup and has already tried a couple swats. After just a couple times the pup starting getting a little hand shy. Plus, Larry’s 5 year old starting mimicking the swatting and now the pup is getting defensive and starting to lift a lip at the kids. 

Lens 4:


Scigal has two older dogs she got from a rescue. She hasn’t ever actually raised a puppy. She reads a lot and knows that dogs like to chase things that are moving. Children, with their high pitched voices, combined with the excitement of jumping, running and playing…well, it’s pretty hard for a puppy to not want to get involved in that kind of game, so she knows that stopping the running will help. She also knows that reinforcing the right behavior will get more of that same behavior.

But she doesn’t realize that Larry’s kids are both under 5. If you’ve ever spent much time trying to get toddlers to cooperate, you know that it’s only slightly more difficult to successfully nail jello to a tree. 

What does all of this mean to those of us in the dog training profession?

It means we bear a responsibility to be mindful of our lens when people ask us for advice.

We should be asking a LOT of questions to ensure we adequately understand the situation the dog is living in. It means we need to know if what we propose is actually reproducible for the owner/dog combo in question. And it means we need to refer out when our lens is too narrow in scope to actually provide a meaningful solution to the people seeking help. 

Pet dog trainer, field dog trainer, working k9 handler, service dog trainer, competitive bite sports decoy, competition obedience master… The list of areas of expertise is long in our profession. Many areas overlap and intersect – but sometimes important nuances don’t. It is important we keep that in mind when people ask us for advice. 

We all have a lens through which we filter information, what’s yours?

The road ahead…

I recently sold the dog training company I founded in May of 1998.

That’s My Dog, Inc was a great run for nearly 24 years. Now, there is a new owner, with new visions for the future. I’m happy to see my baby in good hands and thrilled with the transition. Since the announcement of the sale, many people have reached out to either congratulate me on my retirement or ask what’s up next?

Because I believe that for every person that asks a question, there are usually others wondering the same thing, I decided to share a few words here on my blog.

First of all, I don’t consider myself as retiring, I’m transitioning. I’m no longer the “buck stops here” person at the top of a company. Instead, I am gaining flexibility by living a “less is more” concept. I can put more attention toward priority projects rather than trying to juggle them against the backdrop of owning a very busy training company with multiple employees.

Most of the projects are still in the dog training arena so I won’t be sitting by the pool sipping umbrella drinks…at least not for a while yet. 😉

Here is the short list of what I’m planning for 2022: 

  • More writing

Watch this space for musings on dogs. I intend to travel down memory lane with stories of dogs and people that helped shape what I believed in the past, what I believe now, and where to expand my knowledge as I move forward. I’ll also share easy tips for pet owners to implement. Plus, I plan to pose questions, hypothetical and at times, perhaps controversial. I’ve got a lot to say and it may not all be easy to hear…but then again, I may be off base in my opinions. My hope is that colleagues from around the globe will chime in for thoughtful discussion so that many will weigh in on what is best for dogs and the relationship we share with them. 

  • More travel

I’ve traveled and taught a lot of workshops over the years but rarely stayed on location long enough to enjoy the scenery. This year I’ll be moving about the country meeting with other professional trainers. Many for consulting purposes, helping expand their knowledge of business and remote collar training. Some just to hang out,  have fun and enjoy our dogs together. Pet owners interested in booking private lessons can keep up with the travel itinerary and reach out if they want to connect while I’m in the area. 

  • More time with my own dogs

Professional trainers often fit the narrative of “the cobblers children have no shoes.” Yes, we usually have decently behaved dogs, but we often don’t get to enjoy them nearly as much as we’d like. Or we may not be achieving the goals we’ve set for ourselves. Too often the demands of helping everyone else with their dogs leaves us exhausted at the end of the day. The tagline for That’s My Dog! has always been “Super Training for Everyday Adventures”…I plan to start living that a bit more!

  • More awareness of responsible dog ownership

I started a non-profit in 2020 but it got sidelined due to the pandemic. There were too many time constraints that came from worrying about keeping my primary business afloat at that time. This year, I’ll devote more effort to Aware Pet Owner to spread the message about responsible dog ownership. 

Donations are always welcome. (and fully tax deductible!)

There are a lot of “mores” planned for the year ahead. I want to chat about my Puppy Preschool so new puppy owners can get started off on the right paw, and re-share free dog training advice articles written to help pet owners live more successfully with their dogs. Plus, I’ll definitely be plugging this ultimate e-collar training dvd that follows three shelter dogs from early collar conditioning to enjoying off leash freedom in a few weeks time. It is one of my proudest works to date.

I have plans for adding new stuff this year…we’ll see how far I get, but that’s the current overview for now. It is all about helping others become their dog’s hero.

I look forward to seeing many of you as I make my way on this new journey. 

Happy New Year!

Robin Macfarlane

An Inspirational Partnership

There are things in life that give you breath and there are things in life that take it away.

Occasionally, you have the rare privilege to have both of those experiences in one brief meeting.

That was my dog Tommy.

My heart dog.

A single being that made my eyes light up and always caused the curve of my mouth to melt into a smile. The dog that gave me courage and joy, laughter and frustration. A dog that taught me about who I was and who I wanted to become.

Tom came to me at seven months old. When I picked him up at O’hare airport he popped out of his crate full of bounce, spirit, and enthusiasm. A young, male Malinois who hit the end of the leash and proceeded to mangle the first plastic soda bottle he saw lying in the street.

My first thought was “this is a good sign”. After coming off of a three hour flight and the chaos that transporting a dog via air involves, he’s got nothing more on his mind than “what can we play with?”

 

He loaded back up into the crate with little resistance and we began the drive home to Hazel Green, WI.  Occasionally, I’d look over my shoulder at him, and he just looked back with that stupid, seven month old grin on his face asking “what can we play with?”

My intention was to not get “too attached”. In the 12 months previous I’d been through several Mals looking for the “just right dog”. A dog that could be on the road with me for my work, and handle the pressure of constantly changing circumstances. One that could be trusted around kids, lay his head on an old person’s lap, sink his teeth into the bad guys, or put on a flawless show of tricks and acrobatic feats in front of a crowd.

I didn’t want to get too attached because, first and foremost, this dog needed to be a tool for my trade. He needed to be a performance dog and live up to my expectations of that. If he could be a family pet also…well, I knew that would be almost too much to expect.

When he arrived his name was; “Happy”. I knew that really wasn’t going to work for me. While it may have fit him…it didn’t fit me or what I hoped this dog would turn into.

There just didn’t seem to be a lot of dignity in the name Happy….but I didn’t want to overthink the process of coming up with something new. You can curse yourself if you’re not careful in naming a dog. I’ve known too many that either lived up to the wrong name like “Demon”, or fell far short of grandiose names. Too much thought put into it and it just might bite you in the butt.

So his name needed to be simple and I wanted to decide before I reached home.

Destiny intervened as it often does. My favorite artist came on the radio just as we passed through the last toll booth, Tom Petty.

Of course I turned up the volume and looked at this dog and he still had the stupid grin on his face. And he confirmed, “Yeah, I’m cool with the name Tom.”

That was our beginning.

But, remember, I wasn’t going to get that attached.

So we trained, and we trained, and we trained some more. Every day, every distraction, every situation we could conceive we worked through together and became a team.

Together we traveled a good portion of the United States and Canada. In short order he got “bed” privileges. He made me feel safe when we walked together in strange cities. He dazzled crowds, and was the star of my first two videos. Tom was a patient participant all the times I dressed him silly for marketing photos, and he was the inspiration for thousands of words worth of articles. He played with anyone who would interact with him and pestered both young and old until they relented and tossed the ball just One More Time.

Tom made me better. A better trainer, a better pet owner, a better person. It wasn’t just me that he affected, people all over the globe told me how amazing he was and how they felt a connection with him and with me from watching us work together. Somehow Tommy and I inspired people to put in the work and build something amazing with their own dogs.

And 13.2 years later and more performances, videos, blogs, photos, writing inspirations than I can ever count up…there is Tommy in everything I’ve grown to be.

In his retirement years, he stepped aside with complete grace and let a flashy little redhead take his place without an ounce of resentment. He took over the job of keeping my husband busy at home on his days off from the fire department. He forced him to throw the ball again, or tug just one more time, or allow a few more minutes sniffing and peeing at the corner. Even his pet sitters could not deny him and joked about their willingness to always make time for just one more…

On our last night together, I slept on the floor to stay near him. I had him loaded up on pain relief and despite being a bit loopy, he stayed present with me and I with him. We just looked at one another and he kept that stupid grin on his face to assure me I’d make the right decision on the timing of setting him free. He was ready to move on and I could not ask him to stay longer for my benefit.

Tommy affected a lot of people. He was just the right dog for me.

And he always was, and always will be,

Happy.

I love you Tom. Until I can catch up, find someone to throw that green ball for you. 🙂

Get your dog business sailing again!

Professional Dog Trainers, is it time to hit the refresh button on your career?

Have you been struggling with burn out and you’re ready for some vacation time?

Do you feel like your business could be doing better but you’re just not sure how to get there?

Then join me for this Education at Sea event! This is the second time I’ll be cruising the Caribbean with the goal of helping you realize your true potential in the training profession. The last time we sailed, we accomplished some amazing things. Yes, we went zip lining in the rain forest, shared camaraderie over food and drink and snorkeled with the sea turtles, but we also dedicated ourselves to focusing on how to build a better business. The feedback I got as a result was pretty astounding. Here is just one example:

I sailed with Robin on her first voyage aboard the Celebrity Constellation. The ship was amazing, and the amount of time we had to enjoy it was perfect. The seminar Robin put on was well thought out and useful in helping me realize ways I could set goals for my business that would help me to stay on track and succeed.  After the cruise, I was able to achieve my financial goals in 6 months!  I was also able to finally make a decision on an idea I had had for my business for at least two years, but kept waffling on. Shortly after coming home from the cruise I set the idea in motion and it came to fruition a month later. 

Now, I’m again looking forward to continued success in my business thanks, in large part, to Robin MacFarlane.    

Carolyn Weinbaum – The Developing Canine, Columbus, GA

dog trainer workshop
Creating Big Plans

If you are ready to create similar results, then join me for this training event; Charting a New Course: Creating Success on Your Terms. We will be departing from Ft. Lauderdale, FL on Nov 5th for a 6 night cruise aboard the Royal Caribbean ship, Freedom of Seas. Our two mornings at Sea will be spent in a workshop setting laying out YOUR individual plan for growth. The ports of call will provide opportunity for adventure as we visit Grand Cayman, Puerto Costa Maya and Cozumel.

dog trainer workshop
Our snorkeling guide!

dog trainer workshop
Chatting with other dog people in Cozumel!

Afternoons and evenings are free time for you to enjoy with your traveling companions or network with the other dog pros embarked on this journey. You will have time to relax, rejuvenate and explore what the next steps should be in your business strategy.

Bill Wittrock is our host. As a retired dog pro and experienced traveler, Bill is the perfect person to guide us on this excursion. Cabin fares start at $361.00 per person based on double occupancy so this is a very affordable get-away. Contact Bill via email at w.wittrock@dreamvacations.com or 440-567-1082 for all details regarding the cruise and associated fees.

For any questions about the workshop sessions email Robin@RobinMacFarlane.com. If your ready to register for this exclusive continuing education event, sign up now! I’ll see you on board!!  Deposits MUST be made by end of April in order to reserve a cabin on board the ship.

dog trainer workshop