What is Polite Paws, and how did you come up with the idea for it? Polite Paws is a dog training company located in East Haven, CT. I offer my services throughout the CT shoreline and surrounding towns. Polite Paws offers private lessons as well as group classes. Currently I am a one-woman show, but often my husband will assist me if I need another set of hands. I grew up with dogs and have always wanted to work with them. I actually went to school for criminal justice and my goal was to become a K9 handler. After some medical issues changed my plans, I was lost on what to do. Thankfully with the support of my husband I was able to change paths and work to become a dog trainer.
How did you wind up becoming a dog-trainer? I was working in sales at the time when we rescued a 10 year old Siberian Husky named Tazzy. My husband and I saw an add online of a family giving away(looking to rehome) their Siberian Husky. We decided to check her out because we thought getting a second dog might be a good idea. It was never our intention to take on such a project dog. We had no idea until we got there that she was an outside dog that was used for breeding in their backyard. It broke our heart. I wasn’t sure we were the right home for her given we lived in a small apartment, but we couldn’t leave her there. She was shivering and the family no longer lived on the property. She was in a 10’x10’ fenced area with frozen water and some food. Our plan was to take her in and find her a good home. We contacted Siberian Husky rescues and after some time with no interest we realized most people don’t adopt older dogs. We put in the work to acclimate her to our lives and we never looked back. Tazzy had a lot to learn and we went through a lot of trial and error to make the relationship work. She initially would go after Hunter, my other dog, who was only 6 months old at the time over things like water and space. She occasionally would snap at me if I tried to move her. She destroyed crates and doors. She was reactive on leash. Although how could I blame her, she was never walked, socialized or used to living indoors. We put A LOT of work into her. It was actually other dog owners who saw us regularly that would comment on how well she was doing. I developed a very strong bond with her. Tazzy made me work hard for her trust and love. Once I saw how much I was able to change not only her lives but our own, a passion ignited in me. I realized if I didn’t help her, possibly no one ever would have. I wanted to help other people struggling with their dogs. I quit my sales job, started dog walking and working at a kennel while studying to become a dog trainer. Eventually I was able to make my dream a reality.
What skills do you need to do your job? Technically, the dog training field is not regulated. Anybody can call himself or herself a dog trainer unfortunately. However, to be a good dog trainer, it takes a lot of knowledge of animal husbandry and the skill. You have to be very adaptable in this field. Dogs are living creatures and don’t all learn and react to things in the same manner. Even a skill as simple as sit can be a difficult task for certain dogs and you have to be able to come up with several different plans. Working with other people’s dogs is very different than training your own. A great eye for body language is extremely important since that is the primary way that dogs communicate and patience. There are training schools out there to assist in teaching one to become a dog trainer, and many are self taught as well.
What do you love about what you do? It’s simple…the dogs. OK, there are actually a lot of things I love when it comes to my “job”. I use job loosely because it doesn’t feel like a job. The joy that comes from helping someone bond and learn with his or her dog is amazing. But the moments that make all the hard work and sacrifice worth it, is when I am working with a shy or nervous dog. When you see a dog who was so scared it would prefer to stay in their crate covered in waste then come out, it’s painful. It breaks your heart. But then to work with the dog and build their trust and see them break out of that shell. It’s amazing. Seeing that same dog walk proudly dog the street is the best reward.
Do You Use Discipline or Positive Reinforcement to Train? I pride myself in using primarily positive reinforcement to train animals. But it isn’t a cut and dry answer for me. This question could get heated if you asked this on a dog training page. There are four quadrants of training, Positive Reinforcement, Positive Punishment, Negative Reinforcement and Negative Punishment. I won’t get into all the details about them but it’s not a simple answer. I believe in training with love and respect, it’s even my business motto. To me, that means I want to build my dog up and show him what he is capable of. I use treats, praise, toys and other positive rewards to show dogs what I am looking for them to do. However, the word discipline can be taken in many ways. I train with the goal of using the least intrusive way, however I am not against certain things like “time-out” or telling a dog “no” if other options aren’t working. Some people don’t consider that discipline, some do. I don’t believe in shocking or hurting a dog to get what I want.
In your opinion, what are the best ways to bond with your dog? My two favorite ways to bond with your dog is through training and exercise. Yes it is a lot of fun to sit on the couch and pet my dogs but I see the best bond between my dogs and I when we are doing something fun together. Training your dog to do simple commands or tricks can build an amazing trust and bond. Have fun with it. Don’t take everything so seriously. Learn to love journey.
What are the 3 most important things dog owners should NEVER do with and/or to their dogs? Never hurt your dog either emotionally or physically. Never leave your dogs unsupervised with children. Too many things can happen that will put both the child and dog at risk. Never take your dog for granted and learn from your dog. Unfortunately they have much shorter lives and that chewed shoe will annoy you, but you will wish for it all back when they are gone.
Thank you for doing this interview for us Jade!