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Mentors in the Spotlight

Teresa Malarkey
ABC Mentor Trainer

Teresa Malarkey resides in Scappoose, Oregon, where she lives with her five horses, five dogs, three cats, two birds and one goat. A certified ABC and Karen Pryor Academy dog trainer, Teresa has been a mentor for ABC since September 2012. Along with her dog training certificates, Teresa also had a very successful career as a registered veterinary technician for 20 years. Teresa founded her company, Work N Paws, in 2010, and opened up a new training facility in St. Helens, Oregon in March 2015.

What led you to know you would be successful at dog training?

I have known since I was very young that I wanted to be a dog trainer. In 1990, I took a dog training class. My instructor awed me with her skills and talents with dog training. This inspired me even more to pursue this career path. When I was a puppy raiser for a service dog organization, the instructor took me aside and told me she was impressed with my skills and that I had what it takes. She told me I had the natural ability to be quiet, calm, and collected around animals.

How has your experience as an ABC Mentor Trainer been so far?

My experience has been a fun and a positive one. I have met some really great people and up-and-coming trainers. I have even stayed in contact with a few of them and they now train for me.

Why would you recommend ABC to anyone looking to pursue a career in dog training?

ABC is a great starting place. ABC's support staff are willing to help students when they are stuck or simply don't understand certain behaviors or parts of the curriculum.

What services do you offer as a trainer?

I currently offer puppy classes, basic obedience, canine life and social skills, reactive dog class, shy dog class and service dog training for diabetics (Diabetic Alert dogs). I have been training for at least 10 years.

What techniques/methods to do use to help your students gain as much experience, skill and knowledge as possible before graduating?

I let them go at a pace they are comfortable with, but also get them involved early on meeting clients and their dogs. I also do roll playing and create scenarios with clients and dogs [to teach] a student what to do. Clients bring their dogs in for a training session knowing they are working with a student trainer. Clients then choose one behavior they would like help with, and the student and I work together in teaching the client what to do and how to move forward. This helps give me a good idea of the type of trainer and student I have. These situations have also given me the skills to step up as a teacher and explain things in many different ways while still delivering the same message.


Kristen White
ABC Mentor Trainor

Kristen White lives in Trinity, Fla., and holds dog obedience classes in nearby Clearwater. She is also a certified veterinary technician (specializing in animal behavior). Kristen teaches animal behavior in the veterinary technology department of St. Petersburg College and is a technician advocate for Bayer Animal Health. She has been a professional dog trainer for about 15 years and has assisted ABC students in completing their dog obedience course since 2012.

Why would you recommend ABC to anyone looking to pursue a career in dog training?
I think it is a great stepping-stone to becoming a trainer.

What knowledge/experience have you gained from working with ABC students?
I enjoy teaching the ABC students about positive-training methods so that more pet parents can be educated how to teach their dogs using proven scientific methods of training (rather than force).

What techniques/methods to do use to help your students gain as much experience, skill and knowledge as possible before graduating?
They observe my classes and assist with the dogs when asked. I give them tasks to demonstrate/teach in class, as well as explain things to owners (puppy biting, potty training, etc). My classes are a little different than a traditional class because I address minor behavior problems and will often have one reactive dog in the class who is learning how to behave around other dogs and people (not just there for obedience).

How did know you would be successful at dog training?
I have always had a natural ability with animals and being able to communicate with the owners.

When did you know you wanted to become a dog trainer? Was there a particular instance that inspired you?
I was inspired to start training when I had to do a clicker training project with my GSD puppy when I was in school.

Provide an example of one particular student who stood out from all the others.
I had one student who had amazing enthusiasm for teaching dogs, great aptitude for it and was very personable with the clients. She plans to open her own day care facility at some point and wanted to be knowledgeable about training and behavior. It is not unusual for students to be more comfortable with the dogs and a lot more shy when speaking in front of a group of owners and/or being able to properly communicate the how and why of what they are doing.

How many ABC students have you mentored?
I’ve mentored more than 15.


Joel Beckman
ABC Mentor Trainer

Joel Beckman had a dream to work with animals, and he pursued that dream fully. He intended to work with many kinds of exotic animals, including African wildlife, and ended up as a trainer at SeaWorld working with orcas. Joel decided to become a dog trainer to help promote the bond between dogs and their owners. He believes that positive reinforcement training is by far the best way to build a relationship while molding a well-rounded and happy dog. Joel trains throughout San Diego County, offering several group classes as well as one-on-one in-home training.

What led you to know you would be successful at dog training?
I knew that with all my training experience and knowledge I could help people and dogs. Confidence in what you are doing as a dog trainer is very important. No dog trainer has all the answers so just being confident in your methods while being open to new ideas is very important. I also really liked working with, which is such a huge part of being a (successful) dog trainer.

How has your experience as an ABC Mentor Trainer been so far?
My experience as a mentor has been awesome. I have had so many great students and have loved to see them grow. The students are all so eager to learn. I am always striving to be a better mentor. I almost exclusively hire from my ABC students. We have hired at least seven students so far. Being an ABC mentor has helped me be a better teacher. You get so many different kinds of people coming through the program that you need to adjust the teaching to match the student.

Was training your first choice for a career? If no, what was?
I went to Moorpark College’s exotic animal program with the hopes of working with big cats in Africa. However, I fell in love with animal training and got a job as a killer whale trainer at SeaWorld, where I worked for five years before leaving to start Beckman’s Dog Training. I have always known I wanted to work with animals

What techniques/methods to do use to help your students gain as much experience, skill and knowledge as possible before graduating?
At Beckman’s dog training, we are positive reinforcement. However, we never preach or disparage other methods. I always talk to the students about the dog training industry as a whole and what to expect when they get into it. We go over how to speak with confidence to a class. I want them to ask questions, because if the student doesn’t understand something it means the client doesn’t understand it as well. In addition, questions make me a better trainer because the students may have a better way of doing things than I am doing them. My students can contact me if they ever need to after graduation.

How many ABC students have you mentored?
I have mentored about 25 students.


Whitney Haywood
ABC Mentor Trainer

Whitney Haywood has been a professional dog trainer since graduating from ABC in 2007. For the past 8 years, she worked with the Jacksonville, Florida, humane society in the animal behavior department and held both group classes and private lessons. Whitney has been a Mentor Trainer for ABC since 2012 and has assisted numerous students in completing their program. Graduated students continue to contact Whitney for various dog training tips and behavior issues. In addition, she was recently featured on the website, highlighting her career as a certified trainer.
Whitney just opened her new company, Sit, Play, Stay LLC, which is also located Jacksonville. She offers pet sitting, dog walking and dog training, including behavioral modification. Whitney will continue to hold group classes at Dogwood Park.

How has your experience as an ABC Mentor Trainer been so far?
Very rewarding; I met some great people and made lasting friends among my students. A lot of them still contact me with questions or advice. I love being able to teach my students the way I train, which is with understanding and patience.

What techniques/methods to do use to help your students gain as much experience, skill and knowledge as possible before graduating?
I use positive techniques and remind students to not get aggravated at dogs if they are not doing what they want them to do; remain calm, take breaks and be patient.

When did you know you wanted to become a dog trainer? Was there a particular instance that inspired you?
I adopted puppy while in college in Gainesville, Florida, and he was a challenge for me as he grew up. I tried reaching out to trainers and wasn't happy with a lot of them using more forceful training methods. I wanted to train him in a positive [way], so while searching online for help I came across ABC. I decided I would learn how to train him and myself the right way.

Was training your first choice for a career? If no, what was?
I honestly did not know what I wanted to do. I went to college for zoology knowing I wanted to do something involving animals.


Michele Fisher
ABC Mentor Trainer

Michele Fisher has always wanted to work in the animal industry. Early on, she had dreams of becoming a veterinarian. However, after spending nine years as a veterinary technician and hospital manager; Michele decided she wanted to be on the fun side of working with animals, rather than the medical side. She then went on to own a cage-free dog daycare and boarding resort from 1997 to 2013. During that time, she also started a pet sitting and dog walking service. Michele began training dogs full time in 2003 after graduating from ABC, and in 2004, she also added a cat resort to her business. In addition to her many other talents, she also does pet photography. Michele has been an ABC Mentor Trainer since 2009 and also works full time as a dog trainer in Church Falls, Virginia.

When did you know you wanted to become a dog trainer? Was there a particular instance that inspired you?
I subleased my dog resort to a trainer in 2001. I realized then that I wanted to become a trainer. The gratification of teaching a dog is amazing; and realizing that we tend to create the behaviors (good and bad) in dogs is very interesting. I did not realize that until I studied to become a trainer. Many people say I am where I’m supposed to be, and I wouldn't have it any other way. In fact, I hear many times that I am a dog whisperer.

What led you to know you would be successful at dog training?
I have been in the animal field for 26 years, and I am a huge lover of all kinds animal. I understand why dogs are the way they are. I have a lot of patience and I am able to determine what the plan of action is for any situation. No dog can be trained the same, it all depends on the environment and owner’s commitment. I am determined to help in any situation and I won't give up. My goal is to help people understand their dogs and be able to live in harmony together. I want to help as many dogs as possible avoid being given up due to behavior problems.

What services do you offer as a trainer?
I provide private one-on-one in home or at my facility, as well as group classes at my facility.I do basic training and behavior solving. I also provide advanced obedience classes and am an evaluator for the AKC-CGC Program.

Provide an example of one particular student who stood out from all the others.
That's a tough question. I have so many that stand out for one reason or another. I love mentoring, the students are all very excited to learn more about training and I am happy to be the one they learn from. So many students give their all and they are the ones who succeed. I had several students who have opened their own training business and I continue to mentor them periodically when they need a little help. I am very proud of them. I have become friends with a few of them and keep in touch often.

What techniques/methods to do use to help your students gain as much experience, skill and knowledge as possible before graduating?
I cover all that ABC teaches and add a little more. I like giving the students many scenarios they might come in contact with, whether it be a client or a dog. I repeat whatever I am teaching in many different ways so that I know the student understands what I am teaching. I also give many different solutions to the command or behavior we are working with and ask students questions about what they would do. I like to make sure the student knows all he/she needs to know before graduating. Even when students have completed their time they can continue with me if they feel they need more time or want to build their confidence before going out on their own.


Karen Taylor – My Best Friend Obedience
ABC Mentor Trainer

Karen Taylor, owner of My Best Friend Obedience in Reseda, Calif., holds her obedience classes throughout the San Fernando Valley. She has a team of trainers that help her on a daily basis with the multiple class locations and private lessons. Karen has been training since she was 7 in 4-H. In1992, when a serious motorcycle accident reminded her that we don’t live forever, we need to make it great now, she figured she had nothing to lose and decided to give training a go professionally. Karen recommends ABC because. “It helps the students develop a foundation to start with and gives them the tools to become a certified dog trainer.”

Was training your first choice for a career? If no, what was?
I was an administrative assistant in investment banking [before becoming a full-time trainer]. As for my staff, Bobby works in his father’s architectural firm, Katie has a degree in film but trains full time, Laura was a police officer and now breeds and trains full time, and Kylie helps to keep the office together.

What knowledge/experience have you gained from working with ABC students?
That is hard to answer definitively; as each student has their own unique skills to bring to the table and some not always related to the dog business. Some already groom, do daycare, are vet techs or volunteer at rescues. Some serve the public in other ways that help with customer service here at My Best Friend. I learn from everyone I connect with in some form.

What services do you offer as a trainer?
We really do all facets of training (in kennel, group and private—with and without the owner). We deal with all types of behavior problems, from separation issues to aggression. We do obedience for agility, AKC Rally, growly dog class, puppy stuff, beginning through advanced obedience, tricks classes, life skills, out-and-about classes. We just recently started offering nose-work classes.

How did you hear about ABC and our Mentor Trainer program?
Animal Behavior College actually called me after one of my interns at My Best Friends Obedience took the program and had already been interning here prior to studying with ABC. It has been a great experience.

What techniques/methods to do use to help your students gain as much experience, skill and knowledge as possible before graduating?
We have them participate with a dog, watch a series of classes without a dog, then assist a class. I encourage them to do extra hours at private sessions and also join the trainers at their various competition events, as well as go with to seminars and our monthly dog trainers’ forum meetings. I make sure to refer them to APDT for further certifications and education after ABC.


Vrnda Bailey
ABC Mentor Trainer - ACDBC, CDT

While watching her aunt in the show ring, Vrnda Bailey realized that she wanted to someday work with animals. After spending some time doing small administrative jobs here and there, she decided to pursue her childhood dream. Although Vrnda enjoys being a successful, full-time trainer now, it took time for her to develop the skills and knowledge necessary to get her there. She started out working in any kennel she could find—volunteering as a bottom-of-the-rung kennel cleaner, working as a bather/dryer and at a doggie daycare.. She also spent many hours volunteering with animal rescues in her area.

Vrnda’s hard work and dedication paid off, and she was able to start her own independent training practice in Southern Pines, N.C., called Watch My Wag. She currently trains fulltime and has the luxury of having her own behavior center and kennel. Vrnda offers training, day play (very important to a successful training program), grooming and boarding. All of her services have an emphasis on making sure all dogs experience positive-training principals and are exposed to appropriate dog behavior concepts. In addition to running a successful training facility, Vrnda is an ABC Mentor Trainer and dedicates her time and efforts to working with students throughout their externship.

When did you know you would be a successful dog trainer?
The first time I was able to take a rescue dog into my home and explain the boundaries and affection that humans enjoy, and in turn truly identify the boundaries and affection that dogs enjoy, I was all in! I knew if I took enough time, enough thought, removed enough ego and showed enough heart, I could be successful.

What services do you offer as a trainer?
Because I am also an Associate Certified Behavior Consultant, I offer behavior modification plans in addition to training services. I specialize in working with dogs with challenges that could result in removal from their homes, and I attempt to provide clear changes to the current dynamic that allow dogs to soften their edges, modify their behavior and safely reconnect with their families. Dog-on-dog, human and other animal aggression, as well as pushy, timid or fear based behaviors tend to be the core of my client base.

Do you do any volunteer work, particularly anything animal-related?
I partner with numerous area rescues; some travel from more than an hour away to use my services. Between my services and the services provided by my facility, Watch My Wag, we average hundreds of dollars every month in donated services to rescue dogs. I believe it is the responsibility of every trainer and kennel to give back to the rescue community,which for me is where it all started.

What techniques/methods to do use to help your students gain as much experience, skill and knowledge as possible before graduating?
I allow my students total access to my facility during business hours and work with the rescue dogs. This allows them to experience a variety of different breeds, learning patterns and temperaments. It also gives them access to as many hours of actual training time as they need to feel confident. They can use this time to revisit specific skills, observe training sessions and refine their own techniques. This exposure to dogs with many different challenges provides students the opportunity to take a dog from zero training to ready for home placement. [It’s] a great opportunity to experience a real-world scenario from start to finish.

What knowledge/experience have you gained from working with ABC students?
ABC students are great for making sure you don’t get sloppy with your own techniques. I have had the fantastic opportunity to remain humble and connected to those first day jitters that we all have faced. I get to remain connected to the real reason we all enter into training: to see the changes brought on by effective training. I get to ensure there are positive, caring, knowledgeable professionals making a difference in the lives of well-deserving dogs. I get to shape the future of our shared profession. Is there anything better?


Carol Sumbry
ABC Mentor Trainer

Carol Sumbry, who lives Waukesha and trains in Brookfield, Wis, started out in the animal industry as a rescue worker. She came to training while dealing with some challenging fosters—she needed to improve their behavior. In time, Carol became addicted to training and helping dogs become more adoptable.

Each foster taught me something new,” she said.

It was the progress of a particularly shy dog who eventually became a therapy dog that led Carol to the realization that she wanted to be a trainer. That dog taught her a lot. She also adopted the dog more than a decade ago and she is still keeping Carol on her toes.

Carol has been training now for 14 years and she knew she’d be successful at it by putting her heart and soul into it. As a trainer, Carol offers private sessions and group classes. She also does education for the shelter.

A friend referred Carol to Animal Behavior College (ABC), which then contacted her about the mentor training. Since becoming a mentor for ABC, her experience has been great. Carol loves sharing her knowledge and philosophies with so many dedicated animal lovers. When working with a student she tries to show them the “stuff that isn’t the books” such as enrichment, play groups, self control, stress reduction and other alternatives that can help dogs in their training. Carol also focuses on shelter dogs, untrained adult dogs and what “average” dog owner can accomplish with their help.

“The knowledge and experience I have gained from working with ABC students is very worthwhile,” Carol said. :The students keep me on my toes as they are hungry for the knowledge and experiences and I love that.”

Carol has mentored 10 students so far. Recently, one of them gave Carol one of her greatest compliments when she said: “I used to teach obedience; now I teach manners and how to keep a dog in his/her home and out of the shelter systems.” The student was able to see the bigger picture and Carol was happy to be a part of that.

She would recommend ABC to anyone looking to pursue a career in dog training—she just referred a student to school. Carol noted that the program is very well rounded and gives students a chance to learn in so many ways, particularly with the externship and volunteering.


Cecilia Sternzon
ABC Mentor Trainer

As a child, Cecilia Sternzon had a terrier mix she trained to do many tricks, including walking on a fence (back before agility was a dog sport). At the young age of nine, this experience inspired her passion to become an animal trainer. Cecilia told her parents of her goal. And, like many parents who want to ensure their children have a bright future, they told her to get a degree and have a “serious” profession. This led to a career in business development, however, she did work as a part-time dog trainer. Nine years ago Cecilia finally took a chance and transitioned into full-time dog training; a decision she has never regretted.

As the CCPDT-KA certified owner of Canine Higher Learning, Cecilia trains throughout the southern part of the San Francisco Bay Area in California. She offers private training, behavior counseling and group classes for basic training and dog sports, including agility and flyball. She also writes two blogs, one about high-drive dogs and one about training dogs in a home with children. Cecilia has been an ABC mentor trainer for more than three years and has worked with 17 students at the Humane Society Silicon Valley. Her previous students have said such things as, “She is a great role model for new instructors” and “They are lucky to have worked with her.”

What is Cecilia’s secret? She truly cares about her students, making herself available to them at all times, even after they graduate and experience challenges in their new businesses. She goes above and beyond, providing written guidelines to students to help their focus when observing dogs’ body language and the learning process. She also genuinely wants to see her students succeed as trainers and business owners; not looking at them as competitors but as colleagues.

Mentoring ABC students has made Cecilia a stronger trainer as well.

“It’s one thing to teach novice dog owners but something else to teach dog trainers in training!” she noted.

In addition, the experience has helped her build her local network so that she can refer clients back and forth to her former students, depending on what each client needs.

Cecilia would recommend the ABC program to any aspiring dog trainer, praising it for its comprehensive curriculum. She also commends the convenience of an online program that allows students to hone their skills in a real-life training environment.

It’s clear that having Cecilia as a mentor trainer is a win-win for all involved, and we are so grateful she is willing to share her expertise with our students. You can find more information about Cecilia, as well as links to her informative and entertaining blogs, at


Dawn Vendegna
ABC Mentor Trainer

DawnVendegna resides Northlake, Ill., where she trains and works in the real estate industry. She also trains throughout the Chicagoland area and gives out-of-state phone consultations. Training was always Dawn’s first choice in career; she started out as a full time trainer, but now only trains part time.

Dawn always knew she wanted to work with dogs. She was working in shelters for extra credit in high school when it hit her. Dawn would see the dogs jumping and barking when ever people walked by, To fix this problem, she gave the dogs cut up hot dogs if they sat whenever someone came by. It worked; people began asking if they could give the dog a treat. Dawn responded that if the dog sat, they could. Since the dogs she worked with were getting attention and adopted, Dawn decided she wanted to help dogs have better manners and teach owners how to train them. Dawn has been doing so ever since—for 32 years.

During all those years, one day in particular stands out. Dawn was working with her Doberman, Maxwell, in Children’s Hospital with a little girl who had severe facial deformities. Dawn trained Maxwell to do a slow heel at the side of wheelchairs and sit when the chair stopped. On this day, he was working with this sweet little girl when a couple approached her. She stopped her chair and Maxwell sat. The couple was talking to the child about her dog and she thought nothing of it. Maxwell put his head in her lap and she petted and talked to him. She was thanking him for being her friend. Dawn knew that all the time she spent training him really paid off.

As a trainer, Dawn offers Service Dog Training, Therapy Dog Training, AKC Canine Good Citizen, AKC Puppy Star, Basic, Intermediate, Advanced, Off Lead, Agility and Rally O. Mixing services together and training off the cuff are her favorites.

About 12 years ago, Dawn was a Petco dog trainer and fell in love with ABC’s Mentor program. She loves being a mentor and really enjoys working with the ABC students. Dawn still has students who have kept in touch with her over the years and some who still work with her to this day. She is very grateful to ABC for allowing her to work with the students.

“No matter how long you have been training, you never know everything,” Dawn said. “Students have fresh ideas and insight and that is a gift.”

In mentoring more than 100 students over the years, Dawn has learned what they need from her and customizes their training so they can be successful. She would definitely recommend ABC to anyone looking to pursue a career in dog training.

“The courses offer behavior, training, career and everything you need to be successful in the dog training industry,” Dawn said.


Maribeth Hook
ABC Mentor Trainer

What does it take to make a difference? Maribeth Hook, a Pittsburgh, Pa., native who’s been an ABC Mentor Trainer since September 2003, with 47 students graduated and currently three more in the process, has been answering that question since she was young. She’s been training her own dogs to show since the early 1980s and started coaching others in the mid 1990s.

Growing up, Maribeth didn’t really know about dog training, having always trained her family dogs it seemed something everyone did. But she later realized it was extraordinary; that creating a relationship between people and their dogs is special and helping someone to learn how to have that relationship is even more special .

“Seeing the smiles on the people’s faces and the way the dog looked at them; even though every behavior may not be perfect; knowing both handler and dog are enjoying the learning and having fun, that is when I knew,” Maribeth said about first realizing what her passion could lead to.

While she’s a full-time landscape architect working for a redevelopment agency, Maribeth is also a part time trainer for the Western PA Humane Society, Splash and Dash K9 Sports, and Camp Gone to the Dogs. Through these organizations she teaches puppy, teen and adult dog obedience. In each class, Maribeth strives to create a better partnership between dogs and their humans in everyday life, and after the basics she also offers all levels of agility, tricks classes, Treibball and occasionally flyball.

Students begin by either shadowing her or working as assistants. As the students’ confidence and experience increase they get to work one-on-one with handlers and their dogs

All the students have the option to work with their dogs or a shelter dog in one session of an appropriate class. Students are also expected to help teach at least two sessions. Each week, Maribeth builds on concepts and adds more complexity to the exercises based on the ABC curriculum. The students get to work with a multitude of handlers at different levels, seeing all sorts of issues, learning how to give advice and encouragement to keep the success rate for everyone high.

ABC provides an immense amount of information, and combined with working with a good local trainer, this gives students a chance to grow in a field they love. Maribeth recommends the program for anyone who’s dedicated to getting involved in the pet industry as a dog trainer.


Valli Aman
APDT, IACP, ABCDT, ABC Mentor Trainer

ABC alumni and mentor trainer, Valli Aman is the owner of Oh My Dog, a successful dog training and boarding business in Valley Glen, California. She spent 30 years as a professional photographer before she fell in love with dog training. Now she combines both of her passions by using her “artistic eye” to shoot photos of dogs for their owners.

Valli admits that she used to be a “cat person” but when her last cat passed away she decided to look for another kind of pet. She jokingly says “my friends suggested I go online to look for a date but I thought looking for pets would be more fun.” After spending a long time searching for the perfect companion, Valli connected with Shoo Shoo, a severely abused dog that she rescued. “I thought if I could just help her, it would all be worth it. I became a trainer and I did help her” she comments.

Valli originally pursued dog training to help enrich the life of her own dog but soon realized that she could use her skills to benefit others as well. She is currently the trainer at the East Valley Shelter where she teaches a course in basic dog training. She also gives private and group training courses. In addition, she offers a variety of specialty services including “board and train” at her home, “walk and train,” and is a consultant for condos and businesses that are becoming “dog friendly.”

After gaining some professional experience, Valli returned to her alma mater to become an ABC mentor trainer. Valli exclaims that being an ABC mentor trainer has been “so rewarding.” She says “I absolutely love mentoring. There are so many different types of people with so many diverse interests taking the course, I find it fascinating. I also discovered that I love teaching.” In her classes, Valli emphasizes the importance of observation, “when I began my course I didn’t even really know how to handle a leash and spent a lot of time watching trainers before I did any dog handling. I’m not the only one that came to ABC “green,” so I talk to my students, make them feel comfortable to ask questions and discuss different training techniques.” Her goal is to bridge the gap between the curriculum and actual dog training. She wants to provide her students with a well-rounded experience to help prepare them for a career in dog training.

Valli would recommend the ABC Dog Obedience Program for anyone wanting to pursue a career as a dog trainer, as her experience as a student and a mentor trainer have both been positive. She believes that “having practical knowledge along with the paperwork to back it up is a great basis for acknowledgement in the animal industry.” Valli remains committed to expanding her dog training knowledge while also focusing on growing her dog training business.


Jutta King, ABC Mentor Trainer
Passion Found in the Lone Star State

ABC Mentor Trainer, Jutta King, has always been an animal lover but did not discover her passion for dog training until later in life. Born and raised in Germany, Jutta first worked in the music business as a singer before she got involved in the animal industry. During this time, she met and fell in love with a US Warrant Officer Level 3 and moved back to the United States with him. Forced to start a new career, Jutta turned to the thing she loved the most- animals. She says, “I have always been a student, wanting to learn how the world works around me. On base, I spent time hanging around dog trainers and different training clubs and was never completely satisfied with what they were doing. One day I decided that I could be a dog trainer and an advocate for positive reinforcement methods. I studied hard, started working with a small animal rescue, and eventually built a reputation as well as my own dog training business.”

Jutta currently lives in Fayetteville, North Carolina where she trains part time at Pet Starz, a local doggy day care and grooming facility. She has been training dogs on and off for the past 20 years and considers her job to be the best possible career for someone to have. She comments, “I have the opportunity to fix families and bring loved ones together again.” To Jutta, being successful means that dogs and their owners are happy with their training results. In her opinion, “every dog that graduates is a success story, every little change counts. I offer my students more then their typical obedience course. I always take my time, never rush, and spentd1.5 to 2 hours in the classroom discussing problem-solving.” Jutta’s ultimate goal is to keep the dog in their home and the family happy with their dog’s behavior.

Jutta began mentoring ABC students in 2007. For the last six years, she has maintained a positive relationship with the college and its students. She says “Working with ABC has been a joyful ride so far. I love to educate and shape the next generation of trainers with positive reinforcement training. I give my ABC students the opportunity to watch and work hands-on in any of my classes.” Jutta frequently supplements her training sessions with the ABC curriculum because she understands that skill and knowledge come with time, practice, and studying. Jutta’s students not only inherit her training expertise but more importantly learn to value the dog-owner relationship. For her, teaching people positive-reinforcement methods is not only rewarding for the animal but also for the owner.

So far Jutta has mentored 46 ABC students, and is still going strong. She remains committed to positive reinforcement training and hopes to continue teaching dog training to ABC students.


Renee Payne, ABC Mentor Trainer
Training New York City, One Borough At A Time

Although ABC Mentor Trainer, Renee Payne thoroughly enjoys her career working with dogs, it wasn’t until after many years of experimenting with other vocations and a unique experience, that she realized training was her calling. Renee began her career working many years in television news and production, before moving onto bar and restaurant management. All the while, Renee was experiencing some frustration from not understanding her dog’s behavior. She decided to enroll herself in a dog obedience school because she wanted to learn and know everything, instead of just working on and correcting the behaviors. During her experience, Renee discovered her passion for training, and admits, “It wasn’t until after I finished my own training that I realized I really enjoyed it.” Renee began seeing the positive effects of her training almost immediately in both canine and owner. She says it was then that she knew she would be a successful trainer, having the ability to assess each dog and train them based on their individual needs. Since then, Renee has made dog training her full-time (plus some) career for more than twelve and a half years.

Renee currently resides in Brooklyn, New York, and trains dogs throughout the five boroughs of NYC. At this time, she offers puppy playgroups, level one and two obedience/manners classes, level one and two private sessions, and in-home behavior consultations. In addition to these services, she is also offering behavior seminars covering separation anxiety, leash walking, leash aggression, recall, new baby, small dog syndrome, new dog/adoption counseling, nose work, and tricks. Aside from the extraordinary amount of services and training she offers, Renee also volunteers and devotes the remainder of her time educating children about safe dog interaction, having co-authored a book addressing and detailing the matter. In addition to this, she and her therapy dog (Jimmy) conduct workshops regularly to help kids and/or parents overcome their fear of dogs and in turn, learn how to interact with them safely, all while having fun! She and Jimmy visit organizations including, the Brooklyn Child Advocacy Center, NYC’s Administration of Child Services, Safe Horizon, and the NYPD’s Special Victims Unit. Renee proudly boasts, “We’ve been there for nearly two years and Jimmy helps the staff as much as he helps the children who are there. This has by far been the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.”

Renee discovered ABC through one of her interns who was enrolled in ABC’s Dog Obedience Program. She claims her experience since becoming an ABC Mentor Trainer has been great! “The students are enthusiastic, reliable, and eager to learn. I want my students to gain as much experience, skill and knowledge as they can before graduating, so, in addition to watching the process I go through with owners, I answer questions they have as they go along; anything from how to handle the more difficult behaviors in the dogs that come to class, to owner expectations. In any group class, some dogs and owners will excel and work very hard to get the most out of it. I think that being able to quickly assess the needs of each owner is invaluable; if you push for perfection with every single person in your class, some will drop out because it’s too much pressure. See what they need and want and base your own expectations of their performance and progress on that.”

ABC students that Renee has mentored over the years typically intern for a four-month period, of which, Renee admits even she has grown and learned in the process. “I think it’s great that ABC gives their students the time that a particular person needs to absorb the information before jumping into the fire. It has been great to see the knowledge so effectively applied. It has also been awesome to meet people from so many different career fields and backgrounds. I think that the ability to complete the learning portion of the course from the convenience of their home gives them the luxury of easing into a new career.”

Renee says she would gladly recommend ABC to anyone looking to pursue a career in dog training, as she has had wonderful experiences with the students. Renee boasts, “I have found that every student from ABC comes to me with an incredible amount of knowledge and understanding. All I do is give them the hands-on experience, but they come in incredibly prepared for that portion and are ready to train or open a pet-care business or run a shelter by the time they’re done.” Renee has worked with 15 ABC students since becoming an ABC Mentor Trainer, and is anticipating and looking forward to the number continuously rising.


Wendy Kelly M.Ed., Applied Animal Behaviorist, ABC Mentor Trainer
A Pawsitive Trainer

Wendy Kelly, ABC Mentor Trainer, has always had an innate admiration and passion for understanding behavior in both humans and animals alike. She has spent most of her life helping people and pets through her careers as a psychological therapist and animal behaviorist. Although Wendy was aware at a young age that she had a distinctive compassion for animals, she first pursued a career helping people as a psychological therapist. Wendy admits, “Working with animals wasn’t my first career, but it was my first love.” The clarity to pursue her passion set in once she discovered “that animals were our best teachers.” She explains, “I have been drawn to them as a child and knew that their healing energy would teach me to help others.”

After earning a Bachelor of Science degree in both Psychology and Sociology, a Master of Education degree in Clinical Psychology and working as a Psychological Therapist for many years, Wendy decided to take her professional experience with behavior one step further and explore the world of animals. She has been training dogs for more than twenty years now, holding the title as owner and founder of Pet Peeves Animal Training Inc., a positive pet training and behavior modification company she created in Florida. Wendy is also the President of The Pawsitive Life Foundation, a nonprofit organization formed to rescue and train canines to save the lives of humans by detecting early stages of cancer. Amidst these many accomplishments and impressive career titles, Wendy is also a life coach and the author of inspirational works including, “Buji and Me: 7 Lessons from the Dog Who Rescued Me.” (For details and to order your own copy of “Buji and Me: 7 Lessons from the Dog Who Rescued Me”, visit:

Even though Wendy is tasked with a massive assortment of daily responsibilities, she still gladly accepted ABC’s offer as a Mentor Trainer a few years ago, putting forth what spare time she had, to share her knowledge with the next generation of positive-based training dog instructors. She has thoroughly enjoyed her experiences mentoring over the years, and says, “I love teaching and learning from the students - two legged, and four legged alike!” Along with teaching students to master positive-based training techniques, Wendy says she also helps them learn to see the world from the animal’s perspective. “I teach them about trust, relationships, and being open to learning from the animals. I help them understand the philosophy and behavioral principles which serve as a foundation for any and all good training.” she explains.

With an abundance of knowledge, educational background and decades of experience, she admits she is still learning, and says that through mentoring ABC students she has discovered “We are ALL students and teachers for one another.” Wendy adds, “I have learned to trust the process by gently helping students stretch from knowing about training to truly understanding that which they have learned. Being a mentor reconfirms for me the power of connection. It thrills me to witness that “A-ha!” moment in a student.”

Wendy recommends the ABC program to anyone looking to pursue a professional career in dog training. She considers ABC to be “a good place to learn,” and believes the externship portion of the program is particularly “crucial for mastering hands-on knowledge and skills.” She is confident in saying that ABC provides their students with the tools needed to thrive, including their pairing with highly skilled and experienced dog obedience instructors.

At this time, Wendy resides in Clearwater, Florida, and provides local and national services as an applied animal behaviorist. She is available for private appointments and phone consultations. She is also offering positive-based training and behavior modification for dogs, cats, horses, and birds. She cheerfully devotes her life to assisting pet owners in connecting with their animals through education, positive training and behavior modification techniques. "We have more to learn from our pets than we can ever teach them, but we can sure try.” Wendy adds.

Wendy’s education and experience in the field of human and animal behavior is both extensive and impressive. ABC not only values her influence and wisdom she imparts to the students she mentors, but is also immensely proud to have her as part of the ABC Mentor Trainer team.

To learn more about Pet Peeves Animal Training Inc., please visit:

For more information on The Pawsitive Life Foundation, please visit:


Deena Cooper, CAPPDT, IPDTA, APDT, IACP, ABC Mentor Trainer
2 Decades of Pet Communication & Doggy Tales

Toronto based Deena Cooper has had a long standing career and reputation in the world of dog obedience training. While it was not her first career choice, she has made it a life long vocation with 20 plus years in the industry. The witty and humorous Deena Cooper joked recently that the only thing she does professionally other than train dogs is act as a professional “perfume sniffer”. Funny as that may be, the truth is Deena keeps so busy in the world of dog training that she most likely doesn’t have much time to stop and “smell the roses”.. or even rose scented perfume!

Deena first knew she wanted to become a dog trainer when her vet discovered her natural ability to relate to dogs. She was only training for a short time when she knew she’d have a bright future in the industry based on great feedback from clients and positive results from the dogs she worked with! Deena has built her reputation on using a unique combination of positive reinforcement techniques along with her natural ability to communicate well with pets and their owners.

Deena has been a Mentor Trainer with Animal Behaviour College since 2008 and works with new ABC students on a regular basis. Her strong work ethic transcends to the students she mentors as well. She strives to make new students realize that it’s good to give as much info as possible to the clients in order to help get them off to the right start. In addition to being a mentor trainer for ABC, Deena offers Boarding and Walking, and Behaviour Modification training.


PJ Wangsness PDT, CPDT-KA
A Trainer with Compassionate Critters

Having worked as a paralegal, an executive director, the vice president of a major bank and even as an associate in health care, PJ’s professional resume is as extensive as it is impressive. Not to mention the fact that she has been training dogs full-time for over 30 years, and has always been involved with animals in some way throughout her life, even if it was a time at which she did not work with them specifically. Her compassion for humans is also vast. She was one of the engineers behind a project by the name of “Death with Dignity and Caring”, which was created to improve life care for the elderly and terminally ill.

Like most animal lovers, PJ grew up surrounded by four-legged critters, and was always drawn to the idea of working with them. By the age of 11, PJ had already trained her first mustang, and knew for a fact that training was in her future. What truly drove her to train animals was the desire to improve the relationships between pet owners and their animal companions. One of her main inspirations for pursuing what she was passionate about was her parents. She stated that they always encouraged her to follow her dreams, but never interfered with the path that she chose.

When PJ finally decided to leave the corporate world and pursue training full-time, she immediately began to educate herself and create her own style of dog training. Even when she was younger, she always recognized that all-positive training was the best way to teach animals and humans. She attended conferences and group training classes in order to get the amount of hours and experience needed to become a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, or, CPDT. To this day, in order to maintain her CPDT certification, she completes 4 continuing education credits per month.

Presently, she offers a wide array of training and animal care courses that cater to every type of dog, and every type of owner. Her services include first level classes for puppies, any age classes, classes that are engineered specifically for toy dog breeds, private lessons, specialty dog training courses, trick training classes, dance classes, CGC evaluations, and pet massage. She also offers a unique course titled “The Ultimate Passport to a Well-Behaved Dog”, which allows the owners that enroll to take trips out into the community with their dogs, and set goals to improve their focus and solve problems. She also does Chihuahua rescue and has consultations at shelters to create enrichment programs for shelter dogs.

For community service, she mentors teens, and is developing a therapy dog program for local hospices called “Compassionate Critters”.

PJ discovered Animal Behavior College through another trainer that she was working with, who had chosen to retire from the animal industry. When ABC approached her to possibly replace the trainer that had left, she agreed and has been working with the company for over 7 years. She has enjoyed her experience with all of the students that have come through her facility, as she enjoys helping new trainers expand their book knowledge. She teaches her students to think outside of the box, and enjoys pushing the envelope and having them experience problem solving situations.

She has learned through her experiences with the thirty three ABC students that she has worked with that each person has their own training style, and can achieve success as a trainer once they hone their skills and experience. PJ often recommends the ABC program because it gives potential trainers a good foundation in dog training, and is a great stepping stone to become involved in the field of animal training.

Currently, PJ lives in the valley with her family of rescued Chihuahuas, but trains in Reno, Lake Tahoe, Carson City, Portola, and in the surrounding areas.


Al and Jane Boeck
A Match Made in Doggie Heaven

A dynamic duo with a myriad of talents to share, ABC Mentor Trainers Al Boeck and his wife, Jane, give the gift of real-life experience to their ABC apprentices. Since 1992, the pair has successfully owned and operated their training company, Dog Obedience Group (D.O.G.), with the ultimate goal of “helping to keep dogs with behavior problems out of the local shelters and in the family by showing owners how to fix and prevent problems,” their website proclaims.

A native of Blue Springs, Missouri, Al was raised around a family of true dog lovers. He remembers going on evening walks with his father 50 years ago with their Schnocker (Schnauzer/Cocker mix). “My dad and I would walk the Schnocker at night the length of a long block, take his leash off and he would be waiting for us on the front step,” Al explains. When he grew up and became aware of the overabundance of unnecessarily homeless dogs, he was determined to do his part to rectify the problem. “So many dogs end up in shelters with fixable behavior issues,” he says. Through pet sitting, obedience showing, and obedience training, he transformed himself into a skilled and practiced dog trainer. He has been training professionally since 1984.

Born in Paris, France, Jane Boeck’s father was the Director of Tech Services with TWA and opened up the Paris airport after the war. “My very first dog was a Standard Poodle that we got in Paris France where I was born -- a real French poodle!” Jane says. “We brought him back to the states when I was two years old, so I’ve had dogs all my life.” A dog lover by blood, her maternal grandfather was also huge dog fan; “he was one of the first people in his rural farm town to not keep his dogs in the barn. They came inside with him!” she exclaims. She believes she got her love of dogs from him. She has been training dogs all her life, but has been teaching classes since 1986. Eventually moving on from Standard Poodles to Cocker Spaniels, she formerly showed in conformation. She has titled two dogs to date.

As fate would have it, fellow dog lovers Al and Jane met in Chicago 37 years ago because of a different common interest. They were both participants in road rallies. “Road rallies are big in Chicago. A car club would write instructions and drivers would attempt to follow them, play detective and try to get to the end of the obstacle course,” Jane explains. Both Al and Jane were both avid road rally competitors – they even earned a few trophies! After meeting at a Road Rally, the two got married 3 weeks later; they’re still married after 37 years. “Something must’ve been right!” Jane laughs. Her employment background is as an assistant; she has done assisting in the engineering field and even worked for the same engineering company as Al. They then decided to follow their dream of founding a dog training company… as a team. “We came home [to Missouri] and started our dog training business together. I don’t know many people who can do that and still be married after this many years,” Jane admits. “We get along really well -- neither of us could ever be with someone who didn’t love dogs.”

In 1992, Al and Jane formed their training company, Dog Obedience Group (D.O.G), with a definite and common goal. “We started DOG because there are way too many dogs in the shelters for fixable problems. It’s ridiculous! We are too much of a ‘throw-away’ society and an ‘instant’ society,” Jane says heatedly. She hopes to teach dog owners that because training really does pay off in the end, it’s worth the time and effort to have a life-long, obedience, enjoyable pet. “Dogs don’t get trained overnight, and they should be yours for life. They should not be thrown to the shelter on a whim.”

While Jane carries the title of training director of D.O.G., making lesson plans, evaluating instructors, teaching at least two classes a session and doing most of the private lessons, Al teaches obedience, clicker, rally, and trick classes, handles phone calls and questions, maintains the website, and helps with kennel duties. “It has been a team effort and we are now getting to the point where we have enough very good instructors so that we can just relax a little and let some other people run the school,” Al says. “We even took a two week vacation this year!” The two also stay up-to-date and attend conferences in order to give their clients, their dogs, and their ABC apprentices the most current, well-rounded training information and advice. “Jane has been instrumental in adding classes or changing the way we do things – we recently made a major change in the way we teach puppy class after she attended an Ian Dunbar ‘Sirius Puppy’ seminar,” Al explains.

Since being hired by ABC as Mentor Trainers in January of 2006, Al and Jane have mentored several ABC apprentices, each one coming away with a newfound understanding of obedience training. Despite having learned how to train “the old-fashioned way, with years of hands-on practice and a few bites,” Al enthusiastically agrees with ABC’s plight. “At first I had some reservations,” he says, “but the ABC program seems to prepare their students to be very good trainers in a relatively short time.” They attest to having fun with their ABC apprentices, and they’ve met some interesting individuals throughout their experience. “One of the ABC apprentices didn’t have a dog, so she had to borrow one,” says Al, “but she did have six elephants! She was an elephant handler at the Kansas City Zoo.”

Both Al and Jane play a major role in the educations of these aspiring trainers, assisting in molding them into positive, understanding, and prepared professionals.

For more information on Al, Jane, and D.O.G., please visit


Jamie Bozzi, CPDT, ABC Mentor Trainer
Striving for Excellence

With dog training role models such as Ian Dunbar, Jean Donaldson, Pat Miller and Pam Dennison, it’s no surprise that ABC Mentor Trainer Jamie Bozzi aptly passes on the gift of positive reinforcement training methods to her apprentices. Her charitable nature, vast ability and keen knowledge of the ever-changing training industry render her priceless to the ABC team.

Like many other professional dog trainers, Jamie didn’t pursue a career in dog training until she had already worked in a different field for several years; she has a Bachelor’s degree in Liberal Arts and previously did legal and administrative work. It wasn’t until seven years ago that she aspired to donate her time to a charitable cause and consequently fell into the training groove. “I always wanted to do volunteer work, but could never decide exactly what type,” she says. Since she grew up in a family of animal lovers, her desire to contribute naturally gravitated toward four-legged recipients. “Through therapy dog training, I discovered how much I enjoyed not only working with my dogs, but building our relationship. The unique bond that developed during this training inspired me to develop my training skills and become a dog trainer.”

After attending the San Francisco SPCA Dog Academy and apprenticing under a trainer in her area, Jamie founded her training company, SmrtDog, and began accepting clients in the San Diego, California area. She has been training full time ever since, teaching everything from Basic Obedience classes to specialty classes such as Hollywood Hounds and Canine Good Citizen. She also teaches basic agility and raves about the effectiveness of Clicker Training -- “Since dogs don’t speak English and we don’t speak Dog, the clicker is a wonderful communication tool,” she says.

Although Jamie boasts an impressive resume, she recognizes that the animal business is perpetually growing and she adjusts her education accordingly. “Education is a life-long process,” she explains. “I continually build my knowledge by attending seminars, lectures, conferences and staying current on the latest dog training and behavior research. I’m always learning new ways to educate people and dogs.” Her commitment to canine education shines brightly and greatly benefits her apprentices, her clients and their dogs. She devotes special attention to establishing a successful working relationship between dog and owner. “It’s so important to set both dog and owner up for success. People who play with their dogs stay with their dogs. My favorite success stories are those moments when the light bulb goes on for both dog and owner,” she says.

Since being contacted and hired by ABC in 2004, Jamie has excelled as a Mentor Trainer and has skillfully laid the foundation for her apprentices’ training careers. The eagerness of her apprentices to soak up as much knowledge as possible gives her inspiration. “ABC students are very willing to learn and are open to new ideas,” she explains. “In addition, they come from very diverse backgrounds. I think that this diversity really brings a lot to the program.” She agrees that although real-life experience is essential, having a capable mentor is immensely influential. “I enjoy watching young trainers develop their skills and grow,” she says. “Although nothing can replace lots and lots of hands-on experience, a mentor can help guide students in the right direction. Throughout my career, I’ve had mentors that were very supportive and nurturing; it’s so important to be supportive in an ever-changing and growing field.” Jamie persistently serves as a guide to her ABC apprentices, and the advice, attention and training she provides are invaluable to their new careers as professional dog trainers.

Years of experience have taught Jamie that one of the most essential aspects of dog training is connecting with the people, and not just their dogs. She graciously passes this wisdom on to her apprentices in hopes of assisting them in building a career with a solid foundation. “I try to convey to ABC students that you not only must be skillful with dogs, but you must also be an educator/teacher to the owners. The owner is the one who lives and interacts with the dog; he/she must not only see the techniques working, but he/she must also be able to implement them easily at home,” she explains. “The dog/owner relationship is built on trust and mutual respect. I think it’s a dog trainer’s job to help foster that very special relationship.”

In Jamie’s words, the key to success in the world of dog training is “educating yourself, really knowing your stuff, being kind to dogs and fair to clients.” By passing on this knowledge to her ABC apprentices, Jamie Bozzi benevolently gives them the tools they need to kick-start their careers as professional dog trainers. She is an asset to the ABC team.

For more about Jamie and SmrtDog, please visit


Marsha Houston, ABC Mentor Trainer
A Country Dream Come True

Marsha Houston, ABC Mentor Trainer and agility enthusiast, attributes most of her dog training know-how to the time she spent 10 years ago learning with an apt mentor – her Aussie puppy, Banner. “Banner taught me everything I need to know about training a dog. She was a marvelous trainer,” Marsha raves. Banner, appropriately named due to her red and white coat and blue eyes, came to her as a puppy in 1996. “I wasn’t allowed to train her with my training club until she was six months old. In the meantime, I trained her at home with no collar and no leash, just her walking beside me for treats.” This exercise in trust gave their relationship a strong foundation based on respect and adoration.

However, when Banner finally reached six months of age and was allowed to attend classes, the training style that she had become accustomed to was ripped out from under her paws. “The first thing they did when I took her to class was fit her with a choke collar,” Marsha reminisces, “and the instructor would scream at me for not popping her leash when she didn’t keep up with me while heeling.” She saw Banner’s spirit begin to fade. “I said to the trainer, ‘did you notice that the enthusiastic puppy I had with me when I first started is gone, and now I have this puppy who’s lagging and who looks insulted every time I pop her leash?’ I went home that night, threw away the choke chain, and put on the regular buckle collar.” Even though the training style of that particular instructor was incongruent with what Marsha believed in, she became hooked on the idea of going to obedience classes and meeting dog people. “It changed my whole outlook on what dog training was,” Marsha explains. She has been training formally for the past 11 years, and hasn’t strayed from her preferred all-positive training methods.

Marsha was born in Defiance, Ohio, and grew up right outside of Ohio in Williamstown, West Virginia. A graduate of West Virginia University, Marsha boasts a degree in Journalism, but has never been employed as a journalist. “In order to work as a journalist, you have to move to a big city and work for a big newspaper. That’s not what I wanted to do with my life,” Marsha says. She lived in West Virginia for 45 years and worked in the office of Fenton Art Glass Company for 25 of those years before moving to central Ohio to train full-time.

About three months ago, Marsha and her husband, agility icon Bud Houston, bought a property from her parents and moved out to a small town near Marietta, Ohio to live out a relaxing retirement. She and Bud bought the 28-acre property from her parents, who were getting older and needed help with its upkeep. “It all came together. We were thinking of retiring, they were wondering what to do with this place. It all worked out,” Marsha explains. Although they still intend to retire, they moved to their new home for other reasons, too – to pursue their common dream of opening “Bud’s Country Dream” agility camp and training facility.

One night a week, Marsha conducts several levels of obedience classes, including basic obedience, advanced obedience, and competition-style obedience. In addition to her already packed schedule, she also takes care of nine canine companions, and prides herself in keeping her house as pristinely clean as possible, considering the circumstances. “I am a clean freak,” Marsha admits. “The best compliment you can give me is, ‘I can’t believe there are nine dogs living in this house!’ I work hard for that everyday.”

When ABC contacted Marsha to become a Mentor Trainer in 2005, she admits that she was flattered to be considered. She liked the all-positive training style that ABC teaches its students, and passed the Mentor Trainer exam with flying colors. Since becoming an ABC Mentor Trainer, she has mentored over 15 students and “the experience has been wonderful,” she says. “The students have been very refreshing and fun. The typical obedience class student is just somebody with a family pet; an ABC student will stay after class to talk about things, how they would have handled certain training situations. It’s more like having associates rather than students; they’re people I can bounce ideas off of. It’s always nice to sit down with somebody who has the same interests.” She even goes above and beyond by scheduling extra classes for students with busy schedules. “They want to change their lives and go out and help other people. I will create classes so they get the experience they need,” she explains.

Marsha challenges her ABC students in real-life situations to prepare them for their careers in training. “I think an obedience instructor should have grace under fire, and the only way to learn grace under fire is to decide to believe in yourself,” she says. “So what I do with ABC students is, I teach them how to be poised when faced with questions being fired at them. I have my students face the class; they may have had time to prepare for it, they may not.” She believes that this high-pressure scenario is very true to real life. “As an obedience instructor, people will stop you at the grocery store or the gas station and ask you questions you’ve never heard and you have to know how to handle them,” she explains.

When asked what advice Marsha would give to aspiring trainers, she was full of inspiration. “What I discovered by watching Bud and being around him is, if you want it, you can do it, and if you do it well, people will come back and ask for you again,” she says. “The thing about being a dog trainer for a living is that you have got to figure out what customers are looking for and streamline your program to go right into what they’re looking for. You can’t pigeon-hold yourself or limit yourself in any way. You have to say, ‘if I want to do this for a living, I have to devote myself to it entirely.’ You’ve got to be there – do whatever that customer base is looking for.”

With a plethora of knowledge and training wisdom to bestow upon her apprentices, Marsha Houston is an inspirational and influential mentor trainer. We’re proud to have her as an essential part of the ABC team.

For more information on “Bud’s Country Dream” agility camp and training facility, please visit


Wendy Appleton, ABC Mentor Trainer
Teacher, Trainer, Mentor

ABC graduate and Mentor Trainer Wendy Appleton may have a Bachelor’s degree in elementary education, but she exercises her teaching skills on a different type of student -- the four-legged kind.

Studying elementary education taught Wendy that learning is a sensitive process, and that not everyone absorbs information in the same manner. “I was taught to approach problems in different ways, because not everyone learns the same,” Wendy said. Several years ago, she signed up obedience classes with her deaf Dalmatian, Buddy. She observed a trainer utilizing negative reinforcement to train a four-month-old Boxer puppy. The stubborn puppy was refusing to walk on a leash. Instead of positively encouraging him, the trainer dragged him around on a leash and ultimately resorted to using a prong collar. Wendy cringed and questioned the necessity of such methods. “There were no provisions made in the learning style. I thought to myself, ‘there has to be a different way to train,’” she said.

Volunteering at a local shelter was Wendy’s first window into the world of dog training. She responded to an advertisement on a local cable channel in search of volunteers for the Animal Rescue League (ARL) of New Hampshire, located in Bedford. Starting off as a dog walker and socializer, she even joined the “Pet Step” festival committee, where she helped to organize the annual dog-walk-a-thon event to raise money for the shelter. She used her time there to soak up all of the knowledge she possibly could. “I found out the manager of the shelter was an amazing trainer. I picked his brain constantly,” she said. “Every week I would go in and ask him another question.” She even attempted to initiate a “No Bark Zone” program to keep the dogs calm and quiet when potential adopters entered the shelter. Even though the limited staff and large amount of dogs kept the program from being successful, Wendy was given the opportunity to work a little more freely with the shelter dogs as a result. She took every chance she could to not only practice her own skills, but to give the shelter dogs some well-needed attention. “I saw wonderful dogs being given up because people couldn’t find a way or weren’t shown a way to have their dogs become the best dogs they can be,” she explained.

Meanwhile, Wendy was working in telecommunications and had just graduated from college with a Bachelor’s degree. Although she was prepared for a career in teaching, she was unable to find a job close to her home. After her eye-opening training experience, she felt that becoming a dog trainer was “a natural progression; I couldn’t find kids to teach, so I went to dogs and people!” She researched online and found ABC’s website. She read the biographies of the contributing authors and staff members and was very impressed. The convenient home-study format and the invaluable hands-on training convinced Wendy that ABC was the right school for her. “My problem was that as an adult with a real job, I couldn’t just give up my real life and go to dog training school, plus pay tuition. I liked the fact that ABC is a home-study program, and you can do it at your own pace.” She was even able to train for a new job in health insurance while studying to become a dog trainer.

Wendy graduated from the ABC Obedience Instructor Program in 2002 and began training part-time, teaching both private lessons and group classes. She was recruited by ABC as a Mentor Trainer in 2003. Since becoming a mentor, she has mentored approximately fifteen ABC students in and around the Bedford, New Hampshire area. Wendy works with students in a “shelter” format, meaning she meets with them at the ARL and other local shelters and works with them and the dogs there on basic obedience and problem solving. Not only does this benefit the students by giving them valuable hands-on experience; because of the hard work and dedication of her and her apprentices, she has watched many newly-improved dogs find happy, permanent homes. Both shelters also appreciate the help, and love having more people to work with the dogs. “They have been very open to both me and my apprentices,” Wendy explained.

Showing her apprentices the power of positive training is rewarding in many ways. “I had one apprentice who had taken her dog to a compulsive trainer before beginning the ABC program. She didn’t believe the positive methods would work,” Wendy said. “The very first time she laid her hands on a dog, she did a leash pop.” Wendy showed her a non-abrasive way to fix the problem in which the dog actually corrected himself. “Afterwards, she said, ‘wow, that was easy! It was easy for me and him too!’” Wendy admits to having chosen an all-positive training program for this reason. “I loved watching her have that ‘wow!’ factor, and watching the progress of not only the shelter dogs but her own dogs,” she said. “The joy she had in working with her own dog and the joy he had working with her was inspiring; they had lost their connection and regained it.”

“The variety of apprentices is my favorite part – the diversity of their backgrounds, and why they want to add training to their repertoire,” she said. “I’ve mentored veterinary technicians and groomers who simply want to handle dogs better, people who want to own their own businesses, horse trainers who have become dog trainers. They all bring something with them, and it’s helped me to become a better trainer.” Wendy continues to stay in contact with many of her former apprentices.

Wendy proudly boasts, “I have learned as much from my apprentices as I hope they’ve learned from me! I have found [mentoring] to be very, very beneficial to me; it keeps me grounded, and keeps me remembering what’s important. A lot of times when you run a group class with family pets, the clients don’t always challenge you. The apprentices keep me honest; they ask me questions and make me go back and think about my answer. I love watching them succeed, and I love watching them interact with the dogs and know that they can make a difference.”

Even though she is in the process of opening her own training school, Wendy continues to mentor ABC students, teach group classes and private lessons, volunteer for the ARL and balance a full-time career in health insurance. How does she do it? “The dogs keep me sane,” she said. “Dog training is a stress relief.” With her amazing ability to balance it all and still maintain a jubilant demeanor, Wendy Appleton is an invaluable member of the ABC team.