Why I Became A Dog Trainer

I was three years old when I realized that I wanted to spend the rest of my life working with animals. While other children my age may have been playing with dolls or taking tumbling classes, I was outside bathing my aunt’s Shih Tzu in the kiddie pool behind her house. From my stuffed horses which accompanied me everywhere to my interactive electronic puppy which performed tricks, I was a “dog person” before I even realized what that was. 

My dad’s family always raised working line Springer Spaniels, and I often heard stories about the incredible capabilities which these bird dogs exhibited in the field. I was fascinated, and begged my parents for a puppy of my own for years. Finally, at nine years of age, my dad told me that I could get a puppy… but I would have to write a comprehensive report first. Although my dad may not have realized it at the time, this experience would inspire a love and appreciation for research which endures still. 

I spent weeks reading and collecting information on dog related husbandry, healthcare and training methods. On my tenth birthday, my parents drove me out to a farm in rural Wisconsin where a litter of eight-week old Golden Retrievers wrestled with each other on the grass. Most of the puppies approached us eagerly, interactive and adorable. Eventually their breeder summoned them back into a large puppy exercise pen – all apart from one. 

“Can you please go get that puppy for me?” I enthusiastically obeyed, walking toward a single puppy who had separated herself from the group in order to wrestle with an older dog. I picked her up and walked back toward the breeder. I took my time, enjoying the moment and the lovely little gold colored creature licking at my face. “Is that the one you want?” 

I will always remember the moment she asked me that. How could I say no? That afternoon, the puppy I had been fated to meet came home with us, in a cardboard box on my lap. I named her Honee. 

In the years following, I took puppy classes, dog training classes, joined 4H and started competing. Obedience, agility, trick training… anything I could do with Honee I did. At 11, I also began working with horses. Between horses and dogs I had little interest in pursuing other hobbies. The animals were my life, and every school year I would select a different species to “study.” From Orca whales to red foxes, my passion for understanding how species other than our own experience the world consumed much of my free time.

Above: Spending some time as a teenager with my Golden Retriever, Honee.

College and understanding the language of dogs

In seventh grade, my parents decided that home schooling me would be the best option for our family, so they took me out of public school and we embarked on a new family adventure. Ten acres and a year later, our new house was built and I finally had the freedom to spend a great deal of time outside exploring the natural world. We eventually constructed a small farm on the property, containing a number of species whom I cared for and regularly interacted with. 

In high school, my parents assigned a life changing school project: create a business. It could be anything, but we had to develop a brand, a business plan and actively work to make it successful. I started a dog training business, and began working with the dogs of friends, neighbors and family. 

Soon it was time to start thinking about college, and the option of pursuing veterinary school became a reality. Unfortunately during this time, America also entered the worst economic downturn since the great depression; a recession resulting in a cross-county move and an upheaval which I was very unprepared for. I pursued a degree in psychology, and then another in communications.

After graduating college, I got a job at a high volume dog boarding facility near Orlando. A significant portion of my job included monitoring very large playgroups and watching for signs that a fight may ensue. I rapidly learned to understand subtle body language cues which dogs demonstrated as they interacted with one another. Shortly after being hired, I was promoted to a training position. During this time I continued working with boarding clients, in addition to running classes, doing board and trains and conducting private lessons.

stasia and lylah
Above: With Lylah, my German Shepherd, after my wedding.

How working as a vet tech sparked my passion for animal behavior

I loved working with people and their dogs, and I desperately wanted the opportunity to do more behavioral work. Dog behavior and the way that they interact with humans and other dogs absolutely fascinated me, and I knew that I needed the time to focus on learning more. I started a pet sitting and training business which quickly grew into behavioral work. During this time, I was able to assist many clients in rectifying behavioral concerns which they had about their dog (or in some cases, dogs). 

One day, I came across a job listing for a veterinary technician position. This was a field which I had always been incredibly passionate about, and it seemed like a fantastic opportunity. I eagerly filled out the application and awaited a phone call. Suddenly, it came. I scheduled the interview and the rest is history. 

The practice which I worked at was the catalyst for what would soon become my life’s ambition. The lead veterinarian, and company owner, is still one of the most inspirational individuals whom I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. I still feel very lucky for the opportunity to have worked for her. I learned more during my work here about dog health and physiology than I had ever learned elsewhere. Since I always worked directly with the lead veterinarian, I watched her in action and got to ask as many questions as I desired. During my time here I continued training, learning about dog ethology and learning theory – always with the insatiable appetite to understand more. I attained my Fear Free certification, got a German Shepherd puppy and felt more fulfilled than I had since leaving Wisconsin. 

I remember sitting down with the most impressive veterinarian I had ever met. It was a sunny day around lunch time, and we were at a break between appointments. Telling her that I was leaving was one of the most difficult things that I have ever done. 

I was moving to North Carolina to pursue an intensive six-month course through the International School for Dog Trainers. I wanted to learn how to most effectively work with dangerous behavioral cases, and I had been searching for the right program for nearly a year. This program did indeed teach me about behavior, but it also introduced me to the wonderful world of working dogs. During my time here, I got the opportunity to work with detection dogs, live find search and rescue dogs, apprehension dogs and service dogs. It was a bit like Narnia for dog nerds. From 8am-5pm five days per week, I was either in class, training, or running as fast as I possibly could through the woods behind a trailing dog praying that I didn’t break a bone. 

Eventually I graduated with honors, a Presidential Leadership award and an academic accomplishment award for the highest accumulative grade in obedience training and behavior.

Above: Castora, my Belgian Groenendael, at a recent dog show.

Our mission at Synapse Canine

For several years following, I worked as a behaviorist and working dog trainer who specialized in SAR and detection dogs. Simultaneously, I continued learning as much as possible through books, seminars and classes so that I could help develop environmentally stable, motivated, clear-headed working dogs who knew their job and could do it well. During this time I became a certified FEMA canine search specialist and helped train several K9 teams in SAR work for live find disciplines and HRD. I learned more about training bite work and drive development while working with police K9 units, and got the opportunity to work with many serious behavioral cases. 

One day, an opportunity arose which brought me back to Wisconsin. I was hired by a shelter organization to implement a program which would help minimize behavioral decline in long stay dogs (or any dog who remained at the shelter for longer than seven days), during which time I had the opportunity of working with many incredible shelter dogs. During my time here, I became a certified dog behavioral consultant (CDBC) through the IAABC and entered a graduate degree program in Clinical Animal Behavior. 

Eventually, our journey brought my family and I back to North Carolina. Decades of studying, learning and hands on work became the product of a purpose which I have felt since first interacting with a dog. 

It has been said that, “There is no greater calling than to serve your fellow man.” Perhaps to some this is true. For me, however, there is a greater calling, and it lies in our mission at Synapse Canine Learning Center. There is no bond more incredible than the love shared between a dedicated human and their canine companion. Throughout history, this unparalleled partnership has changed lives, saved lives and has accomplished the remarkable. It is a noble calling to serve one’s fellow human, but an even greater calling if you can do so while serving the truly exceptional species which has worked alongside us for millenia: the canine. 

Above: Halo, my Belgian Tervuren, as we solve a detection problem.

Thank you for taking the time to read about my dog training journey! Please feel free to reach out if you have dog training goals you would like to achieve. Find out how to contact Synapse Canine Learning Center here.

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