It's always hard to write about myself....I'm never sure if I achieved the proper balance -- letting you know more about me without boring you to death. So, let me end this brief intro by saying, if there's something else you want to know about me, just ask!
My Dog Life started in 1977
Shortly after I got married my first husband and I decided to get a dog. He insisted that it be a German Shepherd while I was drawn to Irish Setters. The German Shepherd breed won out and we purchased our first dog through an ad in the newspaper for $125. “Schafer” and I went to puppy class through a local training club and my strongest memories are of the instructor borrowing my puppy to demonstrate giving a “proper” choke chain jerk. My puppy screamed and I went home in tears.
Something drew me back to the class and further training. Schaffer and I hung in there, found another instructor and ventured toward the AKC obedience ring. Earning titles and getting involved in the dog world was never my intention, but sometimes the universe has other ideas. Schafer and I finished our AKC Utility Degree before he was three years old. He was a fantastic “first dog” for me and my husband, very resilient and forgiving of all my training mistakes and the old, punitive training techniques. Schafer was outgoing, happy, sweet and wonderful.
The AKC had just introduced the Obedience Trial Championship program and I had hoped to work toward that title, but Schafer’s poor conformation prevented that. He was very straight shouldered, east and west in front and lacking in rear angulation. Back in those days our dogs had to jump 1.5 times their shoulder height, which was 36 inches high and 72 inches long for Schafer. Rather than risk breaking him down, we got involved in scent hurdle relay racing with the local GSD club. One of my fondest memories was racing during halftime for several of the games during the Seattle Super Sonics’ Championship season in 1979.
Schafer taught me the importance of good structure for performance activities. I vowed that every dog I owned in the future would have the best possible structure, and that started my path toward the conformation ring. My experiences with Schafer also showed me how cruel the dog world could be. At our very first obedience trial, which was also a German Shepherd specialty, I was thrilled to earn our first leg in Novice A on our first attempt. I think we even placed in the class. However, all the happiness was lost when my “breeder” saw my name in the catalog, tracked me down and chewed me out for bringing Schafer to the GSD specialty.
She told me that she sold him to me as a “pet” – that she never intended for him to be seen in “public” – and because he had such poor structure she would “trade him in” for a show quality dog now that she knew I wanted to get involved in dog activities.
Amazingly, I hung in there, survived my hurt feelings and even started working as an assistant and apprentice for my first training instructor. I lasted for several months, but will never forget her final words to me, something to the effect that I shouldn’t quit my day job, that I was a lousy instructor and would never make it in the training world. Well, I’m happy and proud to say that nothing could have been further from the truth.
Thirty Years in Dogs
All my dogs, and all the experiences that I’ve had a result of my life with and in dogs, have taught me a lot. I’ve personally titled multiple German Shepherds, Belgian Sheepdogs, a Portuguese Water Dog and a Schipperke in conformation, obedience, agility and rally. I’ve earned numerous AKC, CKC and UKC championships, breed and group wins, high in trials and high combineds along the way.
I’ve owned and trained dogs that were relatively easy and others that were quite a challenge. In retrospect I see that every dog came to me to teach me numerous lessons (dog-related as well as about myself!) and help my evolution as both a dog trainer and human being.
In the 1980s I eased out of the corporate world (corporate communications, both on the corporate side and the consulting side) and into dogs full time. I started as a volunteer instructor for a local dog club, worked into a part-time job teaching dog classes for the parks department and eventually opened my own training school. Through Family Dog Training Center my staff and I offer a wide range of classes for home and performance, training up to 400 dogs and their families six days a week.
In the 1990s a local dog club decided to sponsor an award for the Obedience Instructor of the Year in Washington State, based on student accomplishments. Thanks to my wonderful students I won this award three years straight (the only three years it was offered) before it was discontinued.
My students’ accomplishments are my proudest accomplishment. From the new puppy owner frustrated with housebreaking to the high-achieving competition obedience student earning the coveted OTCH title and the first-time show dog owner finishing the championship in a highly competitive breed, each and every student that I’m able to help achieve his or her goals brings me a great sense of achievement. Over the years I estimate that I’ve helped close to 100,000 families train their dogs.
My Thoughts as a Breeder
I bred my first litter of German Shepherds in the mid 1980s. This was after a tremendous amount of time and research. It was a whole lot of work, but I was very proud and pleased with the puppies that I sent off to pet and performance homes. Since that time I’ve been on the Belgian Sheepdog stud-dog-owner side of a litter and Flame’s 2006 litter will be the second Belgian Sheepdog litter that I’ve bred myself.
It usually takes me several years to “recover” from breeding a litter (it’s a LOT OF WORK!). I only breed when I am ready for a new puppy myself and have several people on a waiting list. I do everything in my power to produce puppies that are healthy physically as well as mentally, and I stay in touch with my puppy people throughout their dogs’ lifetimes. Most become long-term friends and students over the years.
A good way to learn more about the breeder side of me is to read my Litter Diaries!
My Thoughts as a Trainer/Instructor
Puppy/dog raising theories change as frequently as child rearing theories. Back in the 1970s our dog training techniques were considered harsh by today’s standards. We didn’t use any food or toys in training, a little praise and a lot of negative reinforcement. Because many of the dogs being bred 30 years ago were tougher than they are today, those techniques worked.
Fortunately the world of dog training evolved and has incorporated a balance of positive techniques with negative reinforcement when necessary. I try to maintain such a balance in my own dogs’ training, life at home and through our work at Family Dog Training Center. I do not believe that children, or dogs, can be trained to become well-mannered, independent, reliable, happy family members or world citizens without setting limits.
One of my biggest concerns in many dog training circles today has to do with the proclamation that it’s wrong to do anything other than “clicker” training. Clicker training is based on behavior modification, as all good training is. However, clicking and food can only go so far when it comes to dealing with certain behavior problems, especially in dogs that are particularly smart, manipulative, aggressive, etc.
Belgian Sheepdogs are one of the most intelligent and manipulate breeds that exist. They learn quickly (both good and bad behaviors) and have outstanding dog / human body language skills. They can be easy to train and live with, provided their owners stay one step ahead of them, learn to be proactive and use a training approach that is based on behavior modification (with limits). Belgian owners need to have an appreciation for, and understanding of, non-verbal communication (eye contact, tone & volume of voice and lots more). That’s why two 7-week sessions of puppy and home obedience classes are included (at no charge) to my puppy buyers. Folks that do not live close enough to take classes at Family Dog are still required to attend at least 14 weeks of training with an approved instructor. Even the sweetest little Belgian can become a big hellion if not managed properly!
Other Interesting (?) Facts About Me
Before I got involved with dogs full-time, I was in corporate communications. I worked on the corporate side, reporting to the VP of Corporate Development for a publicly traded company. I was involved in the move from OTC to NYSE listing, the development of annual and quarterly reports as well as other corporate literature as a writer and project manager. On the consulting side I worked in project management, as well as concept development and execution through final delivery of finished print and other materials. I did everything from middle-of-the-night press checks to presentations to boards of directors. This background and training gave me a strong appreciation for the communications aspect of dog training, instructing and breeding.
I am a published author, writing a monthly column for Front & Finish (internationally distributed dog training magazine) for 10 years. Many of articles and columns have been reprinted in publications throughout the world.
My current dog club memberships include: Belgian Sheepdog Club of America, Northwest Belgian Sheepdog Club, Schipperke Club of America, Washington State Obedience Training Club.
For more than 10 years I was actively involved with two pioneers in the dog training world, Diane Bauman & Ruth Rosbach. I was a staff member at 13 of their week-long training camps around the country, and it was Ruth Rosbach’s Bernie who first endeared me to Belgian Sheepdogs. Both of these ladies are phenomenal dog trainers and instructors who enriched my life, both personally and professionally.
I was married from 1977 to 1990, divorced and single until 2005 when I married Gary Cummins and we merged our dog households. Gary and his Portuguese Water Dogs started as students of mine in 2002. A friendship developed and as they say, the rest is history.
Today my life is still all about the dogs. I currently teach about 100 students a week in my competition obedience and conformation handling classes. I run Family Dog Training Center and as time allows I train and compete with my own dogs. Fortunately my husband is also involved in dog activities. In fact I had the pleasure of showing his nationally ranked PWD at both Eukanuba and Westminster Dog Shows in 2006. A fun weekend for us is hitching up the trailer and traveling to a dog show!
For more information about my training program, please visit my business web site: