Short story, long: Why I became a dog trainer – Dr. Mayuri Kerr
If you asked me even at age 4, who I wanted to be when I grew up, without hesitation, the answer always was, ‘veterinarian’. However, my parents did not believe it was a wise plan. So instead, I became a dentist and worked in private practice. After 7 years of working as a dentist, I became interested in biomedical engineering. I completed my masters program in biomedical engineering from UCLA. Since then, I have worked in dental/medical device companies, always involved in some aspect of biomedical research. I recently made the leap to pharma and have found working in biotech to be interesting and challenging. However, my love of animals endured and I never thought that here is where I would find my biggest challenge.
I always loved animals and volunteered as a dog walker for my neighbors when I was 9. I also volunteered with the local zoo when I was older, helping rehabilitate injured or orphaned wild animals for re-introduction to the wild. When I was working as a dentist, I would often have little patients at home too – an injured owl, a heron with a broken leg, orphaned squirrels; I also had fish, roosters and dogs. Growing up, animals were a large and very important part of my life.
I was always interested in animal behavior and training but did not know that there were 3 kinds of trainers.
Trainer 1 – using force and intimidation to force the dog to comply a.k.a. “show your dog who is boss/pack leader/alpha”
We got our first family dog when I was 13 and I loved him so much! I wanted him to be the best-behaved, best-trained doberman there was. I borrowed books from our veterinarian to read and train the puppy. Unfortunately, the only kind of training in those books was the one using choke collars and punishment if the dog did something wrong. I was a Trainer 1 – I used force, and only used rewards if the dog was doing what I wanted, else he was punished. So I used a choke chain and yelled ‘no!’. I did not know it then, but punishment destroys dog-human relationships and breeds mistrust.
That puppy grew up to be one of the most unpredictable dogs our family had because he simply did not trust people. No one could pet him, no one could stand near him. While he had his obedience pat down, if you said ‘no’, he got upset and hurled all 90 pounds of himself at you. He bit me 5 different times. He did not trust anyone in the family and I knew this was my fault. I never had the well-behaved dog I wanted because I had made him deeply unhappy and suspicious of people. To say that my treatment of him has been a lasting regret is an understatement. I vowed I would never punish a dog again.
By the way, the ‘alpha / dominance theory’ a lot of this type of training is based on, was debunked a decade ago.
Trainer 2 – training dogs using reward-based training methods
The next puppy I had, I learned about positive reinforcement techniques and he became a wonderful dog. He also was born with a solid temperament. This dog was a gem and did not have any major behavioral issues, we were happy with him as our family dog. He did bite strangers. However, he was meant to be a guard dog for the family home, so my parents did not feel the need to change it. Good thing, because I wouldn’t have known how to either!
Trainer 3 – playing concept games to get real life results because they shape the dog’s brain
I adopted my shelter dog, Rosie in March of 2016 and she came to us with a host of issues. No idea how to walk on a leash, always on edge, willing to snap/bark, difficulty processing new situations, and terrified of strangers.
I was at my wits end! Positive reinforcement training helped teach her a bunch of new tricks and basic obedience. However, many of her issues did not go away. Until I discovered Concept Training.
After many books, conferences and discussions with trainers, I realized the only way to get to the bottom of her problems to help her, was to become a trainer myself. Like many pet guardians, I refused to believe that the only way forward was to either strap a shock collar on her, or give up and believe this was the life we would live – walks that were nightmares, no visitors ever, and a terrified dog that was always on edge.
Finding Absolute Dogs and becoming a Pro Dog Trainer
I was so glad when I found Absolute Dogs because here was a way to get my dog thinking and learning. The Pro Dog Trainer curriculum referenced the latest studies in behavior science and used evidence-based methods of training dogs. These games were joyful, force-free and fun. This training uses games to teach the dog concepts that help shape the dog’s brain and help them make better choices. This is when I became Trainer 3.
- Rosie began learning the concepts of optimism, calmness, independence, grit, tolerance of frustration
- We started seeing huge changes in her, just by playing games!
- She had fun, we had fun!
- Rosie became confident, calmer and walks became a joy
- Even listened when we were out and about
After 3 months of beginning to play the games, for the first time, she ran to the door to greet my husband. This was three years after she had been adopted from the shelter.
A month later, she saw and ignored a neighbor’s dog she used to bark at previously, and instead looked to me for treats!
Then came the biggest change of them all, she began to trust my husband! Four months after we had begun playing games, Rosie climbed up on the couch and fell asleep on my husband’s arm. (She woke up because she saw I had come up to take a photo)
These seemingly magical changes were all because we invested in our relationship as dog and guardian. We played games, had fun and she is now well on her way to becoming a well-adjusted dog.
I have had several years of experience with shelter dogs and my own challenging dog. I believe that it is possible to help a dog, as long as the guardian is willing to play games!