2019 is a big one. I left my job of 9 years to train full time, my husband, who has been working out of state for the past year, is now working back home, my dogs, now have a mom who doesn’t work two full time jobs, plus a second parent in the house - they are exhausted from the love and attention. I’m overwhelmed, I’m excited, I have endless choices, the change is warmly welcomed. But, did I mention I’m overwhelmed? This blog post was sparked by my business binder project - part business plan, part vision board, part treasure map, part coloring book, part something sparkly that makes me smile - and all that is going to take my business into the future. There is so much to dream about, but I am an efficient girl, so every now and then I need to do a little compass check just to make sure my peepers stay on my guiding star. Last March I started a new tattoo project that included two arrows pointing in the same direction, a little basic - I get that, but every time I looked at my arm, it reminded me to keep all my stuff moving in the right direction. AND. IT. WORKED. Who has two thumbs and didn't deviate from her path? This girl. And, that Havanese helped. Also, go check out Alissa’s work @shademedtattoo
I Am Who I Am: My Guiding Star
I don’t know if it makes me simple or complicated, but I think my values as a human and trainer can be classified into 3 major categories, which I realize doesn’t make a star but it does make for an appropriate length blog entry:
Education. Don’t Be a Dick. The Best of Mary Poppins and The Beach Boys.
Here we go...
Guiding Point 1: Education Matters. A lot.
I love learning. I fall in love with engaging speakers. I have more books than I’ll ever be able to read. I think my family thought I would never leave college. For a while, I thought I’d never leave either. When it comes to dog training, I feel the same. Certifications are important, but continuing education is queen because current education matters most. Science is dynamic. With new thinking, advanced technology and retooling of ideas, comes growth, change and an evolution of practices. The science behind animal training has changed a lot over the years. Today, there is a mountain of scientific evidence that supports teaching dogs, and all animals, with positive training methods as the most effective way to achieve your training goals and provide for the best all around existence for you and your dog. I value educating the community to this message.
I love bringing the very best to my clients. In dog training, my mission is to make sure humans are equipped with the skills to not only keep their dog in their home for a lifetime, but enjoy (or at least see the light) in every single moment of it. I’m kicking off my year with a trip to ClickerExpo in Portland next week!
Guiding Point 2: Don’t Be A Dick
My second life & training philosophy is don’t be a dick, an f-wad, a-hole, or whatever term you’d like to call someone who acts like a jerk. You know what? I feel like this is offensive to genitalia. I’m just going to use jerk going forward and I think you catch my drift.
Basically, it goes like this. If something makes me feel unhappy with myself, causes me to cringe, or drives me to throw down my WTF face, it’s safe to say I’m not feeeeeling it. I’ve been teaching for 20 years. When working with humans or dogs or anything or anyone, my goal is to provide an awesome experience. I want my learners to be comfortable, have fun, get smart, provide a place where mistakes can be made and a place where we can learn together. This simply does not, will not, and cannot include yelling, pain, intimidation or threat of any of the above.
Even if the science didn’t exist that show us positive training is better for many, many reasons, I still wouldn’t choke, pinch, spray, electrocute, smack, force or threaten my student into learning. And, I don’t want to work with people who do this either.
Guiding Point 3: In Every Job That Must Be Done, There is an Element of Fun (Fun, Fun)
I smile a lot. I laugh just as much. I like to find or infuse a little fun everything I do. Sing at the top of my lungs while I mow the lawn. Check. Roller skate race down the hallway while meetings are in progress? I’m in. Always (Hint: when you’re in, always, you never really get in trouble). I like to fill my days with the unexpected; make boring tasks entertaining, say yes, scare the shit out of myself, try new things, meet strange people. Which is why I also have an education in recreation - I value the concept enough to go into debt for it. Like, private grad school debt.
Here’s Why: Life is damn hard. Work, death, money, illness - really rough, really, real shit. But, everyone deserves fun, enjoyment and play. I really, really like providing that outlet for my community. Getting all riled up about a dog’s inability to sit on cue is not fun for anyone involved. Even science says so.
I have animals because they make my life better - they are my playmates, my running partners, my educators, and my friends. If I am freaking, spraying, yelling, hitting, choking, pinching, electrocuting or threatening when working with my dog, I am not 1) using my education 2) being a good human or 3) having fun. And this girl, wants to have fun.
I Didn’t Say Any Of This Is Easy
Does this mean that I’ve never yelled at my dog? That I’ve never lost my patience and leaned into my pup when he didn’t respond to a verbal “sit”? Of course I’ve done this. I am human. But, it means that I’m aware of when I do it and it means that I know it is not only unproductive, but potentially takes a real and meaningfully shitty toll on my relationship with my pup. It also means that I’m aware that when I start down this slope, it gets slippery. It tells me that in our next session, I need a new training plan...and perhaps help, a chill pill and/or a nap. I need to come back and do better and live up to my 3-pointed star compass. Side Note: I thought I was inventing a new shape and just realized it’s the Mercedes logo.
So, why do people choose to train their dogs with force or “forcey” methods?
Mental Health - way outside my scope, but I have resources that can help and I’m happy to share.
It’s Old School - it’s the same reason that people do weird, hilarious, YouTube quality things at the gym - they saw it in a body building mag from ‘87 and it’s worked for them (forget the fact that you can’t lift your arms above his shoulders anymore…)
They are not very skilled at training. Too quick are people to throw up their arms and say, "this doesn't work." You have to have the education, as well as the patience and practice.
They got bamboozled. A slick sales guy, a pitch about “balance and respect,” maybe it sounds like something you’ve heard on tv before, or that gorgeous German Shepherd sitting like a statue at a local expo not blinking until commanded to do so, perhaps it's the promise of quick results, laziness, between the kids and the dogs, they’re at the end of their rope, or they just didn’t think to ask, “what’s the fallout of this?” Or maybe they have just justified the fallout...
Because, I also think some people just get off on the immediate result of using pain or fear. Delivering that shock, yelling, or throwing your arms up, jolts a dog into momentary compliance. For some humans, that feels quite rewarding. But, know what fluffs my feathers? Building such a relationship and working so hard on skills that when my dog kills a woodchuck and wants to bring it home with her, a calm and quiet “drop it” followed by a yummy cookie got the job done.
I had a person ask me if I did any “collar work.” After I took a full 30 seconds to process the question, I replied, “No.” With a disappointed face, she went on to tell me how she’d never train a dog again without a prong collar, “you just give that tug and BAM! That dog listens right up” Ooook. I’m just gonna give you a minute alone.
Here’s some of my many struggles: if you call your dog your best friend, your baby, your fur kid, or buy it sweaters and swag, how do you justify hurting or threatening it? If that’s ok, why don’t we equip kids with shock collars when they enter the classroom? Why are some of these “training tools” ILLEGAL in other countries and available at local pet stores in the US? Any poodle....
Here’s the Thing
In training and in life, I believe in the journey. I believe in choices. I have made mine. As a human and trainer, this is where I stand: If you commit to raising a dog in your home, you also need to commit to the realities that dogs are hard work and puppies are utterly ridiculous. You are going to have very, very challenging days with them, just like you do with your partner or offspring. You commit to that work for a lifetime. You commit to educating yourself or seeking out help when you’re stuck. You commit to kindness and keeping your animal safe from harm. You commit to the concept that your dog thinks, feels and learns all the time - even when you don’t want them to. Your commit to the idea that your actions matter, a lot, to your dog. You accept that training these little beasts takes our time and attention away from other important aspects of life. You commit to teaching your dog what you want them to know and you open up to learning from them, as well.
I will not inflict harm or the threat of harm on anyone I am teaching. It violates my life principles in every way and feel gross. And, while I have no interest in convincing those who have made other choices, I would urge anyone to not miss out on the amazing degrees of companionship, behavior, and enjoyment that can come from your dog because of an attachment to antiquated training methods, a lack of information, or discomfort in questioning practices in a well-rehearsed sales pitch (ps - electric shock doesn’t f-ing tickle and should be illegal). Ask yourself if this feels right. Ask yourself if this is how you’d like to learn. Ask yourself if this jives with the research you’ve been reading. You have options.
Get help from a great trainer. Absorb the knowledge. Have Fun. Feel Good. Do the work.
Local Dog Adventure Blog
Join me and my 3-dog crew as we share our stories of training and adventure. Whether you're a newly leashed dog guardian, veteran handler, weekend warrior, cuddle on the couch sort, got yourself a fancy AF purebred or filthy, little mudblood, all are welcome in the Local Dog Tribe. If you want your pooch to think you're the coolest thing since sliced hot dogs, read on!