When we start a consulting or training relationship, we should first ensure we have a contract with the client. As professionals working with animals, there are multiple liability risks open to us. Most of these will stem from one of three areas. Firstly, if, as trainers, we are negligent and do not take reasonable measures to prevent a foreseeable injury from occurring during our contract period, then we are liable. Secondly, we can be found liable if we violate any public safety laws or, thirdly, if we misrepresent our skills or knowledge to a client.
There are a few steps we can take to limit the risk of liability. To start with, we must ensure we have the correct insurance coverage with a reputable company that specializes in the fields of animal training, behavior and pet care. Also, we must always be careful when choosing our working locations and ensure they are safe from potential hazards. Finally, we must take into consideration the movement of the dogs we are going to see, i.e. how will they access and leave the area, is there appropriate fencing, doorways, access to and from parking areas, and areas where there may be other people? Professionals must take into consideration the risk factors presented by each individual dog’s behavior. Is the dog aggressive? Is there a bite or fight history? Is there any flight risk? What other concerns are there?
We must adhere to all county, state and federal laws at all times, as must all other persons concerned with the dog’s behavior. Each involved person must have signed a consulting contract that covers the liability statements, which should include a liability and limits liability, a liability waiver, and an indemnification policy.
We should only consult within the range of our competency and, if necessary, refer clients to another professional who can better serve their needs. At the end of each consulting contract we should confirm to clients – in writing – a summary of the training, the progress made during the session, and any training, management or safety recommendations we have made for the future welfare of the pet and his/her family. If we have any concerns regarding the pet, then we should document those too at this time.
We must also inform clients that, as pet guardians and owners, they are liable for damage caused by their dogs and open to liability risks if their dog’s behavior results in injury or damage to another person, pet or property. Always have clients check with their local authorities, as these liabilities differ from state to state and county to county. Make sure you are familiar with your own state laws and know where to direct clients for more information.
Some states operate with a strict statutory system where pet owners are responsible for all damages, irrespective of whether negligence is proven or not. In states that operate under the one-bite rule, dog owners are responsible for damages after the first bite. Owners need to be particularly cognizant of their liability if they are working with or managing a dog with aggression issues. We need to educate our clients on the importance of having strategies to manage and implement the necessary safety protocols at home, in the yard and whenever they leave home.
The formal contract is not the end of the professional-client contract story, however. Once we have established that our contract and liability waiver have been understood and signed, we must then consider the psychological contract. In short, this summarizes the beliefs held by both trainer and student regarding what they expect from one another. It is an unwritten set of expectations constantly at play during the term of the formal contract. The interactions we have with our clients are a fundamental feature of the trainer-student relationship. Each role is a set of behavioral expectations that are often explicit and not defined in the business contract (Armstrong, 2003).
Armstrong (2003) states that the psychological contract is blurred at the edges, cannot be enforced by either party and is most often not written down. Yet this contract guides expectations, defines roles and helps interpret the relationship between the two parties. It creates emotions that form and control participants’ behavior (see Figure 1-2). The essence of the psychological contract is a system of beliefs that needs to be articulated to the client.
In the absence of a mutual understanding of this contract, one side of the equation is most likely going to feel disappointed or let down at some point. This is one of the first things to take care of when beginning a trainer-student relationship. Let us start by setting the scene:
I am beginning to formulate in my mind which of the following options to implement when going forward:
The family are still operating at novice level. They do not know what they do not know. They are unconsciously incompetent. All is well and they are feeling good. The expert is on site and their problems are going to be fixed.
Now it is time for real discussions and contract agreements. I call this our “creating shared meaning” session. How this goes and how effective I am will determine the successful outcome of our team efforts, and is critical to the success of the training program. Not only does it remove any ambiguity surrounding the relationship and the future, but also creates a due north for how we move forwards together as a team.
This is an excerpt from Get Coaching Now, The How, What and Why of Effective Pet Industry Client Consultations - Featuring On Task Skill Coaching ™
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