Amy has been training dogs for over 15 years and belongs to the Association of Pet Dog Trainers and the Pet Professional Guild. She is passionate about educating the public on positive training methods and she has worked as an instructor for Florida Guide Dogs for the Deaf and Therapetics Service Dogs of Oklahoma.
Amy is published in Bella Dog Magazine and numerous newspapers throughout the country, as well as in “A D P T’“ Tips from Top Trainers”. She is currently a contributor for the Victoria Stilwell blog and newsletter. Amy continues her education by attending seminars and conferences. Amy is experienced in everything from canine aggression cases to basic behavioral issues.
Amy’s Canine Kindergarten Website: https://www.amysk9kindergarten.com
Links to Resources: https://www.amysk9kindergarten.com/resources.shtm
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Amy Weeks has been training dogs for over 15 years and belongs to the Association of Pet Dog Trainers and the Pet Professional Guild. She is passionate about educating the public on positive training methods, and she has worked as an instructor for Florida Guide dogs for the Death and Therapeutic Service Dogs of Oklahoma. Amy is published in the Bella Dog magazine and numerous newspapers throughout the country, as well as in the ADPT, Tips from Top Trainers. She is currently a contributor for the Victoria Stillwell Blog and newsletter. Amy continues her education by attending seminars and conferences. She’s also experienced in everything from canine aggression cases to basic behavioral issues.
Hey, Amy, welcome to the show. Thank you for having me. Yeah, I’m really excited to have you. So why don’t you start off and tell us a little bit about who you are and how you got into training dogs? It’s a little bit of an interesting story. First of all, I own a company called Amy’s Canine Kindergarten, and I’m based out of Tampa, Florida. Right now, I offer in-home training. I work with all different varieties of training problems, everything from puppies all the way through reactivity. I also offer a couple of group classes throughout Tampa. So that’s where I am right now.
My story goes back, actually, all the way, everyone starts at the same place. They loved dogs when they were a child, right where everybody starts, I loved dogs as a child. So obviously, in the middle of Oklahoma, which is where I grew up if you love dogs, you were going to grow up and be a veterinarian. But when I got into college, I started taking some vet classes and they just didn’t gel. Things just weren’t working. I didn’t have a passion for it. I didn’t love it, so I ended up, off into a whole, another area, I actually went into the theater and went that route and ended up getting married, years later, had my children all of that, and did a little bit of pet sitting. Always loved dogs of all of that. And then I ended up picking up this book one day and it was called The Dog who Love Too Much by Nicholas Dodman. I could not put this book down. Oh, yeah. Anyway, this was the start. I could not put it down. It was all about behavior. Why dogs did what they did. The way they thought. I picked up another book. After that, I started taking classes and courses. So that’s where the start of my interest in dog training originated. I realized it wasn’t the medical end of the spectrum that I was fascinated with, but it was the behavioral end of the spectrum that I loved. And from their courses, you know, obviously, I went to school, took courses, continued on certifications and grew my business. And that’s after about 15 years is where I am today.
Interesting to me that you were fascinated by the medical side of things, I think as a lot of people are, right? There’s always intrigue around that science side, and then you made the switch, which is completely left field. You go from science to behavior and wow, what a switch. But what I like about that, Amy is that you found that fire that you just couldn’t stop learning. And that’s what it’s all about. In my own opinion, if you want more, you want more, you want more. And so, while the science side had you hooked, you wanted to know more with the behavior stuff, that couldn’t put a book down that you knew, that was that. Absolutely. Yeah, And at the time period, I don’t think animal behavior, it was in a different place. And so it just wasn’t as well known. So I think my timing in life was a little off on that. I think I would have started with that right away. But again, I just didn’t know. I didn’t know that’s where people that were interested in animals or loved dogs or were fascinated with dogs, I didn’t realize that’s where you would go. Everyone thought you just became a vet and that didn’t work out for me and went a different direction. But what’s interesting? This is Poseidon, which you may or may not find interesting, but I have found out several dog trainers actually were prior actors or actresses, which is funny, and it took me years to figure out why. But it’s the behavior end because acting and theater is actually figuring out behavior just from a personal standpoint, why people do what they do. And so I eventually said wade into animal behavior. I thought I was alone in that. But actually I have run into quite a few dog trainers that actually started off in the theater. I would have never made the connection had you not broke it down in that regard. It took me a long time to figure out, but I finally pieced it all together and I see where our strange lives took us. And that way we do talk about trainers and behaviorists, and I know there’s a very distinct difference between the two, and that’s interesting to me to make that theater connection, so very cool.
I actually had a few minutes to kind of browse your website before we connected, and I see that you do a lot of stuff with family and kids, so I really want to just dive into that and learn a little bit more how you got involved in that and what does that mean for you? I would consider it a bit of a specialty or a focus for me. I, myself, have three children. They’re grown at this point and out. But when I had them when I was younger, I had three dogs and three children, so it was a full plate, and I do wish I would have had a little bit more information. I wasn’t a dog trainer at the time, and it would have been really helpful to have a little bit more information on appropriate interactions and how they set up the household to where things went smoothly. We were lucky where things didn’t go horribly wrong, but it sure could have been a lot easier if I would have had some information, a lot of information or some type of program to help out families. And I started to do some research, and I ran across this organization called Family Paws. It already existed. I went to the material. It was wonderful material. One of the parts of the program is called Dogs and Storks, and it actually helps families that are expecting a baby. It helps set up the household if they have an existing dog at home, to make the transition for the dog and for the entire family very safe and secure and relaxing when you bring the baby home. They also have something called Dogs and Toddlers. So it’s a great organization as far as giving lots of information to families with young children, keeping them safe. And then I also work with older children, obviously in families and all of that. I can go ahead and give you some tips or what I would consider the top five considerations to help manage a family with a lot of kids, along with a lot of canines.
I think that’s really interesting and honestly, with the people that we’ve had on the show so far, this is an area that hasn’t really been talked about and, you know, families are always growing. It’s very dynamic, and it’s always changing. And so I feel like people would definitely benefit from hearing some of those little tips and tricks and things that you’re encountering and you see, to kind of help them get through that, just in case they don’t have, you know, a trainer near them that kind of specializes in this kind of thing. So, yeah, I’d love to learn and dive a little bit more into that. Yeah, and I do think that you hit the nail on the head there when you said families are always changing, dynamics are constantly changing within a household, which is one of the most difficult aspects of having a household of dogs and kids because the kids get older. But the dogs also get older and change. And what used to be okay, may not be OK in around six months, and so that is one of the things to always keep in mind. The first thing that I always suggest to families is to have proper management in place, meaning you’ve got to have options in your household, especially if you have very young children or a baby. You’ve got to have management options on where everybody can go if you need to separate them. So your dog does need a safe place to go, that is off-limits to the kids and very off-limits, as in, the kids cannot get in there and reach them. And that might be a crate. It might be a door with a lock top so no children can open the door gates, crates. Waste a section off your home, anything like that, where you can properly manage the household and give yourself a break as well and know that you can rest assured that nothing could potentially go wrong. Everybody’s safe.
The second thing that I think is really fascinating myself, which I think everybody should know under any circumstance. Anybody that owns a dog is getting familiar with K nine body language. Dogs talk to us all the time. They use their body to tell us so much, and we just don’t know that language. Some of the people just don’t understand the language. So there’s a lot of information online right now on reading subtle signals of stress and anxiety that dogs give out. We all assume a wagging tail is happy, and that’s not necessarily true. I always suggest with any relationship, if you’re bringing a dog into a family or if you’re bringing a new baby into the home, that the relationship goes slow and steady, you’re wanting to build up a relationship that’s gonna last a lifetime. So just like getting to know a new friend or someone you haven’t seen in a long time and trying to catch up with them. You want to go slow, steady. It’s been short periods of time together that are successful. Take lots of breaks and there’s no timeline. You know, this could go on for weeks, months, years, and we’re hoping that this relationship continues to develop. But it’s worth really making sure that everything can only go as well as possible.
A fourth thing is to remove anything that’s stressful, that’s potentially stressful for your dog. And usually for positive trainers, that means any type of negative training methods, we don’t want to hit. We don’t want to yell. We don’t want to use any devices. I’m not a shock collar fan or anything like that. So anything that’s gonna add additional stress or anxiety to your dog, we want to help them through that and tell them what they’re doing right, instead of just staying on them for what they’re doing wrong. So anything that could add stress. We want to take that away. And then we also finally want to set boundaries for the kids in the household. It could be as simple as you know, when the dog’s in the crate, nobody bothers them. The dog has time outs or break time. The kids are not allowed to go past a certain space, or you could set up a lot of that. But you really need to follow through on whatever boundaries you set. And obviously we don’t want children to step on the dogs or pull tails and all of that. And so you know there does need to be a boundary set and that if they don’t treat the dog in a certain manner then they lose access to be with the dog for short periods of time. So, but set those boundaries and mean them. And there’s a list of the top five things I would say, will set you on a pretty decent path.
Body language. It’s not even up incoming. I feel like this is the thing right now with body language and understanding that. And to your point, there’s so much information out there on the Internet. I’m torn on this one because, yes, there’s a lot of information on the Internet, and at the same time, just because it’s on the Internet doesn’t make it true. And so I struggle when we talk about things like, Oh, it’s on YouTube or go see what you can find in research on your own because not everything is real. Not everything is honest and true on the Internet. But I agree with you that there are a lot of resources out there. There are a lot of experts out there that are giving great information. I would just be a little weary. Yeah, I agree. I think your information needs to come from solid sources. And so there are some out there. I know I have them listed on my website. I am a positive trainer, so they tend to be more science-based as far as where their information is coming from. In general, anything that starts with the idea that you have to be the Alfa and you have to be physically tough and tell them who’s boss and any information like that, I would probably pass on by. That tends to come from an older train of thought.
The other thing you mentioned was slow and steady right. I think when people bring a dog into their home, they have this training mindset of two months or three months and then you’re done, so that doesn’t necessarily line up with what you just shared in the slow and steady. It’s almost like a process. This is a lifelong thing. It’s a training. And so everything progresses, from puppies to adolescents to adults to seniors. So I thought it was really interesting when you started talking about slow and steady. That is exactly the example I use is that behavior is not static. We don’t stay the same. We’re constantly learning and changing and different things factor into our behaviors. We move through life, and it is the same with dogs. And the puppy is very different from an adolescent dog. Adolescent dog’s different than a senior dog. Again, it’s like you said, it’s common sense, but sometimes we just don’t see it and think about it unless it’s pointed out to us. And then once it’s pointed out to us, we at least take note of that and apply it hopefully to where it helps us, and it helps the stress level in our own home and then also just a stress level of everybody else. We’re just trying to create a harmonious world with two different species living in one home, which can be very difficult, and we’re trying to be fair to both species here.
I am curious because I see that you do training with all different age groups of dogs. What are some of the distinct differences when you’re training puppies versus adolescents versus adults? I’m sure there’s not much with seniors that you’re doing. But what are some of those distinct differences, and how do you treat them differently? One of the biggest differences is I do look at the expectations and try to keep the expectations realistic with the age. A lot of that would have to do with attention span. You know what’s appropriate. Attention span the amount of outlets or energy a dog may have. With puppies, it is literally like having a toddler. You better know where that puppy is all the time. You have to have a lot of containment areas. You’ve got to take that puppy outside all the time. It is busy, busy, busy and it’s exhausting work. And so I tell everyone that gets a puppy. It’s exhausting. It goes pretty quickly though, and hang in there. If you can get a good pattern down all of that. So with puppies, we tend to work a lot on socialization, potty training, trying to get that up ongoing. Usually the biting and nipping all of that, setting up a nice schedule that works for the family. So it’s all of those things.
Socialization is also really important, appropriate socialization, I should say, because some of the socialization is not appropriate or they push too hard. But those are the main things we can start with some basic manners. What ends up happening a lot of the time is right around 5 to 6 months, people turn to me and say, Oh my gosh, what is happening to my dog? I was getting things under control, but now we’re heading into this other area and you are, your heading into adolescence. And honestly, most doggy daycares, most shelters, end up getting these dogs that are anywhere between 6 to 18 months of age because people lose their minds. All of a sudden, what they had what they could handle is now in overload. There’s tons of energy, I always call adolescent dog’s, they have tons of energy. They’re at their peak usually physically and they have zero impulse control. So you do have a bit of a teenager here. My motto is always to try to love them through it, meet their needs, and love them through it, and they will come out on the other side, a different dog. Let’s be honest though, 6 to 18 months, that’s a whole year. It is. And that’s usually the reaction. You will have good months. You’ll have bad months. And it’s so it’s a roller coaster. It’s not a steady climb up or steady climb down. It is a bit of a roller coaster. You’ll have a great month, and then they may move backward a little bit, in some of their behaviors. And then they move forward, and then they’ll move backward. So that’s the part, I try to get people to just hang on tight, love them through it, try to cope with them each day, and then they’ll start to see the light, usually 18 months heading into two years. Some dogs I know it’s a little bit longer. Some dogs, it’s up to three years. But I’m gonna try to give them some hope there and with adolescent dogs I do try to kind of restructure the household just a little bit. And again, it’s going to be a little bit of the same where it sounds logical and simple. But sometimes people just need to be a little bit reminded of some of the things that could help them through those adolescent years.
What are some of the things, besides loving them through it, which I think is really smart because you think about teenagers and that’s what you have to do. You have to be compassionate, and understand, and we’ve all been there and support them. But what are some of those things that dog owners can do in those tough days or in those tough months, to help them through? And to your point, every situation is different because some people will just kind of glide through this period, and it’s not as difficult. A lot of times it may have to do with the specific breed you have. If you’ve got a high energy breed versus a low energy breed, you may need more. So some of my top notes are usually again as unfun as it sounds, management. A lot of times people will start to give the dog a lot more freedom, which is fine, but you just want to make sure that they can handle the freedom that you’re giving them. So, for instance, if they’re sitting here barking at you at dinnertime or they’re getting into things at dinner time and you’re trying to eat dinner, you’re better off managing the dog. You know, either putting him in this crate, giving him some to do, or putting him in a different place. Just giving him something different to do during that time. But don’t let management go too far. You know it is gonna be your friend. You’re still going to need to have some boundaries set up in the house where your dog can be safely contained. The biggest factor that I think has changed is what used to be enough mentally and physically for your puppy, is no longer enough. And I always use the example of giving somebody who’s in 10th grade, kindergarten level material to work on. They’re bored. They’re frustrated. They need more complex things to do. And so I usually suggest upping the physical activity in some way. And it could be through some fun classes, different outlets. I love scent work, that’s a great outlet for dogs that can exhaust them. And then I also look at the mental side, which scent work can also be mental stimulation, but also just puzzle games or different types of enrichment. Sniffy walks are huge, where you’re just letting them sniff a lot. But you’re just trying to add a lot of complexity into their day. If you’re still doing simple things like sit, lay down. And not that you can’t add distance and distraction to that. But I really think that you need to add some fun and variety into the training. Give them some different things to work on. Throw them something else out there.
You do need to continue to socialize them safely. A lot of times they’ll go through another fear period during this time, so you want to just work them through that as well. So socializing is important but appropriate fun socializing that they can handle. And then I do always feel like dogs just need some structure. Structure just in a nice way, you know, and you can add that nicely into your home and consistency be as consistent as you possibly can, Don’t change the rules in your household day today or how you’re feeling. It’s not fair to the dog. Try to be pretty consistent and what you’re asking. But those would just be a few things that I would go back and regroup a little bit on what you’re doing with your dog and just making sure that all those are in place, but definitely mental and physical outlets. And I think the other thing we see a lot today is some people are working more from their home just in general. But the dogs are at home a lot more, and sometimes they’re home alone with a lot more. And so that, I think, has really changed in our society that no one is home a lot of the time. And so I think we’re trying to play catch up on that a little bit and figure out how to make sure that these dogs have their mental and physical needs met but that also we can adapt each other’s lifestyles, in some way, where everybody comes out as happy as we possibly can.
You really brought up a really good point in that our lives are changing and you talk about the separation and then being home more often, maybe than they ever were before. And so with that separation anxiety, are you seeing that problem more and more your training world? I am. I’ve seen a lot, and what’s a little concerning to me is I’ve seen a lot in puppies. And if you break down separation anxiety, it’s just a huge umbrella that you can just kind of dissect because a lot of times it’s not true. Separation anxiety is isolation anxiety. So it’s broken into all these different cases. But I would say one of the things that you really need to be careful if you bring a puppy home, is to do everything you can to try to set them up to where this doesn’t become an issue. Sometimes you can do everything right, and it just is an issue, no matter what. But there are things you can do with your puppy or any dog you bring home right away. Don’t just assume that it is going to be OK to be left at home for three or four hours at a time, you don’t know, and if it’s a puppy, you’ve got to really slowly build up to helping this puppy realize that it can be alone for short periods of time, and it’s OK and there’s a lot of information out there. But there are ways to slowly set your young dog or your puppy up, and the first thing I would say is if you’re bringing up any dog and we want to make sure that we set it up to where it feels comfortable and safe as possible. All these animals have to feel safe before they can function in any other way just the way we do. We have to feel safe and our environment before we can really logically do much else right. And so the relationship needs to be there where they feel safe and secure.
And so the best thing to start to do is you could build a safe space up for your dog, whether it is a crate or a contained area of some type. But you’re going to slowly move in and out of the room or start to leave for short periods of time, leaving it with something good to do. But the worst thing I would say you can do is just throw it in a crate, leave for all day long, six-seven hours and come home and let’s just see what happened. I think you’re heading down a really, really dangerous path with that one. So again, there’s lots of books, and even most puppy books now address how to slowly begin this process of teaching your dog or your puppy, to be alone for short periods of time. But adult dogs don’t assume that if you adopt when you bring him home that he is okay as well. You’ve got to kind of test the waters with that’s slowly, over time, and build that up. If it gets really bad, you do need to bring in a trainer that works with behavior, or you need to talk to a vet behavior specialist that specifically works with that type of an issue because it can be horrible. You can literally be held hostage in your home with some of the separation anxiety. You would never be able to leave your dog alone, and it can be really difficult for people.
I see a theme with you, Amy, right, slow, and steady. I would always go slow and steady and build appropriately, then have to go back and rebuild something that has gone terribly wrong because I’ve just seen it happen too many times. I think part of it is trying to be as proactive as possible. You’re setting the world where we have a lot of control over animals is the environment. We can set the world up to, where it goes as well as it possibly can for them versus going back and spending two or three years trying to rebuild an issue that was created in a day. So that’s why if you could be proactive versus reactive or having to go back in 20/20 hindsight. But it’s just over the years. I would say that’s something that I just see over and over. So talk to someone even before if you’re bringing up a dog or puppy and talk to somebody ahead of time and set things up on a good path. Before you make that change, it’s worth it. It’s worth calling someone out and having them walk you through what you should do. But again, he’s gonna be here. She’s gonna be a member of your family for life. And so just as you would prepare for a baby coming into your home or some new person moving and whatever, just as you would prepare for that, you try to prepare for this dog or puppy.
Yeah, I think it’s a great way to wrap up the conversation. I think that’s great advice. I love the things that you shared. I hope that even though we do some of those things that it’s more thoughtful now, there’s a purpose behind it. And you know why you’re doing the things that you’re doing. A lot of great information. We definitely want to encourage people to reach out if they’re in the Tampa Bay, Florida area. And, yeah, this has been great. Amy, is there anything that we missed that you want to mention before we wrap things up? I think we’re good. I could go on for eight hours talking about dogs. Anybody that loves dogs can talk forever. So at some point, we have to end that, I suppose. Well, maybe I have definitely appreciated my time with you and getting to know you, and I think you’re doing amazing work. And so thank you for coming on the show. Well, Thank you. Thank you for all you all are doing as well.
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