Lauren Parks, 24, is Mississippi’s only Certified Professional Dog Trainer–Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA).
She trains using positive, humane methods in Jackson, MS under the auspices of Faithfully Yours Dog Training, LLC. She's originally from Nashville, TN and has been training dogs as a hobby and a profession for half her life. At the age of 12, Lauren trained her grandmother’s dog, Daisy in agility with the help of a trainer in Nashville. She is currently enrolled in an Associate’s of Psychology program to further her knowledge of psychology and its application in canine studies.
The Honest Kitchen: How did you decide you wanted to work with dogs?
Lauren Parks: My mom was a groomer when I was growing up, so I’ve been around dogs all my life. I’ve worked as a dog grooming assistant, a pet food representative, horse trainer, and a horseback riding instructor. I decided to try something new and was going to massage school. When the school shut down just before I graduated, I took it as a sign that I wasn't meant to be a massage therapist. Around the same time, I discovered a dog on craigslist who was listed as “free to a good home” in Texas. They said the dog was getting along with the other family dog. I quickly realized after I got Beretta that she was terribly fearful of people and other dogs. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to help her. There were no dog trainers to turn to in Mississippi. So I did my research and started working with her…. Beretta made major leaps and bounds, and, today, is doing really well. And that’s how I got on this path.
HK: How did you train to be a dog trainer?
LP: I took a self-paced online course through Karen Pryor Academy’s Dog Trainer Foundation. It took me about six months. It’s a distance-learning program that focuses on the behavioral, theoretical and practical aspects of animal training. Every six to eight weeks, you meet and work with a teacher for two intensive days. I was certified as a professional dog trainer in 2014—I’m the only one in the state of Mississippi—and was selected to be a Behavior College Mentor Trainer this past year.
HK: What does a typical training program look like—do you need to be certified?
LP: It’s an unregulated industry, so literally anyone can hang a shingle out and say they’re a trainer. The Karen Pryor program I studied with focuses on force-free training through community and peer collaboration. They also offer other courses, like the Shelter Dog program that teaches trainers how to help make these dogs more appealing to adopters and less likely to be returned.
Trainers learn things like how to stave off boredom and lower stress levels of the animals in with dozens of creative, low-cost enrichment ideas provided, and solve common behavior problems, such as nuisance barking and jumping up.
HK: Who typically hires dog trainers?
LP: People who are stressed—often literally at the end of their leash. They may be poor or rich—they are people who need help with dogs with behavior problems that they’re having a hard time living with. Usually people come to me when they are really overwhelmed, but some also come because they have a puppy and want to do the smart thing, and get trained with their dog right away.
HK: Are there any dogs you do not work with?
LP: No. I have worked with really big dogs, and dogs that had seemingly insurmountable issues, and even dogs that eventually were rehomed because the owner realized during training that the dog wasn’t the right dog for them. I’ve had several dogs that were really bad off. For example, one dog, during the first session barked nonstop for 20 minutes. We took the dog outside and he relaxed a bit. Eventually, by our last session, he was following my directions, sitting on my lap and letting me pet him. It’s a really good feeling for everyone to see that kind of progress and change in the dog—and, by the way, in the people too.
HK: Have you ever been bitten?
LP: Yes, but mostly when I was working as a groomer. One of the things you learn when you study to become a dog trainer and which gets reinforced through experience is body language. I can read a dog really well, but dogs give off dozen of signals about how they are feeling.
HK: Do you work with the humans as well?
LP: Absolutely. They learn that the dog does better when you tell him what to do, instead of what not to do. For example, a dog that lunges and barks at other dogs can be very threatening and challenging. So I would teach them how to manage the dog through the use of equipment (like harnesses to keep the dog safe and under their control), and how to read the dog’s body language so that the can help change the dog’s emotional response. Dogs are always learning, every second of the day, so I teach people how to see and manage that. I don’t just go over to their house and take over their dog. I work with people too. I also help them learn how to handle a dog for service or therapy needs, and do agility training as well.
HK: What are some of the things someone looking to hire a trainer should look for?
LP: People should do their research. Find a trainer who has experience and credible provable certification. As important: look for a trainer who focuses on positive reinforcements instead of punitive ones. Ask around for referrals. Read online reviews. There are Facebook Groups dedicated to helping people find good trainers for specific issues, too.
HK: Are there any warning signs the trainer you’ve hired might not be a good or appropriate one?
LP: Yes. One big red flag is a trainer who brags about having been bitten a lot and survived it. An experienced trainer can read dog body language and knows how to avoid that. Do they recommend shock collars or other adverse methods for training your dog, or tell you your dog does a certain thing because he’s an “alpha”? Those are also red flags.
HK: What is one thing from your training experience that you would say we humans should go ahead and let their dogs get away with once in a while, or always?
LP: Dogs are opportunists. They’re not trying to be malicious or manipulative. They don’t work that way. So it’s OK to let them on your bed or out the door before you (as long as it’s safe and you’re not near traffic). Scientific studies have shown that those are really old myths that don’t stand up to research. Your dog won’t think he’s the top dog just because you let him out the door before you.
Jo Ostgarden is a former Dog Life columnist, and has helped vet and foster more than 100 dogs with a rescue group in Oregon for the last 15 years. She has a fur child named Nik, a tri-color English Springer Spaniel, whom she walks or runs daily, rain or shine.