I come from a long line of animal lovers on both sides of my family. Growing up, I always had a variety of pets. I took that love for animals to the extreme, very early on. Before I even started school, I’d stuff insects and toads into my pockets, fully intending on making them our household pets!
By 10, I had learned to bottle feed orphaned baby squirrels and mice and had a pretty good success rate. I spent much of my youth training my dog in backyard agility (tipping over the picnic table and benches!) and obedience so that we could participate in our town’s annual dog show. We won a few times, a testament to my dog’s good nature and gentle spirit, rather than my training skills.
By twelve, I landed my first real job as a kennel attendant at a boarding kennel. I learned the basics of grooming while there, and learned a lot about responsibility.
By sixteen I was running my hometown’s dog pound. The Animal Control officer, Mr. R was one of the most influential people in my life, when it came to animal care and welfare. He paid for much of the food and kitty litter, as the town offered a pittance to keep all the animals healthy. He didn’t hesitate to reach for his wallet if someone needed medical care either, and I spent many, many hours alongside Mr. R comforting dogs as they passed on.
When it came time for college, there was nothing in the animal field, except for being a veterinarian. While I loved science, and still do, the thought of going to school for another 8+ years seemed daunting! So I headed off to pursue my other love, Human Services & Applied Behavioral Analysis.
My youngest sister has a pretty significant developmental delay, and the use of Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) was used to help my sister learn and to shape her behavior. I had also spent the last few years ( I delayed college) working in a Traumatic Brain Injury Rehab facility as a Rehab Technician. It is there that I became fascinated with behavior, learning theory, and cognitive functioning.
In the last three decades or so, I have continued to work in both fields, honing my skills and taking courses/CEU’s, volunteering, and studying under experts in both fields. I believe it is imperative to continue to learn in my chosen fields because nearly everything changes and evolves. In my work, I have evolved for the better, particularly in helping those struggling with behavioral issues.
I see it like this…If I hired an electrician, I’d expect that they were up to date on the most recent information in the field. If I found that they only knew how to work on knob & tube wiring, I’d likely continue to have electrical problems, or potential disasters, if I allowed them to work on my house. What I’d be looking for in a good electrician, is someone who was up to date on codes and new materials; someone who is going to get the job done right, and not take shortcuts. I’m not about to take shortcuts with your best friend, and I will be up to date on the latest information available to me.
As we have evolved, we no longer assume a human or animal is just being difficult. Instead we break down issue into manageable pieces so that the subject, and their owner, may have a better quality of life. This is a much more humane way to treat animals and humans alike. I have volunteered, fostered, and worked for a number of shelters and kennels through the years, mostly in the areas of training and enrichment, the last one being Southampton Animal Shelter Foundation (SASF) in Hampton Bays, New York where I began as their Community Trainer.
I worked under Aimee Sadler who developed a program called Dogs Playing for Life. It was at Southampton that she developed the program, which got the entire kennel out for playgroups twice a day. It also helped us evaluate which dogs were dog social, which were tolerant, and those who preferred their own company, and maybe a close friend or two. It helped ward off dogs from becoming kennel crazy and was fun for the dogs as well as the staff. When she took her program nationally, I took over her job as Director of Behavior and Training.
Because the dog training/behavior industry is unregulated, I spent some time through the years looking for an organization that would expect ongoing education for certifications, while also offering access to other knowledgeable trainers to collaborate with on training issues.
About a decade ago, I was certified by The Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT) for their Certified Professional Dog Trainer-Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA). This year, shortly after it was offered, I also obtained my Certified Behavioral Consultant-Knowledge Assessed (CBCC-KA). Both of these certificates are now industry standards and often required for jobs in the field. Furthermore, I believe that each dog should be handled in the least intrusive, minimally aversive, manner which is why I follow Dr. Susan Friedman’s Humane Hierarchy when addressing a dog’s issues.