This installment of Ten with the Team highlights a member of HSNEGA’s extended team. Tina Spring, Dog Trainer/Behaviorist and Owner of Sit Happens Dog Training & Behavior, started working with HSNEGA in the Spring, providing canine training classes for all ages of dogs. A highly-trained, certified professional, Spring has worked with dogs for 35+ years and, among other accolades, is an evaluator for the AKC Canine Good Citizen program and a certified training mentor.
1. Tell us briefly about how you became a dog trainer.
I am a second generation dog trainer. My parents bred, showed and trained dogs near Cornell University. I grew up in that environment, surrounded by some of the best pet behavior minds in the world.
2. What do you love most about your work?
I get to bless families with a better understanding of the dog with which they live. Understanding how your dog communicates is integral to great relationships.
3. Is there one dog you’ve worked with that stands out in your memory and why?
I had a call one Saturday from a woman who’d talked to three trainers and then was referred to me. Her very well trained, adult border collie had started biting her 4-year-old son’s feet “out of the blue” on the previous Saturday. She gave me the whole history, nutrition, and the titles she and the dog had earned. She included that one trainer told her to put her dog down (never saw the dog), one said it was dominance (never saw the dog) and told her the dog would need specialized training at his facility which would cost at least $3,000, and the third trainer said she didn’t have any advice but referred to me.
The woman was frustrated and overwhelmed by the time we got her call. Eventually, she was quiet and I asked, “What shoes did your son get last Saturday?” The woman said, “I don’t understand!” I replied, “They blink don’t they?” Then she got it. Yes, the week before her father had purchased those shoes that blink for her son and the shoes were exciting the dog. I asked her if she knew how to counter condition and desensitize her dog (he was already well trained). She said she did and asked what she owed me, and I replied, “Nothing, we are just talking on the phone.” I never even met her, but sometimes answers are really, really simple.
4. What is the funniest thing that has ever happened during a training class?
I get hot dog spit into my hair regularly. It’s gnarly.
5. Sit Happens tagline is “We Speak Dog!” What does that mean to you?
Most people can tell me what their dog looks like when he or she is enjoying something. Likewise, they can tell me what their dog looks like when he or she has had “enough already.” Few people understand the “yellow light behaviors”… what those look like and what they mean… and they are where the magic happens. Learning how your dog subtly communicates when he or she is uncomfortable is like gaining the keys to the castle. If you listen to the whispers you never have to hear the screams.
6. What is the most common reasons dog owners come to you?
The most common causes… the dog lacks sleep and great nutrition which result in impulse control issues. Fear, left untreated, becomes aggression. Others come to me because they want their dog to be well behaved and a fabulous part of the family.
7. What behaviors would you like to see every dog owner teach their dog?
The rules and self-control, or teaching them how to self-regulate. Each family teaches a dog what the dog needs to know to be successful in their home, with their routines. I think all dogs need a great recall (coming when called). They also need to know that you will be their hero, their safe place, when life gets scary. Developmentally, dogs peak at the equivalent of a 24 to 36 month child, they need as much guidance as a toddler until they learn the rules for the family.
8. Why should a dog owner choose a class/private lessons when there is so much information available in books and on the Internet?
People get tons of well-meaning but terrible advice from all sorts of sources… even their neighbors… and sadly, sometimes from well-meaning trainers. Generally you won’t hear me give advice without a behavior evaluation because the “why” of the behavior matters. What could be a mostly benign behavior for one dog can be very dangerous with another dog. Besides, we are a hoot! Our classes are fun, effective and informative.
9. What would you tell an owner who thinks there is no hope or help for their pup?
Often the answers they seek are very, very simple. Nutrition, sleep and getting a behavior professional on the team. None of the work is “hard” and it’s pretty fun for most people. It’s amazing how understanding and setting the dog up to succeed breeds success VERY quickly. Most people see a significant change in one week.
10. What would you be doing if you weren’t a dog trainer?
While I do train dogs, I am mostly a people trainer and puzzle solver. I LOVE people. I have been an office manager, project manager, bookkeeper, foster mom (for humans) and I loved all those roles. I am guessing I would be doing something where I get to love people big, like I do now. Blessing the world is important to me. Love wins!
Sit Happens’ Puppy Class is held each Thursday at HSNEGA from 5:30 – 6:30 pm with rolling enrollment. The next Adult Canine Clicker Class starts July 23 and meets every Thursday for 7 weeks from 7 – 8:30 pm at HSNEGA. To enroll, or learn more, visit http://www.sithappens.us/training-classes/ or email KelleyUber@HSNEGA.org.