As a professional dog trainer Amy Terceira has worked with hundreds of dog owners in Bermuda.
Six years ago, she started Dog Gone Good, providing training, grooming and playgroups for dogs.
“Our typical clients are Bermudians and expats,” she said. “I would say they are often middle-aged.”
Some of her clients have puppies and just want to lay down a good training foundation, while others have adult dogs with behaviour quirks that need addressing.
Ms Terceira knows well what it’s like to have a dog with behavioural issues.
Eight years ago she was working in Paris, France, when she adopted two year old Stanley from an animal shelter. Stanley was afraid of everything from people and other dogs to loud noises. In dogs, fear and anxiety can trigger aggression.
“I started taking dog-training and behaviour workshops before I got Stanley because I have always been interested in it,” she said. “I knew he had fear issues before I adopted him. I adopted Stanley because I’m a dog lover and it was a good time in my life to get a dog and I wanted to give him a good home. We bonded at the shelter visit.”
Ms Terceira found that professional dog trainers in her area used pain and intimidation or a mix of the two to train dogs.
“I wanted someone who was force-free because I wanted to avoid the scientifically proven negative side effects of using pain and intimidation, namely increased fear and aggression. I decided at that time to apply to The Academy For Dog Trainers to obtain a CTC certification in training and counselling.”
She turned to a technique called positive reinforcement.
“Positive reinforcement in dog training is using something the dog likes as a reward for doing behaviours that you like,” she said. “Food is the most potent motivator in animal training, it is a powerful reward. If the animal is not motivated you won’t reach your training goals. All animal training depends on consequences. You can motivate a dog to do a certain behaviour by inflicting pain or using an aversive and once the dog does what you want, you stop the pain, or you can motivate a dog by rewarding him for behaviours you want with something he wants. I prefer to do the latter because it is humane and does not carry the negative side effects, like increased fear and aggression, that use of pain does.”
Today, Stanley is doing a lot better.
“With fear and aggression cases, you can never get 100 per cent,” she said. “The goal is to reduce it and to manage it. All dogs are a work in progress, mine included, and just like us, the learning never ends. Stanley has come a long way, and we still have things we are working on. He is much less fearful these days, has attended many playgroups with other dogs and their people, and has improved leaps and bounds with handling by vets.”
Now Ms Terceira uses positive reinforcement to train her clients’ dogs. Sometimes though, it’s the clients who are naughty.
She said one of the challenges of the job, is just getting clients to do what she tells them to do.
“That is important because if you don’t get that, there is not much you can do training wise,” she said.
She runs Dog Gone Good out of her home off of St Mark’s Road in Smith’s, but often goes to clients’ homes to do one-on-one training with them and their dogs.
The downside to running her own business has been that she doesn’t get benefits like maternity leave or sick paid.
The plus side, is that it gives her the flexibility to spend time with her young son.
And of course, she loves seeing a dog’s behaviour get better.
“It’s great when you can help a dog and improve the dog’s life,” she said. “It’s also good when you can educate owners on scientific evidence in regards to dog training. There is a lot of misconceptions and folklore out there. When you can give them the science behind it and evidence-based information on dog behaviour and body language and the clients have an ah-ha moment, that is rewarding.”
The hardest cases to deal with are dogs with severe anxiety.
“Out of that the dog becomes aggressive,” she said.
Sometimes a dog’s problems are just too severe for her to take on.
“There is a liability factor,” she said.
So far, feedback from clients has been positive.
“People feel I am giving them the latest information on the topic, and helping them reach their goals with their dogs,” she said.
• For more information see her on Facebook under Dog Gone Good, call 735-2581, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org