One of the aspects of dog training I love most is the fact that I am not only teaching dogs and their people, but I am learning from them as well. My career over the last decade has been one of constant adaption and readjusting for those with whom I am working, and the lessons they’ve taught me have been invaluable in many ways–not just professionally, but personally.
I started out as a shelter volunteer, where the dogs ran the gamut in terms of breeds and mixes, and living in a stressful environment that could affect them in myriad ways. Even today, I believe that for anyone who wants or thinks that dog training is the career path for them, I will recommend they volunteer with a shelter as the handling experience they will gain will be invaluable, particularly if the shelter has a great in-house positive training program.
In addition, the Open Paw program and the ASPCApro resources can be great resources for those who are involved in the shelter/rescue world. Besides the experience you will gain, you will also help improve and enrich the lives of the animals you work with, and help them learn skills that will make them more adoptable, and find the best home. It’s a complete win-win in so many aspects!
I began working in dog daycares before starting my business as a pet sitter and dog walker as I continued to learn from mentorship opportunities from other trainers, as well as working on gaining my certifications through Animal Behavior College and the Certification Council of Professional Dog Trainers. While my first mentor and initial exposures to the training world were more “balanced” (a combination of positive reinforcement and using punishment), I found clicker training when a dog I was fostering became reactive, and my first balanced trainer mentor told me there was nothing I could do to address it. I was at a point where I felt lost on the path–if I couldn’t help my foster dog, how could I become a professional trainer?
Luckily I found Leslie McDevitt’s Control Unleashed program, which changed everything. Through her clicker training protocols, in particular, LOOK AT THAT, I was able to help my reactive foster dog learn how to notice stimuli but not bark and lunge, and instead, look to me. I became completely immersed in clicker training and realized that positive reinforcement training was much deeper than I originally learned through other outlets. I also turned away completely from using any form of punishment in my training.
As I continued to learn about how to truly use positive reinforcement, and address the emotional components in dog behavior, my eyes began to open to how I not only worked with dogs, but with people. And this wasn’t limited to professional aspects, but personal ones as well. Positive reinforcement isn’t just about training–it’s a way of life for me. Learning how to see the world in this way really shifted everything for me. I gained a deeper understanding and empathy. I also found TAG Teach and became more aware and present with my human clients.
With my business and continued learning and experience, I gained more training clients and helped them with everything from foundations for puppies and new dogs, to mild behavior issues like jumping, chewing, digging and so forth. Helping them learn how to communicate with their dogs and set them up for success to learn what they’d like them to do, as well as provide appropriate outlets and opportunities to be natural dogs, was very fulfilling. Over time as I completed certifications and continued learning and gaining experience, I was able to help more clients with more moderate to severe problem behaviors, such as reactivity, fear and aggression. I also got to work alongside veterinary behaviorists to ensure success for these clients, and work as a team dedicated to what was best for each and every client.
Then I received a great opportunity to work as a service dog trainer for Freedom Service Dogs of America. While I hadn’t had any previous experience, I was able to learn quickly from the other trainers there. Teaching dogs “advanced tricks” so they could help people live their lives to the fullest was one of the most amazing times in my professional life. Even today, retaining contact with these clients and knowing how much their dogs mean to them, and seeing how much love and care they give to them–there really aren’t words to adequately describe how wonderful this feels to me. Despite the challenges life has thrown to them, they are gracious and positive, and whenever I have a bad day, I can always think of them and feel inspired and more grateful for my life, no matter what is going on at the time.
Most recently I worked for Petco, where I was able to reach pet parents on a daily basis. Even if they didn’t choose to take a group class or private lesson from me, I was still impact their lives by helping them find the right products or feedback they need to be the best they can be for their dogs–and vice-versa. I especially enjoyed the new puppy parents who come in to work with me to ensure they have a great bond from the start. Their dedication and love for their new family members was amazing to see.
Currently I am taking select clients for help with service dog or therapy dog training, new puppy/dog foundations training, and to offer enrichment and day training options where I work one-on-one with the dog or puppy. I don’t have a “one-size-fits-all” package system, but cater to the individual canine(s) and their people.
For every new client, every type of training needed, and all the different dogs of different ages, breeds and temperaments, I am always referring back to what I have learned through previous experience and mentorship, and reaching out for more. I learn each and every day from all these interactions, and I am truly blessed.
Thanks to all of you who have been or are clients, and those of you to come!