THE PET CORNER
Dogs, Dogs, Those Adorable Dogs:
Interview with a Dog Trainer and Spa Owner
Andrea Arden, dog trainer
Naresh Jessani is owner of the New York Dog Spa and Hotel. Andrea Arden has a separate business, Andrea Arden Dog Training, and uses space at Naresh’s business. Dr. Pola Rosen and Gillian Granoff sat down with them to talk about their careers, their approaches to their work, and some common misconceptions.
Education Update (EU): What prompted you to start working with dogs and cats?
Andrea (A): I grew up in New York City, and I became obsessed with animals; my parents, luckily, let me indulge in that passion. I actually took a dog to a training school here in New York City, and then I started working with a dog on my own. As luck would have it, I was walking down the street one day and met Naresh.
R: When you were in high school, did you have a great love and did you want to do this?
A: I didn’t necessarily think I’d be a dog trainer, but I wanted to be involved with animals—I used to ride horses—so yes, at a very young age I loved animals and dreamed that I would have this as a profession.
R: Did you ever consider being a vet?
A: No, because, to be honest, my skills are not in the classroom.. One of the great things Naresh and I do, though, is that we get to be around animals, but we also get to be around people.
R: What experiences did you have that particularly stand out in your mind that helped to shape you in this direction?
A: It sounds a little corny, but my father had a huge influence on me. He was an intense businessman, and didn’t really spend that much time with us as kids. But since he was so obsessed with animals, the time he did spend with us got us interested in animals too. I think probably at the core that’s where it came from.
Gillian (G): When you thought about this as a career, what was the most rewarding part for you, or one of the biggest surprises?
A: I think when I started, because I’d grown up in Manhattan and gone to a private school, I was intimidated almost to tell people at first what I did, But ultimately I realized that working with animals was my passion … I feel very lucky. I think that is why I’ve become successful. I may not be a multi-millionaire, but I’m successful in the sense that I make a good living, I’m really happy with what I do and I’m never bored.
G: Do you have an overall philosophy or particular approach to how you train dogs?
A: I think in a lot of ways it’s similar to how people now are thinking about raising children. I think rather than focusing on letting a dog make mistakes, and then punishing it, why not say, let me focus on setting this dog up for success to begin with so it has as few opportunities to make mistakes as possible. In terms of the actual training or teaching, how you teach a behavior to an animal that doesn’t speak your language is like speaking to a child who speaks a foreign language. Find ways to show behavior, reinforce that behavior, and then reward it. For example, if I wanted a dog to stop at a doorway when I walked out, the old fashioned approach would be to walk to the door, yank the leash or push the dog’s rear down and correct it without teaching it anything. All you’re doing is just saying, “Do it now, or else.” The approach we like to take is to show the dog something you know it wants, and just wait and give the dog a chance to become a problem solver and figure it out in a non-stressful way. When you’re yelling at the dog and it’s looking at you going, “I don’t even know what you’re saying,” it’s hard for the dog to think because it’s stressed. If you just stay calm and wait, the dog will eventually do what you want; then you can say, “Yes!” and mark the behavior and give it reinforcement.
G: What do you do with a dog that’s really stubborn?
A: Again, it’s no different than children. If you have a dog who you are calling stubborn, hard to motivate, why don’t you set it up so that the times you are working with the dog are times when he’s more easily motivated, like when he’s hungry, or when he hasn’t played with his toys for two hours, or when he really wants to go out for a walk. “Want to go for a walk? Ok, I’m going to teach you how to sit to go out for a walk.” Many dog owners spoil their dogs, giving them every single thing they want, and these dogs often are harder to train. I probably wouldn’t be motivated either because I’d be thinking, “I get everything I want for free, why would I work for you?”
R: Are there certain breeds that are easier to handle than others?
A: I tend to be a little careful about making breed generalizations because I think it gets dogs into more trouble than it helps dogs. It’s really easy for people to label dogs in negative ways, and then as a result have a hard time labeling them in positive ways. For example, you’ll often hear, “You can’t train an Airedale because they’re so stubborn,” or “You can’t train Labradors because they’re so hyper.” Let’s not forget that humans have bred dogs over hundreds if not thousands of years to have specific physical and mental characteristics that are stronger in some dogs than others. A good teacher should recognize that a dog may have certain traits, but you need to figure out ways to work with him and bring out the best in the dog.
At the same time, though, you can’t expect something from the student that’s unrealistic. I wouldn’t expect, for example, an ex-racing Greyhound not to be stimulated by fast-moving little objects. That’s unrealistic: the dog has not only been bred for it, but also trained for it. At the same time, I do know that I can figure out ways to get the dog more focused on me so that it becomes more controllable.
R: Naresh, you have been working with Andrea for about ten years. Do you have any comments or observations?
Naresh (N): I’m basically a business person. I run this business, which is taking care of people’s dogs as if they were our own. We do boarding, daycare and grooming here. It’s a lot of responsibility taking care of other people’s dogs because they are basically their children.
I just wanted to add something to what Andrea was talking about earlier. When we started this business, the predominant way people did dog training was to correct a dog using a choke. If you watch the TV shows on dog training at the time I remember there were famous Barbara Woodhouse shows demonstrating this tactic. The approach that Andrea uses is seemingly a lot more humane right off the bat because she is using rewards and motivation rather than punishment. We have a lot of people who come in here saying that doesn’t work, but we find that it does. It’s not only better for the dog but it’s better for the person, too. Who wants to be yanking the dog with a chain or punishing the dog by instilling fear? The dog wants to please you most of the time.#