Q&A with Dog Trainer Julie Forbes
Honest Kitchen: What led you to dog training?
Julie Forbes: When I was in high school, I was interested in dog behavior and understanding how dogs experience the world. I did a lot of reading on my own back in the early 90s, but I didn’t know that this was what I wanted to do. Then I went to the University of Vermont and got a degree in animal science. At that point I didn’t even know that I wanted to work with dog behavior and training. I was considering going back to school for a master’s in clinical social work, which is a great pairing because everybody says dog training is people training, and it’s certainly a big part of it. I moved to Seattle in 2001 and found an apprentice program at The Academy of Canine Behavior. That was when I was like, okay. This is what I’ve been looking for.
HK: How do you approach training?
JF: Every dog is a unique individual and should be approached as such. They differ from each other as much as people differ from each other. I am equipped with experience with lots of different techniques and styles and approaches to match the dog. I think the training should match the dog. I’m very sensitive to each dog as an individual and getting to know them and their sensitivities. Some dogs require more structure. It is important with some dogs to be clear about boundaries, and I think it’s okay to communicate to a dog if they’ve done something inappropriate, to tell them no and have there be a consequence. I focus on success.
HK: What are the most common reasons dog owners come to you?
JF: Leash issues, reactivity on leash, generalized un-manageability, not coming when called, general not listening, and issues with fear and anxiety.
HK: When should a dog owner seek out a dog trainer?
JF: Don’t wait until [a problem] gets so bad it’s become really unmanageable. Ideally, anybody who lives with a dog should understand how the dog thinks and works so that there’s communication there. There’s so much for people to learn to enrich their life with their dog, even if they’re not having any specific problems.
HK: What should a dog owner look for when choosing a trainer?
JF: Hire somebody who feels like a good fit, and sometimes that takes some time. I have worked with people who have worked with lots of different trainers. It’s a matter of fit for the individual.
HK: What are your recommendations for what people can do at home to get that communication you mentioned?
JF: First of all, recognize that dogs need, to varying degrees, a constructive outlet for both their mental and physical energy. One of the biggest mistakes and one of the conversations I have the most frequently is that exercise is not just physical exercise. There’s a whole other category called mental exercise. Dogs have a high level of consciousness. They have a very complex language and experience—just because they’re not verbal doesn’t mean they don’t have language.
HK: What mistakes do you see dog owners commonly make?
JF: Dogs are not verbal. It takes working with your dogs to get out of your head and not rapid fire “Sit, sit, sit, sit, sit.” Appreciate that you are making a request. Assuming you’ve taught the dog what the cue means first, then it’s up to the dog to do what you’ve asked them to do or not. Then it’s a question of motivation.
HK: How can you motivate your dog?
JF: Of course every dog is different, so what motivates one dog might not motivate a different dog. I think fun is pretty universally motivating. The dog should experience work as fun. That’s what’s going to get the best performance. We have a responsibility, because we control the dog’s experience, that it be a positive one. Sometimes it feels really heavy and people are stressed or frustrated. It’s really up to us to create the tone of the interaction. Keep things fun and light as much as possible, and it’s a powerful motivation factor.
HK: Any advice for first-time dog owners?
JF: Learn how dogs communicate. Learn about body language. Learn about the signals that they give, the ways that they let us know what their experience is. Take a class. Read. There’s tons of information out there. Go to dognition.com, for example. Get to know the dog and their mind.
HK: What are you working on now? Any exciting projects on the horizon?
JF: The radio show, which I’m just continuing to grow, and I just finished writing a book.