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Ask the Experts: Planning for Difficult Conversations

This article provides suggestions on how to address the situation with a dog trainer who isn’t getting good reviews from their class students


Springer spaniel giving trainer their paw
© Can Stock Photo / hasalazars


By Veronica Boutelle

Ever had to deal with a good dog trainer who is knowledgeable but whose students are not enamored of their teaching skills? Our experts from dogbiz have the answer!


Bad Reviews

Dear dogbiz,

One of the trainers who teaches classes for me isn’t getting the greatest reviews from our students. A few have even complained. It’s nothing terrible. She’s a good trainer and she knows her stuff. But her teaching and organizational skills could be better. I don’t know how to talk to her about this. I feel bad because I don’t want to hurt her feelings. I’m also really uncomfortable with stuff like this in general.

Any advice?



Tough Conversations

 Hi Sarah,

I’m sorry you’re facing a tough conversation. But you’re right to face it—for yourself, your students, and for your trainer, too. Here are a few thoughts I hope will help:



First, take a big breath. These things always feel so big and hairy and stressful when we’re facing them. Remember that this conversation will be in the past soon enough, and it’ll probably seem a lot smaller from that perspective. The less emotional power and weight you give it now, the easier it will be to make a clear plan for a successful conversation.


Determine Your Goals

  • What do you want to have happen as a result of this chat?
  • What needs to be communicated?
  • What do you want the trainer to hear in that communication—for example, about your support for her or your goals for students?
  • Ultimately, what is your desired outcome?

Create a Script

Put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and literally plan what you will say and how you will say it. Walk away from your draft. Come back later with fresh eyes. First, read the goals you set. Then read your script—does the script support your goals?


Use Questions

It can be helpful to give your partner in a difficult conversation space to think and share, too. Add some questions to your script that make room for the trainer to actively participate instead of sitting solely on the receiving end.

You might try questions like,

  • What do you feel particularly good about in your classes at the moment?
  • What are the biggest challenges?
  • Where do you feel the most room for improvement?
  • Is there anything you could use help with or support on?

You may be surprised by their answers, and it’s even possible that your trainer is already aware of issues. If so, giving them space to bring them up can make your task much less uncomfortable for you both.


Share Your Agenda

Send an agenda outline or summary ahead. Potentially difficult conversations often go more smoothly when both parties have had time to think about the topic, rather than one being blindsided by it.


End with a Plan

Wrap your conversation with clear next steps. Who will do what, and by when?

Plan and schedule a follow-up chat to check in on these to-dos and progress. Having that date will reinforce expectations around the next steps and also remove the need to ask for another meeting, which can be uncomfortable in and of itself.

I hope your conversation goes much more smoothly than you’re anticipating, Sarah, and I bet it does. Wishing you and your trainer and all the dogs and dog lovers you serve the best!

 Veronica & the dogbiz team


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