PPG Member Profile featuring Pet Professional Guild member Chris Lopez-Santiago of Happy Tails Pet Care in Orlando, Florida
Tell us a little bit about yourself, how you first got into animal behavior and training and what you are doing now…
Honestly, getting into animal behavior was not something I thought I would ever do. I knew I always loved animals of all types. Dogs, cats, birds, reptiles, fish, and even insects and arachnids are fascinating to me. I’d often watch Zak George on YouTube to learn how to teach my own dog how to perform certain skills, but I never thought of it as a career for me.
It wasn’t until my fiancée and I were sitting at the dinner table talking about how much I disliked my job at the local convenience store when she said, “Well, you love dogs and teaching Zuko tricks and stuff. Why don’t you become a dog trainer?” I replied, “Hmmm, I’ll look into it.” And here I am now, two and a half years later, loving what I do each and every single day!
Tell us a little bit about your own pets…
I currently have two cats named Charlotte and Roxas. You’re probably thinking, “A dog trainer with no dog of his own? That makes no sense!”
But honestly, the contrast of working with dogs all day and coming home to my cats is pure bliss. I always joke that it keeps your life in “purrfect balance.” After all, I’m neither a dog person, nor a cat person. I’m an animal person.
What do you consider your area of expertise?
Dog training, including basic manners, behavior modification, and agility training.
What are some of your favorite positive reinforcement techniques for most commonly encountered client-dog problems?
My favorite positive reinforcement technique is rewarding with play. Sometimes I run into clients that give me the old, “Do I have to carry treats with me all the time? I don’t want to have to do that.”
That’s where a good tug toy or frisbee comes in to save the day. Rewarding with play helps the client and dog build proper communication and teamwork.
What is the reward you get out of a day’s training with people and their dogs?
When people feel like they have had one of their problems solved. Watching the overall stress levels of the household decrease is so rewarding, and it helps relieve my stress too.
What is your favorite thing about your job?
Definitely getting to do agility with some of my clients. It’s so much fun to watch the dogs get better and better at maneuvering through the obstacles. I record all of it so I get to see the progress firsthand and it’s the best feeling when I get that very first hurdle jump or tunnel run.
Why did you become a dog trainer or Pet Care Provider?
I became a dog trainer because I have always been fascinated by how cool dogs can be. Search and rescue, police work, service and assistance dogs, competition, herding, hunting, and even regular companionship are all very different roles that are fulfilled by dogs every day all over the world.
The fact that they can work with us humans in a variety of different settings and tasks is mind-blowing when you really think about it. Just being with such versatile and capable creatures makes me happy.
Are you a crossover trainer or have you always been a Force Free trainer?
I have always been a force-free trainer, I just didn’t really know that was a thing until recently. I always thought that training by inflicting pain or fear onto an animal is wrong, but I didn’t realize that there was such a defined line with so many members on either side of the coin.
Mutual Respect and Understanding
What drives you to be a force-free professional and why is it important to you?
I’m driven by the ability to create strong bonds and friendships based on mutual respect and understanding with all my canine clients. It is important to me, because the world is not designed for dogs.
Almost everything you see around you is made by humans and for human use and consumption. Therefore we, as an intelligent species, have a responsibility to teach dogs how to properly exist in this planet that we’ve claimed as ours with kindness and fairness.
Who has most influenced your career and how?
The owner of the company I work for, Ruth Bristow. She is the actual embodiment of compassion. I had maybe about one year of actual on-the-job experience when she hired me. Despite that, she still took a chance on me and it has literally changed my life.
I’ve been able to meet so many great people and even greater dogs. I’ve been able to further my education and continue growing and gaining experience as a trainer. I’ve been able to support my family and myself with my career and none of it would have been possible if she had not taken that chance on me. Thanks, Ruth. You’re the real MVP.
How has the Pet Professional Guild helped you to become a more complete trainer?
PPG has provided me with so many resources to learn and grow as a trainer. Studies, seminars, and articles based on the latest and most up-to-date scientific and humane methods of dog training are all right at my fingertips. On top of that, PPG has given me an avenue for connecting with the leading force-free trainers in Florida.
What advice would you give to a new trainer starting out?
Find (or create) a place of work where you are with like-minded people. Follow your instincts when it comes to this. If you are going through training or onboarding at a place that gives you a weird vibe, trust that intuition.
Also, set up an in-depth interview and meet and greet process so that you can know for sure that your potential clients are people that are willing to put in the effort and time to learn from you and apply what you teach them. This will save you A LOT of headaches.