Our Trainers: Justin & Jessica
I have always loved to be in nature. I remember when my grandpa took me fishing for the first time when I was a kid–which quickly led me into fishing and hiking in all of my spare time. Fly fishing became something I was extremely passionate about and I spent ten years as a fly fishing/outdoor guide in Montana. Though I enjoyed being in a teaching role, I was learning just as much along the way. I learned the value of patience–how necessary it was in making people feel comfortable and confident on our fishing trips together.
Patience also proved to be the most beneficial skill to practice in my time working with horses. I enjoyed my time taking people on horseback rides, as well as raising my own horses in Montana. Riding horses in the mountains, you encounter all types of potentially dangerous situations: wildlife, like bears and mountain lions, steep terrain, and having to cross large rivers. It’s crucial to have a relationship of mutual trust with your horse so that you can guide them through these things and work together as a team. In my experience, the best way to gain a horse’s trust was to be calm, even in a stressful situation, and to take things as slow as they needed me to.
During my time living in Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana, I’d always had great dogs. They had no formal training, but I could take them anywhere with me, and I did. What I didn’t realize at the time was how much of my success with my own dogs stemmed from nature. They had freedom to roam, sniff, chase, dig, and to just be a dog. They were exposed to so much; with the ability to investigate and explore at their own pace. I later learned what a crucial role this played after moving back to my hometown in Arkansas, and adopting a troubled Rottweiler named Simon.
Simon quickly taught me that I still had much to learn. I never knew how stressful and confusing it could be to struggle with your own dog. In efforts to help him, I began studying and learning new techniques. With every new technique came improvement, but I still felt we weren’t getting to the root of the problem. I began to branch out, attending canine behavior/training workshops across the country. I have been fortunate enough to work under some great trainers. Furthering my education led me to join the IACP (International Association of Canine Professionals), where I continue to stay connected with dog trainers from all over the world. I’m grateful for all I’ve learned, and it’s important to me that I continue to learn. Every dog and every person has the potential to teach me something new.
I truly believe that how you live with your dog is the most important training you’ll do, and that long lasting results come from having a healthy, trusting relationship. My previous experiences taught me that prioritizing the relationship is a must, and similar to people and horses, dogs thrive when treated with patience and respect. When I lived out in the country, I never saw behavior issues in my dogs, mostly because their natural and instinctual needs were met by our environment and lifestyle. For many dogs, the city life is a stressful, chaotic, and confusing environment. It is our job to guide them and teach them how to live calmly in this world, but to do so, we must first become someone they look to and trust.
I grew up surrounded by animals. We had all kinds of pets over the years: dogs, cats, rabbits, snakes, birds, ferrets, rats–and others, I’m sure. Occasionally my dad and I would take in orphaned baby squirrels and other small wildlife to rehab. I’ve taken care of a variety of species over the years, but it was my childhood dog, an Australian Shepherd named Bear, that first sparked my love and curiosity of canine behavior and communication.
This interest developed into a passion when I started working at doggy daycares, surrounding myself with dogs every day. Before that, I worked at a daycare for children with special needs. In this classroom role, I saw the benefits of structure and routine, and I found a balance of being soft and patient, but disciplined–qualities that are also important when dealing with dogs. I learned a lot by observing how they responded to my actions, my tone of voice, my body, etc and adjusted myself/my habits over time. I began to attune to my instinctive nature. I felt very at-home and comfortable in a large pack of dogs when I was leading the group.
I carried my observations with me after moving on to dog training and behavior modification. I learned some of what I could do to influence dogs in a positive way, however I craved to know the “why” behind it all. My education advanced when I started traveling to attend workshops and take courses. I’m still constantly looking for new opportunities to learn and improve. I’ve been lucky enough to connect with some amazing trainers in the industry that have taught me a lot. I like to focus on trust and respecting canine behavior. Mutual trust and understanding brings out the best in any relationship, and it’s a wonderful feeling to help people and their dogs come to this place together.