Like a lot of dog trainers, I became interested in pursuing a career with dogs because of one of my family's dogs, Gus. Working with her and seeing her behavior improve inspired me to help others. After spending countless hours volunteering with several animal shelters and rescue groups, I decided to take this "dog thing" further. I enrolled in the Animal Behavior College, an 18 month long study program, and I also started getting to know the dog community in Richmond. I also began a nearly 2 year long apprenticeship under an experienced trainer and behavioral consultant here in Richmond.
As with any career, good dog trainers are always learning. I joined the Association of Pet Dog Trainers to gain knowledge and learn from other trainers. I've attended seminars and workshops on both coasts with speakers such as Terry Ryan (Chicken Camp!), Kathy Sdao, Karen Pryor, Helix Fairweather, Steve White, Virginia Broitman, and many more. I've built up a large library of training books, old and new, along with DVDs of seminars I couldn't make it to. I regularly attend group classes around town because I think you learn something from everything you do and everyone you meet.
In 2014, I was at ClickerExpo in Norfolk, Va when I found out that the Karen Pryor Academy would be offering their Dog Trainer Professional program in Richmond that year. I decided it was high time to expand my skills yet again and refresh my own training. The 6 month long course was challenging, in more ways than one, with 4 weekend-long workshops that Pinot and I attended together.
I volunteer with a few local organizations, particularly Galley's rescue, ARCBCR, and when I can, I foster dogs through a few different rescues. When I'm not playing with dogs, I am a big time foodie (I was raised by chefs!), kayaker, hiker, and art & movie enthusiast.
Galley and Pinot
After several years of being dogless and enjoying the subsequent freedom to travel extensively and try out a few new cities, I settled back down in Richmond and decided I was ready to bring home a new canine family member. I did not make the decision lightly, since I had a lot of expectations of said dog! This dog would (hopefully) be able to go to work with me, assist with clients in training sessions, go hiking, traveling, etc.
Galley, the puppy I ended up adopting from ARCBCR in March 2013, has met or exceeded all of my expectations and continues to impress and amaze me. She has come a long way from the tiny puppy that growled and barked at me from the back of a crate during our first two meetings! She loves going on camping trips and road trips, and is a pro hiker. We are currently working on some agility, but Galley vastly prefers tracking and obedience.
Like a lot of herding dogs (she is a Border Collie mix of questionable lineage), she is very visual, has high prey drive, and can be signal sensitive. All of these traits make her a very fast learner, but she also comes with a lot of baggage and fear from her early puppyhood that I am slowly but surely chipping away.
Pinot, the 13lb mystery dog, found me in a roundabout way in September 2013. A friend of a friend was out for a walk with her dog, and when they got home, she realized they had a little follower! She couldn't keep him, so I offered to foster him. No tags, no collar, but in great shape minus some gnarly toenails, which led me to believe he had a family. Alas, months of searching later, I hadn't found anyone, and he's a part of my little family now. My best guess is that he was abandoned due to a rather unpleasant indoor marking habit (which resolved quickly here!). He is rough and tumble, fearless, and exuberantly joyous and free with his affection. He is also very motivated to learn and a lot of fun to work with. Pinot was my KPA dog, which means he had to learn A LOT OF THINGS! Very quickly, too, which is easy to achieve with clicker training, thank goodness.
I have worked with several other species of animals as well. I once had a clicker (flashlight, actually) trained Betta fish, who knew several tricks including going through a hoop and getting in a cup on cue. Rusty the cat was the star before Gussy, and knew all the basics--recall, sit, down, shake, high five, targeting, and even some agility and concept training (she knew left and right). I've worked with aggressive biting horses and slow poke ponies, all using positive, kind, and effective methods. My old, grumpy pony, named Pony, learned to retrieve a cone in no time with just a few clicks and treats. Imagine the possibilities!