Q: Tell us about the first animal you trained.
A: I think this would have been my dear Jake. He was a “borderline” collie and my first grown-up dog. I wanted to have a bond with him and to learn with him as a team, but, sadly, all I knew then were traditional methods. I now feel dreadful that I didn’t know any better; I didn’t have to “show him who’s boss,” bullying him into obedience. I loved him so much, and had the very best intentions, never meaning him any harm. While I never did anything awful to him (physical punishment), I didn’t know there was any other way to train dogs. Jake and I could have succeeded much faster and done much better with positive reinforcement training. I could have helped him be a happier, more confident dog sooner. He was an amazing dog, and we did have an incredible bond.
Happily, by the time Jake was 5 years old, I had discovered Karen Pryor’s A Dog and a Dolphin 2.0 (now Getting Started: Clicker Training for Dogs), and we never looked back; clicker training was life-changing for both of us. We both adored it, and Jake excelled! We had so much success, and shared so much happiness together once we were on the right track!
Q: Was there a particular dog/animal in your life that was your most important teacher?
A: Luka. My soul was connected to this dog’s soul by a thread. He was my inspiration and teacher. Luka was another Irish “borderline” collie. He came in from a feral/farm life and straight into my heart. When he came to me, he had been horribly abused and had endured much physical hardship. Luka had never been in a home, or had a human to rely on; we bonded instantly.
Luka was a difficult boy then: dog-dog reactive/aggressive, a car-chaser, many anxieties and frustrations. But, what a friend he was. It was because of him that I learned more, explored how to make things better, and became curious. Because of Luka (and Jake who had already taught me so much), I discovered Karen Pryor, and kept on learning. I was searching for the most ethical, kind, fun ways of learning together to help Luka be the best dog he could be. In return, he helped me be the best human I could be for him.
I lost Luka in 2014, at 16 years old (my heart still breaks…). We had had years of success. In his later years, he was so calm and relaxed about the world. We had so much trust in each other that Luka could take on anything happily. He still inspires how I teach every animal and human I work with.
Q: What is your favorite activity or sport to do with your own dog(s)?
A: Husbandry and “life skills.” For me, these activities are the backbone of a wonderful human-animal bond, and the keys to successful, confident, happy dogs.
Sports, tricks, etc. are also fun, and I love them and teach them often, but without trust and collaboration that teaching for handling, husbandry, and life-confidence offers, we’re “at nothin’” as they would say in Ireland! As sure as death and taxes, pets are going to have to be handled, manipulated, examined, and treated at the vet. They must learn how to deal with the big wide world confidently, and my passion lies in that kind of training. Evie, my sweet little dog, and I spend lots of time on basic behaviors, making it fun, putting her in control, and building trust in each other. We love that time, and Evie is becoming more and more “life-ready” as we learn together.
Q: What is your proudest training moment?
A: My proudest training moment was completing and passing my 10-part behaviour chain with Luka at the end of the Karen Pryor Academy Dog trainer Professional course in 2012. There have been many, many other moments, too, but this was the best. Our chain was nothing fancy, and we made mistakes, but we did it together!
Q: What does a typical day look like for you?
A: I am lucky not to have too many typical days! My work is very varied, and I love it that way!
A day usually starts with a walk with Evie in the New Forest National Park, where I live, and sorting out my pet sheep and chickens for the day. I always try to work my day around my animals!
I could be travelling in the area to see clients one-on-one, either in their homes or meeting outandabout. I mainly see dogs, but also some cats. I teach early-life skills, train manners and basic pet-dog skills,and troubleshoot and help owners work to modify problem behaviours. I receive many veterinary referrals, so I am often working with my core veterinary practices—sometimes care-sharing their clients, sometimes working in the clinic with pets, sometimes brainstorming and collaborating on cases.
Frequently, I have a KPA course running (over 9 months), so I liaise with and coach students. I also run the practical workshops for them every few months. Other days, I teach small group classes (beginners/improvers, advanced/tricks, +/- classes to help dogs that have difficulty with their environments). Sometimes I go into practices to educate staff on various training/behaviour subjects, and sometimes I travel and lecture on vet nursing and training/behaviour subjects at veterinary/vet nursing events and congresses. I also teach from home on various online forums. At times I am writing course contentor articles, etc. commissioned by a variety of sources. If I have any spare minutes in a day, I try to get to my desk to do some study!
Q: What advice would you give to a new training student?
A: Breathe, slow down, and enjoy the journey! Learn from every animal and human you work with. Ask questions. Stay open-minded!
Q: Do you have any student success stories you can share?
A: I have loads of stories! Every single student we see come through the KPA DTP program has plenty to teach, and plenty to learn. Due to the high level of the course, everyone who graduates is a huge success! Even really experienced, advanced trainers take new and advanced information away with them and hone their knowledge and skills during the course.
I’ve often had students who have overcome personal difficulties to proceed and succeed through the program. I am always in awe of them.
Q: What do you do to continue your training education?
A: I have been to the last three ClickerExpos in Europe, which I’ve loved; they have been hugely educational and inspirational. I cherry-pick CPD meetings and events to attend, and am especially interested in those that offer a veterinary/behavioural overlap. I certified as a Fear Free vet tech last year, I am so passionate about that program!
Over the last 18 months I have been working on level 4 and level 5 feline and canine behaviour certifying courses, and continue to study. I’m also working toward a veterinary technician specialty in behaviour, which I hope to credential for exam-eligibility in November.
Studying animal behaviour is a passion; it’s addictive. I’m lucky enough that it’s my day job, too!.
Q: Outside of dog training/dog sports, do you have any hobbies?
A: I love walking with Evie. We’ll strike out for miles together; she’s a great little companion.
I also love to bake!
Q: If you were a dog, what breed would you be?
A: I would like to be a loved and understood dog that has all needs met, with extras. I would want kindness, choice and control, fun, mental and physical exercise, and respect for the animal I was. If I could have all that, I wouldn’t give a toffee what breed I was!