Positive Training Basics

People watch me train dogs and they think it looks pretty easy. I take that as a compliment. If you’re doing it right, it should look easy. It flows, it’s fun, it’s seemingly quick. In the past few months, I’ve been working closely with a large group of folks, trying to impart some basic concepts about positive dog training. Connecting with such a variety of folks has emphasized three foundational concepts for me.

Safe relationships

Positive training is first and foremost about cultivating a positive relationship. The old adage that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care is true! Even the most defensive of humans begin opening up when given respect and encouragement.

With dogs this is also true in the sense that ability to learn to wrapped up with their sense of security. A fearful dog may behave “less” (i.e. do the minimum required to stay out of trouble). However in comparison to a confident dog experiencing freedom from fear or intimidation, their learning is very obviously stunted.

Play is powerful

Another important concept adults tend to take for granted is that Play is Powerful! One of the classes I’m teaching starts off with an activity wherein human students pretend to be dogs. What sounds like a very pointless exercise has brought out the silly in even the most stoic of personalities. Everyone laughs when we play this game. And it turns out laughing, or having fun, is critical to learning.

Watch one dog play group and this concept becomes a no-brainer. Dogs love to play, and for shelter dogs they play to live. Play keeps dogs healthy and sane, even when the rest of their life sucks. There’s plenty of learning going on between a group of unfamiliar dogs romping around together. A side-eye, a back offering, a wide berth, a pair of dogs mirroring. There’s a lot of communication going on between the dogs about what is appropriate and what is not. They are their best teachers and play groups are the best classrooms.

Words matter

Although our words are nonsense to dogs until we assign meaning to them, our words are nonetheless important. Humans, if not obsessed with words, are certainly greatly influenced by them. Words influence our emotions, which are the foundation of our thoughts, which turn into our actions. There is a canyon-sized difference between negative self-talk and positive self-talk. The latter leads to emotional peace, encouraging thought patterns, and kind actions. It’s hard to be a good teacher or student without peace, encouragement and kindness.

Our words matter to dogs. It’s all mostly background noise to them, save for the few words that mean good or bad things are about to happen. But our words matter because they influence how we teach and lead them. I don’t have to be mean or nasty to get good manners from my dog. I don’t have to be harsh or threatening to prevent my dog from embarrassing me. In fact, quite the opposite is true. The kinder, more compassionate my self-talk, the more creative and compliant of a dog I’ve been able to cultivate. Words matter because they shape how we show up for others – humans and animals alike.

No Dogs on the Bed

Do you have a spouse who says, “No dogs on the bed?” I used to. Don’t worry, we’re still married. But (to use some training jargon!) I was able to desensitize him to it.

Full confession, I was actually the one who started this. When we bought our first house I implemented a new rule: “No dogs on the furniture.” This actually worked out well for my Lucy, who frequently flailed in an arthritic disaster when attempting to jump on or off the furniture. But for my dog Beamer, this was a nightmare (a story I will tell at another time).

My decision wasn’t based on preserving my old dog’s joints – although this was an added benefit. It was out of sheer laziness. I was sick of vacuuming the sofas every week. You see, I’m allergic to dogs. Dog fur on everything generally makes me more sick, more often. But I’ve lived with dogs my whole life and managed. No, the real reason was I did not want to be the one vacuuming the sofa all the time.

There was also a little vanity in there. We were saving up to buy our lovely, custom furniture. Though we bought the extra protection plan, I didn’t want anything to happen to our latest investment. Looking back, I feel like an a**hole for abruptly changing my old dogs’ lives this way.

Flash forward a few years and the hubs had grown pretty accustomed to this house rule. When I brought the new puppy home though, I had a case of the guilty itches. I didn’t want this dog – or any future dogs – banned from the furniture. Sure, there was an orthopedic foam bed for the four-legged nugget in every, single, room. I’m talking, kitchen, bedroom, offices, etc. But dog is family. And by gosh, family sits on the furniture.

Besides, where was I going to cuddle the snuggle-pup? Surely, not on a dog bed. I’m allergic! And who would keep me company in my oversized bed when the hubs is away on business? Dog is the only appropriate response here.

So, this is how I changed our house rules and how I got the hubby to like them… I started letting the dog on the furniture ONLY if she was on a blanket. Sure, there were times I was the blanket. Ryan would look at me and say “No dogs on the furniture, eh?”

“She’s not on the furniture. She’s on me.” I’d quip. He’d eye roll and walk away.

She started sleeping on the bed while he was away, neatly situated on top of a sheet to cover our precious bedding. I taught the pup a cue for jumping off furniture – “Floor.” This came in handy the few times she jumped up without being invited. That’s when I could see the veins in Ryan’s forehead start to bulge. But I’d kindly ask “Floor!” And the smart puppy complied.

One night while we were eating dinner out, Ryan blurted out his pent up frustration. The puppy had been home for months. And he was finally telling me what he really felt about the dog on the furniture. He hated it.

I listened quietly as he unloaded. They taught me this in sales (and oddly enough in marriage counseling, too). I listened for his underlying concerns. He was talking about the dog on the furniture, but what really got under his skin were my actions – not the dogs. Changing the rules without asking him made him feel like I didn’t care about his emotions or opinions. Like I’d made some sweeping decision that impacted both of us without taking him into consideration. Fair enough. I’d be just as peeved if the tables were turned.

So, I apologized. And then I compromised. I said, “if this really upsets you so much, then we will teach the puppy she longer has access to the furniture.” He was silent, so I continued. “But we have to be consistent.” I paused again for effect. “We both have to be consistent. Neither of us can invite her on the furniture anymore.” He looked around and then nodded his head.

Two days later I found this under Ryan’s jacket *on our beloved sofa!* when I came home from work.

I called out to Ryan some version of a “What tha hell?” He smiled coyly as he shrugged it off. “She tucked herself in like that,” he insisted. Jokes on mom. Dad actually doesn’t mind the dog on the furniture anymore.

You see, the reason I emphasized “consistency” when I made my peace offering is because as a dog trainer, I know that consistency is a huge piece of the learning puzzle. But also, I had flashes in my head of all the times I’d caught Ryan inviting the dog on the couch. Heck, sometimes he was the one snuggling her on the sofa! And I suppose that was the straw that broke the camel’s resolve on this one. He enjoyed snuggling her too much to go back to the way things were.

If you live with a spouse who says, “No dogs on the bed,” you have your work cut out for you. I was once that spouse. Had Ryan tried to do what I did to him in this situation, I would have fought him on it. Unless he offered to vacuum the furniture every now and then. We all have our reasons for wanting to keep the dogs off the furniture. I used to think dogs on the furniture meant you are competing for alpha status – How stupid! But having walked in both sets of shoes, I can attest that (even being allergic to dogs) life is better with dogs on the bed.

That time I almost didn’t but I’m glad I did: my continuing education experiences as a professional dog trainer and shelter worker

Six days. Two workshops. Glorious amounts of wisdom shared. Mind blown.

That pretty much sums up how I’m feeling as I curl up into my Marriott hotel room tonight. I’m smiling as I recover from the rollercoaster of emotions that I go through at every conference, workshop or class I attend. I smile because I know. I am one of the lucky ones. Who after more than 30 years of soul searching, gets to do what I love and love what I do.

Two years ago I made the decision to become a professional animal trainer. I’d been working in shelters and with animals for more than a decade, but had always been pressured to find a “more professional” career. Fast forward to today, and I’m firmly on the path that was always meant for me.

The journey is as exhausting as it is invigorating. Tonight, for instance, my thoughts are buzzing like little freight trains of information from my latest continuing education experience.

Two nights ago, I arrived in Jersey for Michael Shikashio‘s & Trish McMillan Loehr‘s Working with Aggressive Dogs Workshop. I’m happy to say that I’m taking home some practical defensive handling techniques to share with my inner circles. But the topics that stand out tonight are not so dog-focused.

The last 24 hours leading up to my flight here, I seriously considered bailing. I was tired, per usual. But mostly, I was anxious. I had this moderately reasonable fear that while at the workshop I would either A) run into a former colleague turned bully (or one of her friends) or B) meet yet another trainer that manages to chip away at my confidence. I call these reasonable fears because they’re based on past experiences that were very real. But luckily, these past experiences happen to be the exception not the rule.

Despite my anxiety, I boarded my flight. It turned out, as it most often does, that no one at this workshop was out to get me (or out to get anyone else). Instead, in attendance were some genuinely intriguing, kind-hearted, and generous people. Every body there was in some shape or form a “dog person.” Whether they called themselves trainers, shelter workers, dog parents, or something else. And what I love about being in a crowd of dog people is that I can always find a mix of passion, reason, goodwill, and creativity. With, of course, a dash of crazy.

Conferences and workshops can be overwhelming for me because I struggle with anxiety. At the same time, I enjoy the challenge of facing my largely social-based fears. One of the tactics that helps me cope in social settings is focusing on the people around me. By taking a genuine interest in others, my anxious thoughts are forced to take a backseat while I learn something new (and sometimes in the process, make a new friend!).

This workshop was no different because there were a lot of people different from me, which meant a lot of opportunity to learn! I connected with one girl over her “Do No Harm” Victoria Stilwell Brand shirt, and engaged in some emotionally-charged debates with others over animal sheltering. During the hands-on activities, I got to practice coaching others kindly. And likewise got coached by others in what I was doing with my body and what I could do differently.

Safe to say there were plenty of aha!-moments. Sometimes it was the confirmation that something I have been doing at work is indeed right! And other times, it was the realization that I still have a lot to work on. <sigh> But the most exciting moments were when something new-to-me “clicked” into the framework of my current role. That moment when I could see exactly how this was applicable to my shelter, my animals, and my people.

Occasionally, there were some “off” moments, too. You know, those times when two people butt heads in a very public way. Or when someone asked a question that felt way out of left field. Or, for me, the several times I tended to get ahead of myself by asking questions that were more advanced than the scope of the workshop. (Yes, I’m always THAT person in every class).

All that to say that I am completely blown away. I’m thrilled with the education I get to take with me and apply in my everyday work. I’m excited about staying in touch with some of the talented people I met. And most of all, I’m grateful. Grateful beyond words. That I have the support systems to push through my fears, so that I can show up well to experiences like this. Experiences that better equip me to improve the lives of animals and the people that love them.

So, my takeaways from this workshop (aside from all the dog-related takeaways I’m not mentioning in this post) are:

  1. Don’t let one bad experience keep you from a thousand positive ones
  2. Take genuine interest in others because it’s good for you and good for the world
  3. Always remember that you don’t know it all
  4. Stay humble and stay hungry for knowledge
  5. And when it comes to being a professional dog trainer, “Stay. In. Your. Lane.”

Ok, maybe that last one was dog-related. But what can I say? My life revolves around dogs.

Stay tuned for reflections from my Maddie’s Fund Foster Dog Apprenticeship! Spoiler alert: I left bursting with inspiration.

Speaking from experience: Fear, trigger-stacking & punishment

Exactly seven days into vacation I had an anxiety attack. Honestly, I saw this coming. I usually do. Several years ago I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, one that I’ve spent most of my life dealing with. I don’t talk about it much because mental health issues are still stigmatized. And when it comes to PTSD, it seems like only the military-variety is taken seriously.

I’ve come to terms with this in recent years. Although I spent most of my life wishing I were normal and feeling angry about the traumas I was subjected to, I now see the silver lining: my victories are that much sweeter. More things than most people realize are very challenging for someone haunted by trauma. There are times when the simple act of walking down to my kitchen to grab a glass of water in the middle of the night is terrifying. A pretty shocking thought for most that know me. These days, I have a good handle on my anxiety and am pretty adept at managing my fears.

I’ve also been able to take things a step further and slowly conquer some of my more extreme fears, like my fear of heights and water. This week the hubs decided to take matters into his own hands and surprise me with an all day whitewater rafting trip. The problem was that he first told me it was a lazy river float trip.

Trigger by trigger

Once we arrived in Colorado, he filled me in on the real details of our trip. This was the start of a series of stressors that led to my anxiety attack. In animal behavioral science, we often refer to this as trigger stacking. The reason I’m writing about this here is that trigger-stacking can happen to any animal. In fact, I’m confident it happens to our own companion animals more often than we realize.

When I found out about whitewater rafting, I had mixed feelings. But the closer we got to the trip, the more I just felt scared. I created a lot of unnecessary pressure in mind about whitewater rafting, including some irrational thought patterns that aren’t worth getting into. What is relevant to this post is the fact that I ignored the very obvious signs that I wasn’t ready to go whitewater rafting. My thoughts were racing, my body tense, and I had a mini-meltdown the night before. Yet I insisted on getting up in the morning and heading out to the whitewater outfitter. When we arrived, I couldn’t hide or ignore my fear anymore. I literally froze. Couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t move a muscle. And when my husband asked me if I was okay, I couldn’t speak.

Deconstructing the stack

Looking back, I can easily point to all the triggers that led up to my anxiety attack:

  • Lack of sleep (I don’t sleep well in general and less so in hotels)
  • Lack of adequate nutrition (elevation had zapped my appetite and I wasn’t eating enough food)
  • Catastrophizing (telling myself that bailing on the activity would be the end of the world)
  • Work stress (yep! followed me even on vacation)
  • Communication breakdowns (the inability to just say out loud “I don’t want to go”)
  • Snapping at my husband as I was getting ready that morning (both a result of my anxiety and a compounder of it)
  • The 90 minute high-speed drive through the mountains on the way there (I am also terrified of heights and get motion sickness easily)

You may notice that some of the triggers I listed seem obvious, because they chip away at very basic animal needs (see Maslow’s hierarchy of needs which is also applicable to humans). But others might be more difficult for someone else to identify. The thing with trigger stacking is that we all have different triggers, and what may be triggering to one isn’t triggering to another.

In discussing my anxiety attack after the fact with my husband, we both acknowledged that in life we have two entirely different experiences. Without communicating, we both have a hard time knowing what the other person is going through. We’re also really bad at guessing where the other person’s thresholds are in a given moment. As in dogs,thresholds are always changing. So, one of the best things we’ve agreed to do for our relationship is to believe the other person’s account of their experience.

Another thing we’ve decided to do in terms of future adventures is to let me go at my own pace, which means involving me in the process from the beginning. No more trying to help me by surprising me with whitewater rafting, scuba diving, bungee jumping, etc. Sure, it isn’t fun for me to admit that I’m the kind of person that needs to manage my triggers before attempting any of these cool activities. But I’ve lived too long apologizing for the ways in which trauma shaped my brain. Surprisingly, Ryan isn’t mad or annoyed that I’m “not more adventurous.” His only beef with my fear is the fear itself. He genuinely doesn’t judge me for battling them every day. He just wishes I didn’t have to.

Why am I sharing all this? Well, at one point in our conversation Ryan joked “so, you’re a lot like Hope about these things, aren’t you?” Hope is our one year old dog who has recently begun barking defensively at strangers that surprise her or give her the heebie jeebies. She’s always been timid about new things, and that’s our fault for not focusing on socializing her after we adopted her at 4-5 months. As a young puppy, she would just freeze and seemingly tolerate what was happening around her. Now that she’s older she’s started barking. And if she feels frightened enough, she’ll bark herself into a defensive frenzy.

When fear rears its ugly head

When this started happening I had to try to explain to my husband what Hope was experiencing. Most people react to this kind of behavior by shutting down the barking with harsh corrections (intimidation); some may even resort to force or pain. I had to explain to Ryan in terms he could understand why we don’t do that. If we were hiking on the side of a mountain cliff and I started freaking out – let’s say, crying and screaming – and Ryan responded by yelling at me, then I may stop crying and screaming. But I wouldn’t feel any less afraid than I did before.

It doesn’t take a history of trauma for an animal to understand that intimidation is a threat to one’s safety. Take a threatening situation (heights) and add in another threat (man yelling at me), regardless of my behavior, I’m going to feel even more overwhelmed than if I were only being threatened on one level. Ryan seemed to understand this and he’s been on board with a different approach to Hope’s reactivity.

What’s more important is that he’s starting to understand what trigger stacking can look like for our dog. Let’s say he comes home from a long day of meetings and all he wants to do is to take the dog on a leisurely walk. On arrival, he is greeted by a wiggly, playful dog, so he thinks she is up for the same. But then we he steps off our stoop, our dog loses it by barking defensively (a lay person may say “aggressively”). The kids playing in the cul de sac seem to have set her off. Angry, embarrassed and frustrated, Ryan turns back into the house where Hope calms down.

At first glance, he may think she hates kids and was triggered by the sight/sound of them in the street. But what he doesn’t realize is that the landscapers had been by earlier, then our neighbor’s dog broke through their invisible fence, then the UPS guy banged on the front door. Meanwhile, Hope had been sleeping in her crate when she was initially startled. She had already blown through the puzzles we left for her, so she had nothing to distract her from these triggers. And because they happened back to back, she got no time to decompress from either of them. They just built one on top of the other. By the time Ryan got home, she was one trigger away from “losing it.”

I’ve yet to meet a human that hasn’t had a similarly trigger-stacking kind of day in their life. We’ve all experienced this perfect storm of stressors at some point.

Of course, the obvious solution is to avoid trigger stacking altogether. But in real life, we don’t always do a good job of this (hello, whitewater rafting!). So, what should we do when shit hits the fan and we find ourselves in the middle of our own or someone else’s trigger stacking meltdown? Good question! First, let me start by telling you what NOT to do.

The problem with punishment

In the case of whitewater rafting, a bad idea would have been to suit me up and physically put me on a raft. Sound ridiculous? Well, I’ve been forced through scenarios like this in the past and seen others forced through the same (an approach called “flooding”). The results for me were heightened fears and a deepening despair brought on by the invalidation of a very real-to-my-body fear. Similarly, I think we can intensify fears in our dogs and deepen distrust by forcing them through things they are fearful of.

In the case of Hope barking defensively at kids, a bad idea would have been for Ryan to yell harshly at her, snap her leash or bop her on the nose (i.e. “correct” or punish the undesirable behavior). I’ve known pet parents, and even been one, that took this approach. Punishing Hope in these ways will not alleviate the fear and could easily plant seeds of distrust towards Ryan.

Sadly, I have a lot of experience with these ineffective approaches. My parents, like many others, thought this was the way you “deal” with undesirable behavior. It’s a very old-school approach to toughening kids up or teaching them to “act right.” Oddly enough, I still come across parents (to both humans and dogs) that sing praises for these violent methods. Sure, it may be forceful and leverage intimidation. “But it works!” they always tell me. Well, yes, it DOES work. For the time being. But what these folks fail to realize is that the suppression of behavior through force or intimidation is always temporary.

In other words, you can’t permanently change behavior without transforming the underlying emotion. When it comes to fear, you run the very real risk of intensifying it if you fail to transform it. Fear also has a knack for generalizing and becoming bigger and badder than anything even experts can tackle.

I say transform the fear because to address it is not enough. You can address fear by punishing it. Slap me in the face for crying and you’ve communicated that my crying is not acceptable. But that doesn’t give me anything positive or more functional to replace my fear with. You may have stopped the crying this time around, but I guarantee you, there will be other undesirable behavior (stemming from the underlying fear) to deal with later. Now that I know it’s not safe to cry, I’ll probably choose something even less desirable in your mind as a coping mechanism for that fear (like those times I tried running away at ages 5 and 7). And if you punished me harshly, I guarantee you just made my fears that much worse.

Speaking from experience

For example, the first time I was slapped for “throwing a tantrum” about something that genuinely terrified me, I froze. But I was born with a lot of fight in me. And it wasn’t long before my response to physical punishment, even as a small child, was to fight back. And do you know what happens when the one you’re trying to control with punishment fights back? You have to get bigger, louder, more intimidating, more forceful to get the same results. In effect, you become more abusive.

This is true when working with animals, too. I was lucky that my first dogs, the ones I subjected to these traditional training methods, responded by shutting down. But I’ve since worked with dogs that respond much like I do. They fight back. And damn well they should. If you take any animal – human or otherwise – and scare them, force them or hurt them, you are triggering some very hard-wired instincts to survive. And while survival may take the form of flight or freeze, it may also take the form of fight. That’s why some big name “trainers” get bit hard and often.

As someone who spent their childhood under attack while simultaneously being told that it was “all in your head,” I no longer have it in me to trivialize that fear factor in the animals I work with. My fear and fearful behavior kept me from a worse fate. So, I can’t blame my dog, who doesn’t know any better, for feeling fear and acting accordingly. It’s my job to mitigate her fear and in the long run, help transform it into something better. That’s not to say that I can make my dog like every little thing she is fearful of. I don’t love everything I used to be scared of. But I can certainly help her gain confidence and be at peace where she was otherwise afraid.

What should you do when shit hits the fan? You or your dog have just been trigger stacked. In terms of practical resources for behavior modification in both fearful humans and fearful dogs, there are a lot of good resources already out there (linked throughout this post & listed below). What I can offer from years of battling trauma-induced fears is anecdotal advice that works for me (and my dog, too!):

  • Validate the emotions (what you or they are feeling is real regardless of what you think about it)
  • Alleviate any pressure (check judgments at the door, remember that life isn’t perfect, and know that sometimes shit hits the fan)
  • Locate and utilize an escape route (get out of the immediately triggering situation if possible or increase distance from your triggers)
  • Employ self-soothing techniques (for me that’s things like breathing exercises, prayer, getting out in nature, and eventually, writing).
  • Take the day off (give yourself space to recover from the mental, emotional and physical jarring that comes with trigger stacking and anxiety attacks)
  • Take time to reflect (don’t beat yourself up for what’s happened, but definitely think about any takeaways that you can use to your advantage in the future)
  • Set yourself up to succeed (for me after whitewater rafting that was going SUPing on a small lake where I could have fun and also remember that I have it in me to conquer my fears)
  • Surround yourself with positive people (the kind that won’t judge you or beat you up for what’s happened but instead remind you of your worth and abilities)

Dogs are not little humans 

On a final note, I want to point out one important concept. More and more in the dog world, we are realizing that a lot of problems stem from our anthropomorphism of dogs (and animals in general). For instance, we create a terrible and misinformed dynamic when we assume our dogs misbehaved out of spite. Dogs simply don’t think like that; their emotions as far as science currently understands are far more basic.

Fear on the other hand is a very real and raw emotion felt by all animals. It’s intrinsically linked to survival. My purpose in sharing my experience with life-threatening and chronic fear is to provide insight into what it’s like to live like that. There are a lot of things that might scare our dogs that we think shouldn’t. We may think things like, “why is Fluffy freaking out? Gosh, she’s so dramatic!”

When we fail to respect their fear, however, we put our dogs in a position that few people have had the misfortune of experiencing. One where the dog is surrounded by controllers (their parents, trainers, caregivers) that ignore, punish and exacerbate those fears. I know what it’s like to live like that, surrounded by people that invalidate, punish and multiply my fears. By sharing my experience, I hope to provide understanding where animals need it most, and hopefully make it so that less dogs (and people) have to live that way.

Additional resources:

Have you ever had a trigger stacking moment? If so, what did you learn from it? Do you have a fearful dog? What has your approach been to managing his/her fear?

Blog Paws: I Have No Idea What I’m Doing


Blog Paws Conference; Myrtle Beach. I’ll be completely honest and admit that I didn’t make plans to attend until the last minute. When my friend Jennel, a conference staffer, mentioned it to me, the only words I heard were paws and beach. Yes, please. Sign me up!

The timing of the invitation was pretty serendipitous. About a year ago I had shut down my new blog when my dog’s health started declining. After Lucy passed away last October, I had been unable to write anything meaningful. That is, until now.

When Lucy died I buried myself as much as was humanly possible into my work and education. The labor of knocking out some major goals was a constructive way for me to channel the intense grief I felt over losing my dog. As my heart healed, I began to find my voice again. And so, my blog was reborn.


I have no idea what I’m doing

Blog Paws wasn’t anything I expected it to be. The people were so welcoming and encouraging. The content was impressive and at times, way over my head. Was anyone else googling how-to-SEO during the SEO for Beginners workshop? The amount of love for animals was mind blowing. My attendance was a treat to myself and it indeed gave me the much-needed reboot I needed to come back to my everyday life.

I was utterly unprepared for everything I experienced at Blog Paws. As I mentioned before, I’d only recently relaunched my blog. In comparison to other attendees, I was a baby – an infant, really – still learning how to crawl. I didn’t really know how I was going to present myself or my brand, and I fumbled introduction after introduction. In one conversation with a brand rep, I literally spit out the food I was chewing on and then started choking on a crumb that got stuck in my throat. Talk about embarrassing!

It turns out, though, that pet bloggers and the brands that love them are a surprisingly welcoming bunch. Despite my lack of confidence (and occasional drooling), everyone I met showed genuine interest in connecting. The love for pets was palpable, and I had endless opportunities to photograph guardians setting their pets up to succeed. As a professional dog trainer, there are few things more encouraging than seeing humans acknowledge and attend to their pets’ needs.


Despite my newbie status, I ended up feeling perfectly at home among veteran pet bloggers. In one session, one attendee shared that she had started off as a fashion blogger but quickly learned that pet bloggers are a lot nicer; she now runs a DIY fashion blog for dog moms. Despite being surrounded by competitors, I had the same experience at Blog Paws. Pet bloggers know how to build each other up.

As an introvert, conferences are challenging because I would rather be chillin’ with my dog at home, pantless. (True story!) On top of that, I truly had no idea what I was doing. Many of the bloggers I met touted thousands of followers, pristine Instagram feeds, and big-name-brand support. Me? I didn’t even have any business cards to hand out! Still, I made the most of the workshops offered and came home with a plethora of notes. Most importantly, I was more energized to write than ever before. The ideas have since been pouring out of me, and my life is currently a stack of post-it notes.

One takeaway from Blog Paws is that, clearly, I still have so much to learn. As small as I may feel sometimes, it is also very empowering to know that the opportunity here is endless. And pet bloggers are as generous as they are welcoming. There was more knowledge-sharing than in my other circles, like animal sheltering and professional dog training, which is saying something. It’s human nature to want to keep your million-dollar ideas under lock and key, but sharing them and helping each other out is exactly what Blog Paws is all about.

Some of my favorite moments included:

  • Getting some encouraging advice from Aimee of Irresistible Pets & Irresistible Icing about developing my voice. Our conversation was my first aha! moment of what ended up being a weekend full of them.
  • Hearing No Bowl Feeding System creator Dr. Elizabeth Bales answer the question about why this product is not tech, i.e. it has no lights or battery-powered motion. Because it wasn’t made for humans! Humans need lights and batteries, cats don’t care about that. Listening to her speak about how this product was designed to meet the biological needs of cats, and not what humans think they need, made this behavior nerd want to shout “Hell yeah!”
  • Being introduced to Hope for Paws through some of the most moving videos of animal rescue that I have ever seen. My personal favorite, the one that sent chills down my spine and left me wiping tears off my face, featured eight motherless puppies rescued from living in a cave.
  • The countless motivational quotes sprinkled throughout Kathleen Gage’s keynote presentation, like “Letting life put in front of you what you are meant to do and answering the calling;” “It’s not what happens…it’s what you do about it” from W. Mitchell; and “It’s not what you know, it’s what you do with what you know.”
  • Watching former shelter dog, Tega, walk the red carpet. This dog, who was almost euthanized due to exhibiting defensive behaviors in a shelter environment, was now strutting her stuff alongside pet blogging superstars. It was a proud moment for her foster mom and I to see this former-throwaway beaming with confidence. Tega is currently searching for her forever home!


Some more friends you should check out online (and no, they’re not paying me for the shout out!):

Oh, and eventually, I made it to the beach, too!