Over the years, the look and feel of dog training has changed drastically. In recent years, there has been a shift away from punishment and fear-based techniques towards fear-free training. Fear-free training utilizes techniques that focus on the physical and emotional well-being of the dog with the goal of teaching behaviors through positive reinforcement and reducing the dog's stress and anxiety.
I've seen first-hand the difference fear-free training can make in a dog. Our dog, Omega, was an absolute trainwreck when we brought him home. Unfortunately, most likely due to a combination of poor genetics and lack of socialization through his formative puppy months, Omega developed anxiety, noise phobia, and a tendency to react to his fears in an aggressive manner. We started having issues with him fighting with our other male dog, Arawn, and growling at my husband. He nipped at men and children who made sudden movements or tried to touch him too quickly. We couldn't take him on walks for fear that he would bark and lunge at other dogs, and he couldn't spend more than 30 seconds in the backyard without barking at anything that suddenly caught his attention - a plane flying overhead, a bird landing in a nearby tree, a car driving past with their radio on.
During the Covid-19 lockdown, with everyone home all the time and more people out walking their dogs in the neighborhood, his symptoms intensified. We knew it was time to consult a trainer. Although I've had experience training my own dogs in the past, I recognized this was more than my husband and I could handle. Following recommendations, we reached out to Allison, the owner of Daack Pack Dog Training, and she literally changed our lives.
I had the honor of getting together with Allison recently to chat about her journey in dog training and photograph her working with two of my dogs. Not only is she an incredible trainer, but she's an amazing human being. It's instantly clear to everyone how much she cares about animals, and how important it is to teach others about fear-free training.
getting her start
Allison is the owner of Daack Pack Dog Training, serving the greater Sacramento area. She specializes in dogs exhibiting aggression and fear-based behaviors, utilizing fear-free training methods. As she described to me, a huge part of her job is playing detective - listening to owners' anecdotes, watching dogs' behaviors, and trying to piece together why the dog is behaving the way he is. She then customizes tailored training options (including information about investment, which can often include time, emotions, and labor) and works to not only change the dog's behaviors but also to create a safe, comfortable environment and build a better relationship between the dog and his owner.
Allison started working with animals professionally 13 years ago as a kennel tech, but her love for animals goes back to childhood. She grew up with lots of different animals, including toucans, turtles, and seahorses. Despite trying out other fields of work, she always found herself pulled back to animals. She's worked for several different training and wildlife facilities, and even has experience with exotics. In fact, it was her work with exotics that got her started in behavior-specific work as she focused on cooperative care and overcoming anxiety with the animals.
As Allison became more entrenched in the training industry, she realized how unregulated it is, especially around behavior modification and working with fear, aggression, and anxiety. Someone can be convicted of animal abuse and still be a dog trainer. She was especially surprised and disheartened by some of the "training" methods she saw, and how many "trainers" were offering services when they had little to no training themselves. It was after one particularly horrifying incident involving a trainer hanging a dog by its leash to get it to cooperate that Allison decided it was time to start her own business to help as many dogs as she could.
Allison started Daack Pack Dog Training almost five years ago (she'll be celebrating her 5th anniversary on 6/1/2021!), and she's just about to hire her second employee. She never envisioned her little company growing this big, and I wish her all the luck in her growth!
making a difference
One thing that really struck me in speaking to Allison was how passionate she is about trying to make a difference in the lives of dogs (and their owners) with fear and anxiety-related behavior issues. "Most people don't go out of their way to get a dog with behavior issues." However the dogs ended up in their owners' lives, Allison wants to equip the owners with the tools and knowledge to help the dogs be the best they can be.
For Allison, there are two moments in training that are most rewarding for her. The first is when the owner gets something - when it really clicks. Since teaching the owners is such a huge part of the job, it's cool for her to watch the owners learn and grow. The second moment is when the owner reaches a happy place where the feel their dog is ready to "graduate" from consistent training sessions. This doesn't mean that training is over, but usually signifies the owner has learned enough to feel confident in their dog and their own abilities to continue training and care on their own.
finding a trainer
So what if your dog is experiencing behavioral issues and you're ready to find a trainer?
There's a lot of misleading information and language in the dog training industry. Allison has lots of tips for helping pet parents find the right trainer for their dog. Here are a few of the things she recommends looking for:
- What are their actual credentials? Look at trainers who have credentials through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants or the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers.
- Do they have paid memberships or have they completed education courses with reputable organizations? She recommends the Victoria Stilwell Academy, the Karen Prior Academy, and the Academy for Dog Trainers.
- Are they Fear Free Pets certified? There are many different pet professions that can receive their certification, and it's how Allison actually makes veterinarian recommendations to her clients.
- Ask lots of questions. One of the first things she would ask is how the trainer teaches and troubleshoots leash walking. Every trainer should be able to easily demonstrate this. Watch out for trainers who use leash corrections, shock collars, or other punitive methods. Also listen for clear answers. A huge part of dog training is teaching the owner - you want to work with someone who is not only great with dogs, but with people as well.
- Validate what they tell you. Is there science to back up what they're saying?
- Never hire someone who guarantees specific results. Dogs are animals, and as such, they can be unpredictable.
- Go with your gut. At the end of the day, you know your dog best.
ALL AROUND THE CIRCLE
Don't forget to continue following the blog circle to read about some amazing trainers and groomers. Up next is dog trainer and pet photographer Tracy Allard of Penny Whistle Photography reviews three locally owned dog groomers in the Dallas area.