I consider being a professional dog trainer my 3rd professional incarnation. I came to it in a rather around about way. I have been in love with dogs ever since I can remember even though the only dog my family had when I was growing up was a toy poodle who wanted nothing to do with kids. Dogs justfascinated me. I was 10 when we got our poodle and even though he really wanted nothing to do with us kids, I managed to figure out how to teach him to roll over and play dead all by myself. I was hooked on dogs after that… but had to admire them from afar until I got my first dog when I was 20 and no longer living at home. I have had at least one dog and usually more ever since.
I started training professionally in 2010. My study of dog training methods has led to my using positive-reinforcement based training techniques and in 2013 I became a Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner. I currently have 3 dogs: Mara, a Border Collie, Tuly, a Border Collie/Retriever Mix, and Jillaroo, an Australian Kelpie/Aussie mix.
This is my story:
I was a typical pet owner for the first 25 years as a dog owner. My dogs were reasonably well behaved… sort of. They knew the basics, SIT, DOWN, STAY, and COME… at least when they felt like it. I had a couple who would play tug or fetch and others who couldn’t care less about toys. Mostly I just loved them.
For much of this time I was a professional carpenter and general contractor. Not the typical occupation for a woman, but then I tend not to do things in typical ways. Even though I enjoyed my time working in construction, it is heavy, dirty work and after almost 20 years, I was ready for a change.
I decided to follow my heart and went back to school to study wildlife conservation. I was accepted into a graduate program at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, NY and then had to come up with a research project. My love of dogs… wild as well as domestic… had continued so I really wanted to study large predators. My first choice for a research subject was wolves, but I knew my chances of being able to study them in North America were pretty limited. There just aren’t a lot of wolves on the east coast and the research possibilities are few and far between.
Then the unexpected happened. My husband was awarded a Fulbright to teach in
Kyrgyzstan, a former Soviet Republic in Central Asia. At the last minute I decided to take a break from school to go with him, just for the sheer adventure of it. Once over there I discovered that they have lots of wolves, and jackals, and no one was doing any kind of wildlife research due to lack of funds and research infrastructure since the collapse of the Soviet Union. An idea was born… I would do research on wolves and golden jackals in Kyrgyzstan! There was one slight catch… I didn’t have a large grant that would pay for trapping and radio collaring animals so I had to find a MUCH cheaper way to do it.
I had read a few articles about using dogs in wildlife research, a new technique that was just getting started at that time. This was my AHA! moment. I would get a dog and train it to find jackal and wolf scat (poop for the non-wildlife people out there) so I could map their trails and study their diets. Of course I knew nothing about training any kind of working dog, and even less about working a scent dog, but I did not let that deter me… and that is how it all began… Mara entered my life and I became a dog trainer.
The professional trainer I hired to help train me to train my dog found a one-year old border collie in rescue, my Mara. She was my first border collie and not only did I need to train her to do scent work, she came with just about every behavior problem a border collie can have… and smart dogs that they are, that is a lot. She knew nothing other than SIT and was so reactive to anything and everything that moved that I couldn’t walk her safely on the street. It was a nightmare!
It was a long journey, but ultimately a successful one. Mara became an excellent scent dog, found over 1000 samples of jackal scat for me and a lot of wolf scat as well. She lived and worked with me in Kyrgyzstan for 3 years and it was a wonderful 3 years. She is now 12 and arthritic, but a true gem of a dog and she totally got me hooked on both training and herding dogs.
As a scientist I couldn’t leave things alone and dived into the science of learning theory, different training techniques, and behavior modification and classical conditioning. I have read everything I could get my hands on in the new, exciting field of animal cognition and emotions. I love it all. The more I learned, the stronger I started to feel about positive training techniques as the only reliable and humane way to work with any animal and especially those we consider part of our families. It also led to my discovery that dogs are really incredibly more intelligent than we have given them credit for and most dogs are bored silly… often the cause of many bad habits.
I love teaching all dogs… and other animals as well (you should see my chicken, Hen-rietta, do her twirl). I love helping rescue dogs and their new owners develop strong bonds, and getting puppies off to a healthy, happy start in their new lives. I have found helping dogs overcome serious emotional and behavioral problems to be particularly rewarding. It has been a long journey finding the perfect thing to do with my life and I am ever so happy that I did.