It all starts with the dogs I have shared my life with and the lessons learned from them. I'd say, I've been crazy about dogs since I was maybe seven or eight. My parents were not dog people, and we didn't get one, until I fixated on getting a puppy. Shadow came home around my tenth birthday, and we were in completely over our heads. Shadow was an oops puppy from our neighbor's spaniel. Her other half was some kind of herder, most likely border collie. Shadow had boundless energy and not a ton of outlets to use it. This was back in the day when training books were full of information like pushing down on the dog to make them sit, collar pops, rubbing their nose in accidents, punishing a dog for failing to recall and that dogs are supposed to listen just because we are their masters. We might not have been that bad, but there were mistakes made. Even writing it out, I am cringing so hard. Yet, Shadow still loved us. I taught her to do tricks for treats and impulse control by sitting before I threw a tennis ball. Teaching her stuff was super satisfying and I did learn a lot from her.
When I started college, I missed Shadow, and this eventually drew me to the local animal shelter. Of course I ended up with a dog, Miss Marley Mae. She was magnetic, and I was drawn to her. I took her home, and she was a wonderful dog, in spite of me and my mistakes. I was still a believer in making her follow my commands because I was the alpha. I read books by a particular celebrity trainer who cemented that view point. She never did walk nicely on a leash and walks were frustrating for both of us. She was smart, driven and loyal, but never had a great outlet for that intelligence. I loved this dog with all of my heart, and when she ended up with aggressive cancer, I was devastated. I managed to teach Marley some life skills, and I know that she loved me, but I look back over her time with me too, and I am full of regrets.
Gunner was my second shelter dog, and far away from Marley. Gunner had been in the shelter for a long time, and probably hadn't been socialized before that either. Gunner was afraid of his own shadow, was standoffish for a long time, and had major separation anxiety. I knew I couldn't use fear, punishment and intimidation with this dog, and I was lucky enough to start clicker training him. This was my turning point. At the end of a six week class, where Gunner had spent most of it hiding under a chair, he had learned more behaviors and would offer them faster than Marley ever did. It wasn't that he was smarter, it was that he was being allowed to make choices and was gaining confidence. We started agility, learned some tricks and I saw his confidence increase and his anxiety lessen. Gunner also left me too early, but I was a believer in positive reinforcement and clicker training. The summer we were home and working on stuff, I even taught our cat how to sit and spin!
Then, there is Dakota, my third shelter dog, the one I made promise that he would stick around for a few years. When I brought him home, he immediately bonded to me and wanted to work! We learned our basics through clicker training, earned our Canine Good Citizen certificate easily and started agility. Dakota is food motivated, enjoys pleasing and loves to learn new things! It makes him almost as happy to be right when learning a new skill as the treat does. Through our almost nine years together, Dakota and I have spent varying degrees of time working, but it has always been something that gives me an incredible amount of satisfaction. I live for working with him, teaching him new things and taking classes together. While I am proud of what we have learned together, sometimes I still feel badly and wish that I was as good of a handler as Dakota deserves. I know I have made mistakes with his eduacation too, but I also know that with each new dog that comes into my life, I am a little bit better of a handler than the last time. It was this realization that led me to start looking into becoming a professional trainer myself.
For the past three years, I have read every dog book that has been recommended to me, with a never ending wishlist of more that I want to read. I follow trainers on YouTube, read their blogs, hang out with dog people and have a hunger to learn more. I've watched several online webinars and have taken a few online classes, with a bunch more I want to take. I ended up enrolling in Karen Pryor Academy Dog Trainer Professional Program, and one of the first thing I realized is that there is still a lot that I don't know! I think the desire to learn more is what is going to keep me sharp. I know I can dwell heavily on my regrets of mistakes I have made with my past dogs, but I would rather look forward, look at what I shouldn't do and keep on learning. As you can see, this has been a journey and a passion of mine, not a phase. I want to keep learning as much as I can, with as many dogs as I possibly can meet.
Hi, I'm Rachel. I'm crazy about dogs and want to see all of them living the best life possible. Most of my free time is taken up by dogs, but when I am not working with my own or others, I also enjoy cooking, volunteer work, reading and Netflix in my pajamas.