Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you first get into animal behavior/training, and what you are doing now?
I’ve been an animal advocate for over three decades. I became vegetarian as a teen and have championed animal welfare as a rescuer, transporter, shelter worker, foster, volunteer, and trainer. But my life trajectory changed forever when our dog BooBoo arrived in our lives. I’ve been in private training for nearly 10 years now andremain committed to continuing education, helping people have better lives with their dogs, and promoting force-free training.
Tell us a little bit about your own pets.
Boo arrived from Kentucky as a semi-feral dog who was just supposed to be a foster dog. She promptly escaped from the transport van, and for nine days we searched, trying to trap her. When we finally did, we knew she washome. BooBoo is 14-1/2 years old and thriving. Our other dog, Mr. Barbo, passed away last year a few days after his 14th birthday. I have a soft spot for seniors and helping people understand their unique needs and the changes that happen. For example, after Mr. Barbo’s passing, I got Canine Arthritis Management (CAM) certified so I could help owners better communicate with their vets about observations about their dogs. Seniors are such a gift, but can also be full of heartbreak for the caretakers. Inspired by losing Barbo and by many of my fear and aggression cases, I recently became certified as an end-of-life doula for companion animals. I feel this is a great offering since I have clients who sometimes struggle with these difficult decisions.
What do you consider your areas of expertise?
Fear, aggression, and separation anxiety.
Why did you become an animal behavior/training professional?
When BooBoo came home, it was clear she was a fearful dog. She hadn’t been abused, but also hadn’t been socialized, and I needed to learn more about training fearful dogs. This wasn’t my first experience with a scared dog—our previous dog had issues with aggression and had bitten seven people, including me, in the face. But back then I didn’t know how to help him, and everything I tried just made him worse. I owed it to BooBoo to do better. I earned a scholarship to the Academy for Dog Trainers, the “Harvard” of dog training, graduating with honors and devoted to positive-reinforcement, science-based, kind training. My passion for fearful and aggressive dogs deepened, and I committed to focusing my practice on helping these misunderstood dogs and the people who love them. I empathize with clients who are struggling with the hopelessness, anger, fear, anxiety, frustration, and heartbreak that I once had.
What species do you work with?
Dogs and occasionally cats, especially helping dogs and cats be integrated.
Are you a crossover trainer or have you always been a force-free trainer?
As a trainer I’ve always been force-free, but as a novice owner with our first dog, before I was a trainer, I definitely didn’t know not to yell or leash jerk.
What drives you to be a force-free professional, and why is it important to you?
Dog training is an unregulated industry, so in the United States, there are no legal or educational requirements to be a trainer. Any method is allowed, including electric shock, and there’s no overseeing authority ensuring people who call themselves trainers actually have a working, scientific understanding of animal learning andbehavior. There is no consumer protection and no recourse if someone hurts or makes a dog’s problem worse. People don’t know any better and are often misled that certain breeds, or certain behavior issues, need a heavy hand, and this just isn’t true. In fact, we know that aversive, punishment-based training can make fear andaggression issues worse. So, it’s important to me to help educate people.
What awards or certifications have you and your pets achieved using force-free methods?
Boo is an AKC Good Citizen, and we are a certified therapy dog team and evaluators through Bright and Beautiful Therapy Dogs.
Who has most influenced your career and how?
Jean Donaldson. Reading her books and then later earning a scholarship to and graduating with honors from her Academy for Dog Trainers changed my life. The caliber of education she has created is the best there is. The community and professional colleagues in the academy support me every day.
How has the Pet Professional Guild (PPG) helped you to become a more complete trainer?
I love that PPG is the only professional organization that strongly advocates for force-free training. I am part of the Project tRade program and serve in PPG’s Shelter and Rescue Division. I love their CEU and webinar opportunities and the online community.
What are some of your favorite force-free techniques for commonly encountered client-pet problems?
I love teaching people how to better manage their environments to reduce their stress and their dog’s anxiety. Ialso love helping people understand that “no” is not a behavior. If we don’t like what the dog is doing, let’s figure out if there is an unmet need or what we would like the dog to do instead.
What is the reward you get out of a day’s work with people and their pets?
Seeing people live better, happier, more fulfilled lives with their dogs and accepting their dogs for who they are. Not every dog will be a “go everywhere” dog, and that’s OK.
What is your favorite part of your job?
I love when people have a-ha moments when I say something because they never thought of the view I presented or because what I said gave them immediate relief of guilt or shame they were carrying. Sometimes people just need validation that they’re doing the best they can and they’re not bad owners.
What is the funniest or craziest situation you have been in with a pet and their owner?
I had a client come to me once because their dog was peeing in the kitchen. Prior to coming to me for help, the husband, who was a professional bodybuilder, decided he would pee in the kitchen first, in some attempt to show the dog he was the alpha/boss. After weeks of this not working, they contacted me. The dog got housebroken after about three weeks of working with me, and I was able to debunk the whole alpha dominance construct.
What special work-related projects or activities are you currently involved in?
I just released a new self-paced course for dogs who are afraid of outside, called Conquering the Urban Jungle: Helping Dogs with Their Fear of Outside. I am also working on some additional self-paced online courses for later in the year. I also continue to create weekly content on my blog and social media. As an online-only business, this is my main marketing and outreach, so having a consistent brand that shows up every week for clients is important.
How have these special projects or activities helped your business, career, or service offerings?
These online courses help make training more accessible to more people, whether they want a do-it-yourselfsolution or have financial constraints. It also gives me a little passive income to free up time in my schedule for other activities, time with my family, or private one-on-one clients.
What’s next for you?
I’ll be releasing a new self-paced course in November called Bringing Home Baby (To Dog), and I’m excited to help expectant parents prepare their home and dog for the new new human arrival.
What advice would you give to a new dog owner?
Start with a trainer, even before you bring the dog home. A good trainer can help you select the right dog for your family and lifestyle, and help set you and the dog up for success right away. Be proactive, not reactive. Don’t wait until there are issues before you reach out. This is especially true if you’re expecting a baby. Do a pre-baby prep session to learn what to do before the baby arrives to make life with dog and baby easier and safe for everyone.
Kate owns Rescued By Training LLC and serves clients worldwide.