My love for dogs began when I was a little girl. Oftentimes we hear stories of dogs who help children to grow and develop a love for animals. For me, Snoopy was that dog. He was a Fiest mix (Terrier) that spent his days running through the fields of Kentucky and I was usually right along with him. I was also the one sent out after him when he didn’t come home. In typical Terrier fashion, he was often found on a neighboring farmer’s land or harassing their farm animals.
What a different world and time it was then. Our dogs primarily lived in large outdoor kennels and never came into the house. We had various breeds from Newfoundlands, Malamutes, many Beagles and a few mixes. As a child I noticed a “high turnover rate” that we seemed to have on the farm. I’m sure good ol’ Kentucky farm life might be the same today, but it’s not that way for me now.
As an adult, I relocated to California and a few years later decided it was finally a good time for me to acquire my first dog. Through a local trainer, I was introduced to a litter of Belgian Malinois puppies. I can honestly say, in hindsight, there should have been a much stricter criteria involved in purchasing this dog. Little did I know what I was getting myself into, but boy would I learn. At 12 weeks old this puppy was growling, biting, challenging me for everything I was worth and it quickly became clear I needed help. In my search for a trainer I learned, just as with everything else in life, everyone has their own opinions on things and their own techniques. It was like raising a child, which I was also doing at the time. All the debates of discipline or don’t, positive training or balanced… My learning curve ended up being her learning curve as well. This bundle of fire, who loved me but disliked other humans, went through many trainers. Good ol’ hindsight wishes that wasn’t so. I will say each trainer did add tools to my tool belt along the way and had a large influence on who I am today.
By the time I started training with Susan from Animal Minds, I thought I had a pretty decent grasp on dog training. I had knowledge of basic obedience, protection training and detection training – but the things many of these trainers had missed were the “How’s and the Why’s”. No one had taken the time to explain dog behavior to me. We had tried so many exercises and games to work on Heidi’s anxiety and fearfulness… but why? How were these things helping her? How was I supposed to see the progress if I didn’t understand why my dog was doing what she was doing? I had always learned how to respond to what was being seen, not the cause. Susan helped me learn and understand who Heidi is. I started learning to watch her body language, how to know when things got to be too much for her and how to handle that. I learned about things like recovery time, boundaries, timing, how to control environments, what to do when that’s not possible, finding good reinforcers and what -just by being present sometimes- is a negative reinforcer. Heidi improved far beyond what I ever expected. I have a wonderful ending to my story but not all first-time dog owners will. I pretty much had to turn my love for my dog into a full time career to get to this point.
Along this path, I also acquired a young Dutch Shepherd named Charlie. He fell into my lap when his owner could no longer keep him. Charlie meant well but he was young, rambunctious, leash reactive and had never learned what to do with all his energy. He was VERY reactive towards other dogs and wasn’t sure what to do with strangers just yet. After implementing all I had learned from my experience with Heidi, he now loves meeting stranger’s and has come leaps and bounds with other dogs. You’ll often see him out working as the “neutral” dog for some of our clients’ dogs who now need that solid dog to learn from.
I spent the last 12+ years being a co-owner with Susan at Animal Minds Behavior & Training. (I wasn’t kidding when I said that Malinois made me a trainer!) Actually, all my experiences have led me here to Wholistic Canine, sole owner, Canine Relationship Coach that helps dogs with anxiety and other mental health concerns that require a deeper communication level.
- Training Between The Ears Affiliate
- Michael Ellis Dog Training School
- Mark McCabe TBTE Courses
- Tyler Muto Advance Training Courses
- Puppy Culture Courses
- IACP Dog Trainer Foundation Certification
- Pet Food Nutrition Certification with Dogs Naturally University
- Certified Trick Trainer with Do More With Your Dog
- Fenzi Dog Sports Pet Professional’s Program Graduate
- AKC CGC CGCA CGCU Evaluator
- SpotOn Certified Trainer
- Mentored under Susan Newell of Animal Minds Behavior & Training
Much like Terra, my love for animals also began when I was very young, and so did my training. When I was a child I had a favorite Aunt on my mother’s side who bred and showed Toy and Standard Poodles. As soon as I was old enough to go on outings with her, we went to every dog show she could possibly take me to. I played with paper dolls she bought me while we watched the other groups take their turns in the ring. I learned every breed, every coat type, what confirmation standards are, gaits, bites, why some dogs were cosmetically modified with cropping or docking, why we bred them; it was a living encyclopedia of each unique breed passing before my eyes with my own private teacher in my ear. When puppy season was upon us, she would bring them to my grandmother’s house and let us “play” with them in the yard. In retrospect, I know now that this was part of her puppy program; getting them socialized with people of various ages, new environments, textures, and smells before they were sent off to their new families. In 1994, she passed away and for a while my animal-filled life came to an immediate halt (save the occasional hamster or barn cats).
My senior year of High School in 2005 we were required to participate in an internship program for a career field we were interested in. I did mine at Millis Animal Hospital in St. Louis, MO and worked as a kennel attendant where I made sure the animals came out of sedation ok, kennels were clean, dogs were pottied, everyone had food and water as needed. I also was allowed to watch surgeries and learned to trim nails and hair, as well as some minor medical information. I knew I definitely wanted to work with animals after that. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite pan out as I’d hoped. The goal was to become a veterinarian because, well that’s just a doctor who’d rather work on animals than people! However, as it ends up, I’m really bad at math and you really have to pass math to get into vet school. So, that was a bust.
In 2012 I was looking to adopt a dog as a birthday gift to myself. On Petfinder I found a 1yr old terrier mix I was interested in. The story I was given from animal control was that he’d been abandoned, tied to a post with an elderly chihuahua in the desert of Corona. They said he got along great with other dogs, that he’d ripped his neutering stitches twice, and he’d been in the shelter for several weeks. I called on a Wednesday, he was due to be euthanized on Friday. I picked him up Thursday, named him Kodi, and spent that evening shopping for supplies. I later came to learn that what I’d been told at the shelter wasn’t entirely true. Kodi was clearly a traumatized dog. He was perpetually anxious about everything human. The first few nights home I slept on the floor with him despite having bought a dog bed. I fed him kibble from my hands since he wouldn’t eat out of his bowl. I spent two weeks straight just learning who he was and what he was afraid of, his vices, and his triggers. After a while we decided to venture to dog parks. It was there that an incident occurred that would change our lives forever. I was attacked by a dog from behind and fainted. While I was unconscious, not a single human did anything to help me. I laid on the soiled artificial turf for a full five minutes before waking up to my dog snarling and chasing off any dog who came near me. After I was stable and had a good squabble with the dog’s owner, Kodi and I left. To this day I still do not hold that dog responsible for what occurred. Kodi would never trust another dog again until 2022. (Don’t worry this ends well!)
Flash forwards to 2017 when I’m hired by PetSmart as a bather. Just a few months into the job I was already taking on some of the most difficult dogs in their client roster. Dogs who’d never been bathed before, dogs afraid of other dogs or people, dogs who had bite histories. Not only was I getting their services done, but the dogs were coming back and actually enjoying their time at the salon! At that time, the in-house trainer needed to resign. The store manager was referred to me as a possible replacement for the role. And so, in the late summer of 2017 I started my training as a PetSmart Dog Trainer. I got over 1,000 supervised training hours from the district trainer, earned my certification from PetSmart in Positive Reinforcement methods, and went on to host group and private classes that outsold all other stores in our district! I remember many tearful goodbyes from clients when I made the difficult decision to move on.
In 2018 I moved to Santa Barbara and began working at LaCumbre Animal Hospital, which while it was a short lived experience, probably taught me the most about animal stress and anxiety under the umbrella of pain and loss. The staff there taught me more about client management, and animal care than I ever thought I’d need to know. It changed my entire perspective on animal welfare. I cannot say enough wonderful things about their entire staff.
In the summer of 2019 I moved to Davis where I started working as a Veterinary Assistant for the VIP PetCare in Sacramento. Thankfully, there wasn’t as much trauma coming through our doorway as there was at the full service hospital. Most services were general maintenance vaccinations and nail trims, and once in a while some bloodwork. Here is where I got to get my hands dirty. I learned how to administer vaccinations, draw blood, run and order tests, administer medicine at the veterinarian’s recommendation, pet restraint techniques, microchip insertions, and so much more.
During the three years I spent in their employment, Terra had her eye on me. I remember seeing her work with some of her clients and thinking to myself “man, this chick knows her stuff.” It really struck me how thoughtfully and empathetically she interacted with the dogs she was working with. Finally, after years of begging me to join her, I folded. “Alright Terra, you got me. Let’s do this!” And here I am, working towards my own certifications and accreditations under her experienced and watchful tutelage. Because of Terra, I’ve been able to learn infinitely more than I already had. PetSmart was a great start for me, but it was just the beginning. Terra introduced me to Training Between the Ears, L.E.G.S., and Do More With Your Dog programs which only have expanded and opened my mind about the real purpose of dog training. It’s not just about having a dog comply with your demands, or to be subservient to you. It’s about developing a relationship with that animal that is so strong, so full of love and trust, that you work together as one, harmoniously, as a team. I’m now seeing K9 education and relationship coaching not just through the eyes of the humans, but through the eyes of the dogs too. It is because of this ideology, and methodology that I’ve been able to transform the lives of dogs who, like my own, are just misunderstood, or misguided. At 12 years old, my dog Kodi now is capable of making canine friends again, and even has two new siblings. And so it seems you can teach an old dog new tricks, if you give him a chance to change.