Episode 7 – Jodi Kellar

Jodi Kellar

Jodi Kellar

Jodi Kellar, the owner of Kellar’s Canine Academy, holds 2 Masters Degrees where she extensively studied educational & behavioral theories. She is a certified dog trainer & mentors future trainers as well as serves the canine community. She is an evaluator for the AKC Canine Good Citizen, STAR Puppy & Trick Dog, Do More with Your Dog Instructor, Pet Partner Therapy Team evaluator, certified One Mind Dogs Instructor & is a judge for WCRL & UKI. Jodi makes training fun & challenging for all dogs. She plays at local & national competitions in multiple venues with her two beagles (Maggie & OBX) & two border collies (Sundae & StellaDora).


Kellar’s Canine Academy Website: http://kellarscanineacademy.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Dedicated2CanineCompanionship/


“Welcome to the Animal Trainers podcast where our goal is to introduce you to amazing trainers and behaviorists who are helping animals. This podcast is proudly sponsored by Doobert.com.  Doobert is a free platform designed to connect volunteers with rescues and shelters, and the only place that automates local rides and transports. Now, on with our show!

Hey, Jodi, welcome to the show. Hi. Thank you for having me. Yeah, I’m really excited to have you. So you are with Keller’s Canine Academy in New Jersey. Why don’t you kick us off and tell us a little bit about you and your background and how you got into this? So I have been a teacher for 21 years. I became a school librarian a few years ago. I believe in always growing and learning. So I went back to school to get my second Master’s degree, to become a school librarian. Back in 2003, I adopted my first adult dog and she was abused. She was the reason that I decided I was going to decide to also teach people about their dogs and teach dogs themselves. So I also went back to school, in a dog training program in 2005, to become a dog trainer. In 2006 I began as a pet dog trainer, where I also learned more about dog sports and other things that you can accomplish with your dog after you’ve gone through some basic understanding of your dog and how they learn. And this really became a guide for me, as well as the fact that I’ve been a teacher and an educator for so long. I understand how to write curriculums, and I understand learning theory and the learning process, and all of that brought me to open up my own school. 

Throughout all of my education, both being the student and being a teacher, I have grown to understand learning theory and the process of learning, in a more significant way, and therefore I was able to bring the process to other people. in my school. in a way that was very beneficial to them.as a team. I really love the connection. 21 years of being an educator, your first dog in 2003. Your love for learning and teaching is a perfect fit, in my opinion. And so I really, really love what you’ve been able to do in really a short amount of time. 

So you said you started Keller’s Canine Academy in 2006, wanting to focus on dog sports. Why dog sports? Tell us a little bit about what that is because I don’t know that everybody knows what that is. So give me a little bit of history and background on that. Dog sports are a wonderful way to expand your companionship and your bond with your animals and take a step back because there’s some important things that need to be accomplished before you can really get to the place, I think. When I opened Canine Academy, I looked at the way that a lot of dogs and people were being taught. I looked at a lot of the curriculums in the area as well as online, and I gave it some thought, and I decided that it wasn’t the way that I thought that dogs learned best. And I did not think that it was the way that you can build a working relationship and the bonds that you need in order to learn anything at all with your dog. So instead of teaching obedience first, which is what a lot of schools do, I decided that I would rewrite the entire curriculum and start off by teaching people and awareness for what their dog was understanding. So my goal was to teach people how their dog sees the world and how their dog learns so that they could get that bond and that communication down and really teach them anything. In my opinion, the foundation is the understanding and the communication between the human and the dog.

 Once you have established that, you can teach a dog anything, and the human understands what the dog is learning from the experience so they engage their thinking. So I think the reason that Keller’s Canine Academy grew so quickly and so fast, is that I created a shift in thinking kind of shifted learning because I taught people that in order to teach their dog, they need to understand what their dog is learning. So we started with some basic things, like teaching people that where he placed the reward, has an effect on whether the dog can repeat the behavior. So if you want your dog to come in and stand next to you, you wouldn’t throw the reward forward, you would reward right next to you. For example, the placement of the reward was something that we worked on. Attention on the handler is something that we work on in the beginning of our classes because just like the human student if you don’t have the attention of your learner, you aren’t really teaching the person. You’re just teaching the space or teaching the dog. So it is important that they first understand what it looks like when my dog is learning. What does it look like when my dog is listening? What is little like when my dog is distracted? And do I need to get my dog’s attention first so that they’re ready to learn and that they’re in a state of enjoying the learning experience, which I think is also very important. 

Like what we have kids go to kindergarten, for example. It’s all about enjoying the learning experience. For a dog starting out in training, all the way through training, it should be about enjoying the experience. If they are enjoying the learning in kindergarten and their basic manners, they’re gonna want to continue to learn with you, and you can teach them anything. If we don’t take down, we don’t teach stays. We don’t teach any of that in our basic manners class. We teach dogs how to show that they’re learning, to show that they’re paying attention. We teach them when an activity is done with the release queue. We teach them some great games so that they have some fun going in and out of their crates and some basic manners they need for life in general. But my little secret is that really when they’re doing all of this, what I’m really teaching them is that the communication between the human is really, really important. And we have to teach dogs that because they’re not verbal. So we have to teach them that valuable things come from their human, and that’s where the bond comes in. So when you have taught the dogs that they start to feel like this is a wonderful experience, they’re learning it, they are embracing it, and they are internalizing it. So that later on, maybe they don’t need rewards because just working with their human itself is rewarding. And then sometimes, of course, they will need rewards. We all like to be rewarded for a job well done. 

Yeah, it’s very true and very fascinating to me. First, let me just start by saying what a challenge you had ahead of you when you started this. Because as people, we get used to what we know and what we’re told, and we don’t like change. And what you did is you were like, I don’t agree with any of these standard practices. I’m going to just turn everybody upside down. I’m going to show them a different way, like that was the way that worked for you and what you believed in your philosophy. And so for me, I see that as a really big challenge because you’re trying to change how people in your community think about training their dog, and that couldn’t have been easy. But I think your background in education definitely helps you with that, right? You really put down some thoughts and you made that curriculum and you really thought it through from beginning to end based on what you know, based on what you saw or didn’t see happening, in this case. And so I love that beginning story, and one of the things I really find fascinating is that you’re not doing basic obedience first, and that’s what the general public thinks. They’re like, Oh, I need to take him to an obedience class. I need to teach them to sit and stay and shake and all of those things. And you’re saying, Well, that’s important. You can’t get to that until you focus on manners and communication. Again, I think it’s brilliant, something I certainly never thought and I’ve owned a couple of dogs in my life, and I never, even to this day until you mentioned it, would I have thought, there’s a better way to do that. And you’re right. Communication is everything. So I want to just applaud you in taking something that we’ve thought of the same way for years and years and years and really flipping that to reach those in your community. So congratulations on that. Thank you.

 I think you’re something that a lot of dog traders had already done. They just didn’t bring it to their classes. They just would start off by teaching those obedient skills. I see a lot of dog trainers evolve. I see that they do a lot more with their own dogs, and they don’t always know how to turn that into something they can teach other people, which I’m pretty good at because I’m a teacher. But you can be a dog trainer and struggle with that teaching element, where you know, you did seven different things with your puppy that then when you go to teach a puppy class, you started with number eight for some reason because you didn’t put all of that into your teaching, even though you were teaching your own dog. I don’t know if that makes sense, but I see that with a lot of trainers. It takes a little while for them to back up and say, Okay, what did I do? And how can I globalize that, so I could bring all different kinds of dogs and not just this one sitting in front of me? But, yeah, that has been a really big shift because I have had to spend a lot of time explaining to people why they need to take our basic manage class. And they say, well my dog already knows how to sit and stay already. I think we should start a class at basic two or three in your curriculum, and I have to explain to them, can you do that? Do you understand what the placement of reward is? Do you understand the timing of a reward? You have any form of getting your dog’s attention, that is not physically grabbing them? Do you have a recall? If you’re running recalls, do you make sure that recalls are really fun because recalls are safety issues? If this dog is stressed out and they don’t have a recall when they’re not stressed out, they’re not going to have a recall when they are stressed out.

 So all of these things, same with crate things. We teach crate   and because there’s gonna be tons of crate things to be integrated, you might want to create your dog all the time. That’s fine. But if your dog breaks a leg, and it has to be in the crate and they’ve never been in one before, you really created a difficult situation for your dog. Well, I think all of these things, like, kind of explain to people in their time. And I have to explain these are the reasons that they’re important and get that buy-in. So there are people who think they have to come in earlier when I ask them all these questions, they are like, No my dog has never done a recall, off-leash. I don’t know if my dog would come around distractions. How do you get your dog’s attention? I have no idea what these things are. They think things are fine. I think I’m gonna do the basic class. And then sometimes they can skip the basics too. Maybe they’ve done some of it in the past and now they can apply what they learned in the basic one class and all they do is obedience skills. We find that they get a lot farther than if they were to do it the other way around. We’re getting people into significantly further steps doing from finishes and attention around a lot of the distractions. And 20 foot recalls. they can’t get to the handlers fast enough. They’re not hesitating because they built a simulation of the bond first, everything else becomes just basic as I have other trainers say, it’s just another trick. Anything you want to do with your dog, is just another trick. Walking on a loose leash, it’s really just another trick. And that makes sense. Once you think about the bond and the communication, just another trick like I would never consider sitting just another trick. Like for me, that’s basic. And so I think of tricks, as in some of the stuff you’re doing with the sports and the agility and things of that nature. So again, I think it’s just a mind shift thing for me is what I’m leaning towards with all of that.

 One of the things that I am always really curious about is you guys do puppy training and then adult training. So my question to you is what is the main difference when you’re working with puppies versus working with adult dogs? When you have puppy training, you’re talking about a dog that is physically under four months and under maybe six months and under. We have puppies in our class, six months and younger. What you’re really doing with the puppy is your building that communication. When you have puppies that are certain ages, they have these fear and phases. They really need to learn that the world is a safe place to explore. They don’t, at that age, have baggage that you need to say, OK, well, maybe they’re already at the end of the leash, barking. They’re kind of a blank slate, and it’s a wonderful opportunity to show them, through socialization, that the world is a safe place. So doing everything from having them walk on a different surface to hearing different noises, to meeting different people to having a playtime, where they recall off the play and come back to their handlers. And then they get to go and play again. So they learn, hey, recalls are just a wonderful thing and you could do that because puppies they’re still playing. Adult dogs can’t always play together. Not every dog is going to want to play with other dogs. And that’s perfectly fine. When we have adult dogs that come into training, say from the shelter, we don’t always have their background. Our primary objective when we get started, they’re just like the puppies, is to build their communications and the safety in the world. We’ll do it in a different way, where the dogs are learning more to focus on their handlers, as they’re kind of security blanket almost, in the world. So they come out of the shelter, they come out of wherever they were before, and they’re not quite sure what has been going on. But we still need to teach them, the human is their go-to for everything, but they’re not always going to need all of this exposure to all of these different things. A lot of times they’ve already walked into the services. They’ve already heard different sounds and got all of that, and we don’t have any other background.

 But we build up their confidence in a different way, and sports can be a great way. Puppies are really good at learning a lot of the basic sports, even if they’re not physically able to do the sports themselves. They can learn a lot about the actual field, for example, facilities without any of the equipment. And if you’re doing something like rally or other sports, puppies are like little sponges and they want to just learn everything that their human has to offer. It’s a wonderful opportunity to be teaching them a lot. Yeah, we often get people in asking when they should start with the puppies and the answer is your puppies are learning from the time they were born. Whatever you’re doing, they’re learning. Whatever you’re not doing, they’re learning. You have a puppy and you have them in the crate for eight hours a day, and then you walk them and then you put them back in the crate, they’re learning. What are they learning? You need to ask you about what they’re learning. If you’re not specifically teaching them with your own goals in mind, they’re learning from their environment, and we’re learning from the things that you do and you’re not aware of what they’re learning if you’re not thinking about it. Well, we want to be teaching them all of the wonderful things that are good about being little, while they’re still that blank slate and they’re not worried about things and they don’t get any of that baggage. The more we can get ahead of that stuff, the better. I think that’s a really good question, and I hope everyone with animals listening to this is really thinking about that, right. It’s like a child. They absorb everything around them and we create habits and routines. And we learn from that. And so I think that is a good question for dog owners to ask themselves. What am I teaching them? Yes, and what are they learning? If you’re not teaching them anything, they’re learning about the surroundings.

 Your question about sports. I think that is the wonderful thing that seems to build their companionship with their dogs as well as other people. There are a lot of people who decide they’re going to compete because they enjoy the companionship of the other people with their dogs as well. So it really is a big social network of people who might otherwise be sitting home alone, who might otherwise be lonely. Not just about the time with the dog, it’s about the time with other people. Enjoying them and complimenting them on how great they look, And that’s a wonderful benefit to adults. It’s not usually work competition, and it makes it sound like it’s something scary. But it’s really just about people who love to do this with their dog. To hang out with other people also. I think that the bond is important, but it’s not just the bond between the human and the dog. It’s belonging to a group of people who are interested in the same things as you are. 

And so, to your point, you don’t have to go to competitions and do all of those things. But it is the bond with everybody who’s doing a very similar activity, and so I think you bring up a really good point. I do want to ask, that’s an interesting area, for me particularly. But what actually got you into the dog sports? Why focus on all of these things versus maybe just obedience and manners versus dog sports, agility, and tricks. Why the combination? So I think a lot of it came out of, as my dog grew, I think it’s really important that people look at what their dogs need, in order to be happy and well balanced, and that changes over a dog’s life, just like it changes over a person’s life. And I think that that’s kind of what brought me to watching my own dogs and watching them grow and compete. We still compete in agility. I have a dog that doesn’t really enjoy it. I had to really take a step back in the business and see what she needed in order to be happy and balanced, and I found that that was not really working for her. But I still wanted to advance her awareness, for her mind and her body and her bond and her ability to grow and be happy. So I found other tricks for her that she does for improving. She could work for Canine and a Good Citizen title. This is another way to practice just working with your dog. There’s rallying obedience, and I found that for some dogs, they evolved. They might be really into one sport, and then something changes in their life or in their physical body or in your physical body, just what’s going on. And you need to be able to look at the dog. What does she need right now? What can I do to help our bond to grow into what you wanted it to be when you got your dog? I think it’s really smart. 

So if you were to say to the listeners, here’s the one thing that I want you to walk away from after today’s conversation, what would that one thing be as we get close to wrapping this up? I think it is just the reason you got a dog because you wanted a companion and a companion is a friend, and you need to continue to evaluate that bond and what your companion needs and what you’re doing as you evolve and grow. And be open-minded and be ready to try something new, because the reason you got a dog is because you wanted a companion. You wanted a companion because you wanted to go swimming with them and they can no longer swim, think about some other things you might need to do as companions. Maybe it would be hiking. Maybe give back to the community by visiting hospitals. Is the therapy animals? Yeah, I love that. That’s a great way to wrap up our conversation.

 Jodi, I really appreciate your time today, and I love what you’re doing over there in New Jersey and your connection to the community and the clients that you serve. Is there anything else that we missed today, that maybe you want to talk about before we close the show? No. I think that I was really happy to be here to bring this information to more people and have them think about their dogs in a different way. And think about how their dogs learn and how their dog sees the world so that they can enjoy their companionship even more. Training should be a wonderful one on one experience. When you’re looking for a trainer, you should be evaluating what their philosophies are. What forms of communication they prefer and do your research on what they have in their past and what they focus on in their own personal life with their own dog so that you can enjoy the training. Training is an experience that you should enjoy, just like, you know, playing Frisbee with your dog. It should be something that everybody has a good time doing. Yeah, I agree, beautifully said. And thank you for joining me today and sharing a little bit more about who you are and what you do. Thank you for having me.

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