Saturday, November 23, 2013

How I Ended Up a Dog Trainer

My name is Amanda, and I am a professional dog trainer. I own my own training business and do private lessons, group classes and behavior modification. I decided to do a blog because, honestly, I think my husband and all of our friends have tired of my dog-related rants. Seriously, it doesn't take much sometimes to get me going on a lecture about behavior or ethology or canine development or canine domestication (don't you worry, curious reader, I'll explain it all in due time). 
I figured I would start with how I ended up a dog trainer and a small business owner. Only one of those has always been a dream of mine. 

Like most little girls who grow up on a farm surrounded by chickens, dogs, horses, pigs, and cats; I had decided by the age of 4 that I wanted to be a veterinarian. I spent countless hours caring for my stuffed animals, doing exams, giving vaccines (empty syringes without needles of course) and applying bandages to wounds only I could see. Fast forward to sometime in high school when I finally got a job working for a local veterinarian, I was so excited that I didn't care that my first week of work consisted of cleaning cages and wiping down tables. I worked for Dr. McAllister for about 4 years, through the rest of high school and then during winter and summer breaks from college. Four years of classes including animal science, diseases, anatomy and physiology, livestock management, nutrition, animal husbandry, genetics plus all those core classes like physics and organic chemistry and I had made it to graduation. I had worked diligently for 4 years taking all the required classes plus any extras I could squeeze in, all while balancing extra-curricular activities, clubs and two jobs. See, for vet school they won't even look at your application unless you are heavily involved in activities outside of class and getting great grades the whole time. There I was, senior year and I was applying for vet school- I can't begin to describe the stress of that time- all I will say is that it is a wonder I am still friends with anyone I encountered that year. Here's a fun fact: when I was applying there were about 22 vet schools in the entire US and my B+ average was only good enough for about 5 of them. I did it anyway, I knew my grades weren't good enough. Did you know there are vet schools in the Caribbean? Dude, THAT was my backup plan. One of these days I'll go into more detail about it all and why undergrad and the application process alone is why I respect veterinarians, but until then I'll quote a friend "Do whatever you have to so you get in, straight A's and president of every club on campus, no sleeping- once you get in you can have a C average and coast." So I applied to the schools I had the best shot at getting into, and I got wait-listed. You know what that means? It means that I was almost good enough for this school, and if that school isn't quite good enough for another student that they accepted, I may be next in line for their spot. Oh, when you get wait-listed and then accepted they can accept you as late as a week into classes. But it's living the dream, man. That's what I was going for.

Then, the unthinkable happened. 

I got accepted...

Holy Shit. Me. Accepted to vet school in sunny California.  

You know what I did?

I told them "no, thanks"

Funny story- I was on lunch break at work (a vet clinic of course) and I had to let them know right there on the spot or at the latest by the end of the day. I had to decide if I was going to find a $500 deposit to hold my spot and move across the country for the first day of classes next week.. meanwhile I was eating leftover pizza from the staff meeting 4 days ago for my lunch. Oh, and I was working a late shift so there was no way I'd get back to them by the end of the day even with the time difference. 

So I said "No, give my spot to someone else." 

See, I had already kind of decided this months ago after not getting accepted during the first round of acceptance letters. I didn't want to be in debt until I was 80 years old. I didn't want to spend 4 more years of my life in school only to have people not think I was an actual doctor. One of the vets at the clinic where I was working at the time said goodnight to her kids over the phone 4 nights a week.. jeez. Now that I was actually thinking about someday having a family, it was a little depressing to see. 
Meanwhile, my boyfriend (now husband) was in the Navy and was getting assigned to a submarine in Hawaii. I liked the idea of fleeting off to an island for a few years with my sailor.. maybe finding a different career option that would still allow me to work with animals. 
That's the one thing I knew- I had to work with animals. 

I've always believed that everything happens for a reason. Maybe it's the optimist in me, but I really feel like I ended up in Hawaii right when I was supposed to. A few weeks after we moved, a sweet pit bull was brought into the clinic where I was working. She was malnourished and had a pretty bad case of mastitis. One of the other techs found her a foster home and within a month we ended up adopting her. Roxie, and a lingering interest in behavior from a few courses in college was what got me into dog behavior and training. The story of Roxie will have to wait until another day, but I will sum up with stating that her behavior was what got me where I am today. She was my first dog-dog aggression case. 

I completed a dog training program with Animal Behavior College, including an 8 month externship with a fantastic trainer (whom I still talk to when I'm stumped) and graduated with honors. I joined the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and opened my own business in upstate New York (my husband's new duty station for a few years). I took continuing education classes, went to conferences and seminars, and gained the experience and knowledge necessary to sit for the CPDT-KA test (more on that later too). Then, we moved back to our hometown in Maryland and I got to start my business up all over again. In my downtime, I thought I would start this blog to help educate people and try to explain some of the misinformation out there.

Oh, and I always wanted to own my own business, I just thought it would be a vet clinic... turns out being a trainer has much lower overhead cost and I get to make my own hours. That rocks hard.

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