Talking to Pushkin’s Trainers

Meet Kate Perry. Not that Kate Perry, although this one is also a rock star—just of a different breed. This Kate Perry is a dog trainer (she has been referred to as the trainer to the stars in New York City); she has her own book, (Training for Both Ends of the Leash published by Penguin/Random House), her own following, her own company, classes and a cadre of certified co-trainers who work with her.  Kate and her colleague Morgan Buttolph have trained, from puppyhood, the Berrie Center’s very own rock-star therapy dog, Pushkin.

Pushkin is a great therapy dog, says Morgan Buttolph, who was Pushkin’s earliest trainer. “Pushkin is a very sweet and affectionate little guy—even when he's totally absorbed in playtime with his dog friends. He's always eager to stop for human attention. We often say some dogs are dog dogs and others are people dogs. Pushkin is definitely a people dog. His size also makes him a great therapy dog, as people or kids with any fear of dogs feel less intimidated by him. Plus, because he's been well socialized, he isn't shy about saying hi, which I believe encourages those who might otherwise not have felt brave enough to say hello!”

Recently, the Berrie Center caught up with Kate and Morgan to discuss one of their favorite topics of conversation. Here’s an edited version of what they had to say about dogs.

Can all dogs be trained?

Kate From a dog trainer’s perspective, yes absolutely. But when I hear the word “trained”, I pause and think let’s remind everyone what training means. The actual word means “practice”. We “practice” to get better at something. It takes practice to achieve the results we’re looking for. So training dogs is a process that takes practice, patience and consistency.

Can all dogs be trained to be therapy dogs?

Kate In talking about therapy dog work, if you have a really good temperament in the dog (like Pushkin’s), then the dog usually has a really good chance of being a therapy dog. But if you have a dog that has a genetic disposition to be more of a “guard dog”—dogs that growl over their balls and bones—you wouldn’t be taking that dog into a hospital to work.

For example, I have a Chihuahua who would totally fail as a therapy dog, because he’s so protective of me and his territory, he can growl and bark around new scenarios. If you know you want to have a therapy dog—either for your own anxiety or a dog that actually goes to work with you like Pushkin and Dr. Robin Goland, his owner—you really should have a dog with what I call bullet-proof temperament because those dogs are more adaptable and easy going to new situations and are more likely to handle anything.

Besides temperament, the big rule for dogs is they should be well socialized. I’m very passionate that people understand this.

What does it mean for a dog to be socialized?

Kate A lot of people think that if your dog has one dog he gets along with, that’s socialization. Nope.  Socialization is an umbrella term for a lot of different things. It is exposing your dog all the way through adulthood to people, places and things. It means being handled by many people. It means going to the vet and the groomer. It’s all about how you handle the dog from day one. Socialization means adapting this dog to your lifestyle and all the different scenarios that go along with it.

Morgan Pushkin did a lot of early socialization that prepared him for his job. We work very hard in our puppy class to introduce young dogs to the unpredictable and excitable energy of children. This is a very important factor in making sure all dogs are well socialized, both for life overall and for those that wish to pursue therapy work with their dogs in the future. Dr. Goland deserves the credit here, for taking the skills she learned in our classes and making sure she practiced with Pushkin. This combination of work has helped him become the lovable and tolerant little buddy that he is!

Kate, I like the title of your book, Training for Both Ends of the leash

Kate I always tell my apprentices that you have to like people enough to want to be a dog trainer because when we’re training, we’re training everybody. We’re teaching everybody to succeed. It’s a little bit like being a coach because we’re actually training people to train their dogs. It has to be left in the dog owner’s hands, so they need all the instruction. Can any dog be trained by a trainer? Sure. But can any person be trained by a trainer?  Therein lies a little bit of a question.

A little playtime with Pushkin makes every visit a happy one. Make sure to ask your clinician about seeing Pushkin at your next visit.