Lisa Giesick is the founder and owner of Ohana Pet Training on Maui and has worked with animals since 1983 and in the animal welfare field for 16 years. She has previously worked as an animal control officer, a humane investigator, educator, and behavior counselor. Lisa believes that most behavior problems are caused by a lack of communication as humans and dogs don’t speak the same language. Dog training is about building a relationship and she encourages people to learn to understand their dogs and teach their dogs to understand them through positive reinforcement techniques.
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Hey, Lisa, welcome to the show. Hi. Thanks for having me. Yeah, I’m really excited to have you as a guest. You are with Ohana Pet, as many of us may guess. Ohana, we associate with Hawaii. So you are in Hawaii and I just wanted to start and ask you to kind of tell us a little bit about who you are and what your background is in this industry and how you came to be a trainer? Awesome. Thank you so much. Or, Aloha, as we say here. I live on the island of Maui in Hawaii, and I’ve lived here for 13 years, and it’s just a wonderful place to live, as you can imagine. And I really enjoy working with the dogs here on the island. And I also work with cats and a few other species as well.
But mostly dogs. So very cool. So tell me a little bit about your background. Tell me as a child, did you always know you wanted to work with dogs or animals in general? What has that progression been like for you? Well, I’ve always loved animals, and part of that probably is because I was a military brat growing up. So we moved around a lot and my mom just bought me lots of Disney records. So Walt Disney has a good way of making you love animals and empathize with animals, so I’ve always loved animals. I always knew I wanted to work with animals. And then because we did move around a lot, growing up, I wasn’t able to have a dog of my own, pretty much the whole time growing up, so I always knew I wanted that.
So when I was 13, my mom got me a job as a brusher/bather for a groomer and as a brusher/bather for the groomer, I spent all my Saturdays and after school in high school and junior high, just spending time with dogs. So I got to know a lot about different dog breeds. What I liked, what I was kind of like, not so much. And then after that, when I graduated high school, I worked at a veterinary hospital. I always knew I didn’t want to be a vet, which, you know, everybody thinks that if you love animals, you want to grow up and be a vet. But I actually wanted to spend time with animals that were like awake and weren’t in pain and the whole idea of going to school 12 years after the thrill really didn’t appeal to me.
So I was like Mom, what could I do? So after high school. I got a job at a humane society, actually, the Humane Society of Santa Clara Valley, which is now Silicon Valley Humane Society. And it pretty much changed my life. I think in high school I had this, like, crossing where I was like, I kind of wanted to do, this is really funny, but I loved fashion design and merchandising and stuff. And so I got a job in an expensive European clothing store, and then I also worked at the Humane Society, and I was like, This is ridiculous. I cannot go from telling people what looks good on them to wear to you know, going in life and death situations. So I had a job in customer service at the animal shelter, and from there I ended up doing all different aspects of humane society work, in different departments, and I volunteered in the education and behavior departments, and I realized that if I was going to help this solution and help dogs not end up in shelters, that it was really education and training that was gonna keep dogs out of shelters and cats out of shelters. So that’s really where my full circle of animal welfare backgrounds ended up. And why I do education and training now.
I definitely love that. And thank you for sharing a little bit of that background with us. And so remind me again, how many years have you been actually training? I actually started doing dog training back in the early nineties, and I volunteered in at the Humane Society of Silicon Valley. So I wasn’t getting paid in that position, probably until 1991. I worked at, and it’s like a human society, and I worked as actually their animal behavior counselor. So I did teach dog training classes then, and I have been doing dog training on the side ever since then. But that was not my paid role. And I didn’t have my own business, for probably 16 years or 15 years of, you know, in between the nineties and now. But yeah, I did behavior for the SPCA of Monterey County. I was actually paid to do dog training there, and that was fantastic. So on and off through the years, I’ve done dog training and it’s really to me, it was the most fulfilling.
I did lots of other things, like animal control and animal humane investigations. I learned so much and I enjoyed it at the time. But you got to the point where I was just like, you know, I really got tired of everybody like being mad at me and angry at me and seeing sad things all the time and dealing with hoarders and just really awful situations. And when you’re doing training, people actually are nice to you and are thankful and are happy to see you as opposed to when you’re doing animal control or humane investigations, people are just not happy to see you, or they’re like, why aren’t you doing more? You know, so everybody, everybody is angry all the time. So it was kind of like all right, I did that,it was fulfilling, you know, I learned a lot, but now I want to get back to the point where I feel, you know, like I’m making a difference in a way, we’re getting like, some feedback. So time and a place for everything. And I just think that the people that do their whole lives and animal law enforcement, you know, I salute them because it is not an easy job. It’s a difficult job, and I think they’re under-appreciated, for the most part.
You know, I think what’s really interesting to me is one, the full circle that you shared with us and two, just your ability to really try different things. When each thing that you tried, you kind of found a piece of yourself. And not only that, but you taught yourself and you used others around you and you learned from them. And that’s what makes you the trainer that you are, is your pulling from all these different areas within the industry. And I really love that. It has given me such a wonderful background education and experience, and it’s allowed me to help so many different people because my specialty when they do dog training, is working with people who have rescue dogs, who we don’t know their background. And we have to look at the dog and take them from where they’re now and try to help them and improve their behavior. Because, you know, we don’t always know the background, so we have to take the dog from where they are. You know, as trainers we sometimes joke around and say, you know, except the dog, you have not the dog you wish you had. And that is so true. And when you do adopt a dog at a shelter, you’re doing a wonderful thing, and we want to help them succeed to make that animal stay in the home.
Tell me a little bit about your training philosophy? How do you approach? How do you work with your clients? I think the most important thing between any species and you is communication. I always joke around with my family saying, If I could have any superpower, it would be the power of communication, that I could communicate freely with any species or anybody with a different language. And a lot of times, when I’m working with clients, I’ll say, I don’t speak Japanese. So if I went to Japan and I was trying to communicate with other people and they said something to me in Japanese and then they started yelling that same thing at me, would it help me understand? And the answer is no. It wouldn’t help me understand. In fact, it would just frustrate me. It would make me afraid, I might be scared. I might shut down. I might think of the right thing to do. But what I remember next time it asked me. No, probably not. I would have to be taught, you know, the Japanese language to be able to communicate in a way that would help me survive in that culture.
So it’s the same thing with dogs, right? They don’t speak English. English is a second language, so it’s our job to teach our dogs what our expectations are. So for me, the most important thing when you have a dog in your home is about the relationship that you have with your dog. So it’s really important to me that you have a bond based trust between you and your dog. And then, as you’re teaching your dog language, it’s important that you understand about your dog’s body language so that you can help them understand the way that they’ll feel more comfortable.
When you first meet with a client and their dog, what’s the one thing that you share with them? What’s that one educational piece that you try to instill with them when it comes to the bond of trust and the body language. What’s that one thing? I tell people that hand-feed their dogs. Really? Absolutely. I feel like they could throw out a lot of other advice. They have, like the dog’s whole life to teach them, you know, good obedience, cues, and things like that. And hand signals and good verbal cues and good recall and stays. But to build that trust, hand-feed the dog. I still love the band Jane’s Addiction, Perry Farrell said, “If you want a friend, feed any animal.” And that’s so true and hand feeding is so powerful, that if you take a dog that you don’t even know and you just find out what that dog enjoys, you know what, whether it’s bits of chicken or a little bits of hot dog or freeze-dried liver treats or anything, and you hand feed that dog, that dog is immediately going to attach itself to you, and so you do little short sessions of hand-feeding throughout the day. You don’t even have to say anything at all, and that will give you the opening that you need, that bond that you need, the dog will trust you. And then you can start teaching him English, and you can teach him what the expectations are. So pretty much. I tell my clients that through management, supervision, training and management, you can kind of help that dog be successful in your household.
So Lisa tell me, when you’re doing that, are you doing short training sessions? Are you asking them to do things during that hand feeding? Or is it just when they do something good and positive, you’re reinforcing by giving them that treat? Well, as many good dog trainers know, reinforcement drives behavior, so obviously you wanna go ahead and reinforce with your food value because that’s their paycheck. You want to give them treats when they’re doing behaviors that you desire. But that’s more of an evolution of where you’re getting to, as you’re starting to learn how that dog acts and how that dog is functioning and what you want the dog to do. That’s what we call training. But when you’re trying to originally get a bond with the new dog, whether it’s a puppy or adult from a shelter or from a friend who rehomed their dog with you, just feeding that dog either tossing treats on the floor, for the dog to do what we call find it. That’s a good way to start to. So if the dog has, like a sharp or a hard mouth and takes treats like a land shark from your hand, like most labs that didn’t go to puppy kindergarten, then tossing treats on the floor is a really good way to do that without getting injured, without losing a digit. So, yeah, so just tossing treats up first and see, kind of gage it. Or you can feed the dog like you would feed a horse, open palm out so that the dog starts connecting with you. We do know, though, that a lot of dogs who are fearful and shy or reactive or untrusting, they’re not going to take food from you and dogs that are shy and fearful, and scared, they’re also not going to do a sit or they’re not going to do a down because they have trust issues and they don’t trust you enough to do those behaviors.
So it’s not that they don’t know how to do those behaviors. Dogs all know how to sit dogs, all know how to lay down. We can observe them doing that. So when you have dogs that are more difficult, have those issues. That’s when we go from maybe allure to like shaping behavior so that when the dog is laying down, that’s when you would reinforce that behavior. And the more you reinforce the behavior, the more the dog is going to respond to you, and you’re gonna have this like ah-ha moments and it’s just wonderful. It’s wonderful that watch. It’s wonderful to experience. And, yeah, you learn a lot about your dog just from watching. I think there’s something to be said about that. What did they say? You have two ears because you’re supposed to listen twice as much. It’s kind of the same thing, right? I love that. Yeah.
So tell me a little bit about what you guys offer at Ohana Pet. So you do group and you do private or semiprivate lessons. Talk to me a little bit about some of the offerings that you guys have. Well, we don’t have our own training facility because we live on Maui. So I do training out of my home. I do Board and Train. For Board and Train, that’s where people would leave their dogs with me. I don’t have a set time amount like they don’t have to be here for a month or for two weeks. When I first started training back in the early nineties, I was very against Board and TrainI thought, no, the owner needs to be able to work with their dog. And sure their dog will listen to me, but they won’t listen to them. That happens. Like normally, I could go over to someone’s house for the first time and if the dog doesn’t have, you know, shy inhibitions or things like that, usually by the end of the first training session, the dog likes me more because I have the good treats, right? So it has nothing to do necessarily with that.
But by living in my home with me, the dog learns, Oh, you don’t jump all over people, you know, you move pathways, you just have good manners. So that’s what we teach when they come over for boarding. And because we live on an island and under normal conditions, so many people travel, so I would rather them leave their dog with me, than you know have to leave it a dog boarding kennel, where the dog doesn’t get like a normal household interaction. Because, you know, a lot of times when they go home from that situation, that’s really stressful, cause of all the barking or whatever. Not to say that you know, boarding kennels don’t have a good function, but I mean, it’s funny like I have dogs of my own. And I wouldn’t leave my dog in a boarding kennel per se, because I don’t feel like that would be a good fit for them. So I would much rather leave my dogs with somebody who does what I do or I would get like a pet sitter, that I trusted, to come and stay in my home while I was away, while I was off-island.
So I feel like by offering that service, it’s great, and usually, the first time a dog comes over to stay, of course, it’s scary, just like with a child going to summer camp for the first time. But once they know what to expect, then we find that most are like, so eager to come back, and they love being here, and they love seeing their friends. And I can tell you that most dogs, you know, a lot of dogs in our communities. It doesn’t matter if you’re on Maui or if you’re in Wisconsin or California, but you know, a lot of people only have one dog, so those dogs lose those social skills. So a lot of times when they come over, they have to relearn their canines social etiquette. You know how to behave around other dogs and have a dog’s holster again.
I have 1/3 of an acre here. We have three different fenced yards at my house, and I remember once I had five different dogs over at the house that were guests, and they were all from single dog family homes. And we all went in the backyard for them to play. And they all just stood there. They’re just like looking at each other. They had no idea how to play with each other. They were like little statues. Ironically, it was so funny. But by the time that they went home, they were playing with each other. It was a beautiful thing to watch, and unfortunately, I think that happens. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with having only one dog. But if you are gonna have only one dog, you need to make sure that you check all the boxes of what your dog needs so that they’re still retaining their canine social etiquette, as well as being around other situations and stuff because dogs who live in the house and they don’t ever see any other dogs become very reactive or agoraphobic or have other types of issues.
So that’s one benefit of boarding in a situation, in the home like ours. And there’s always dogs because I have eight dogs of my own. So yet never a dull moment in your household. I also have six cats, so they have to learn to tolerate cats, whether they like them or not. So that’s a whole another podcast right there. So, for starters, it’s a two and one. They get a great boarding facility. And then, of course, during their time with you, you’re training them so you’re enhancing their knowledge. You’re giving them socialization. Where in a boarding facility, they might not get all of that extra attention. And we don’t have Cowles. I do crate training with younger dogs with puppies and certain teenage dogs, but other than that, you know they live in our household like I would treat my own dogs. So it’s really a good thing. And then a lot of the clients that I do get for board and train, are clients that came out of my group dog training classes or private lessons.
So you know, I already have a relationship on a certain level with those dogs, so that makes it a lot easier. And I also know that because I’ve been in my classes, that they do have a little bit of a foundation of training. They do understand some English words. Not to say that I don’t ever take dogs that haven’t been through my training classes, but I do prefer when they have. And like you said, with the cats that you have as well. You have to make sure that they’re okay with cats, right?
So there has to be some sort of like consultation or meeting beforehand, just to make sure and dogs change. I mean, they might be okay with cats at a younger age and as they get older and become senior, maybe they’re a little grumpy in their old age. Maybe they’re not digging the whole cat thing anymore. So I feel like they progress through life, as humans do. And so there has to be some of that taken into consideration as well. And what you just said there, is so key and this is so overlooked. And I just really appreciate you saying that because so many people, they get dogs and they have puppies, and then they treat their dogs pretty much the same throughout their whole life. And that’s not the way that you should. Like, I am not going to treat, you know, a puppy the same way that I treat a dog, who’s between four and six years old. So we always talk about dogs in their life stages. So we have puppies up until they’re about 18 weeks of age, and then we have teenagers, from then on, until two years old and when a dog is two, they’re like in their twenties. And then when they’re three, they’re like in their thirties, and then when they’re four, they’re like in their forties and they’re perfect. That’s a joke, cause I’m in my 40’s. No, I’m totally with you, Lisa. That makes a lot of sense. And you want to be challenged right? At 40. I don’t want to do what I did at 20. And so it’s different toys. It’s a different engagement. It’s growing, right? You have to keep growing and you have to grow with them. When you have a dog, it is like the new normal. Every now and then, you need to re-engage where your dog is, because when your dog is like five or six years old, they’re like, you know, a man in their fifties. Are you going to tell a man in his fifties what to do all the time? They’re really going to resent that. So there’s a level of respect that we give older dogs. And you don’t treat your existing dogs like you would a new puppy and a lot of people are under the impression that, like kids, you have to treat them all equally. And that’s just not true.
So you know, that’s another part of my job, is translating, but you don’t have the same rules for the same dogs, you know, like filmar its new rules. Otherwise, your older dogs are going to give you dirty looks. Or, as we say in Hawaii, is saying, guys, they’re gonna look like, really like I don’t think so. Like, really, I’m not a baby anymore. Why are you treating me like that? Yeah, the relationship changes. Yes. And I think that comes easier for some people than it does for other people. So sometimes I, you know, explain gently to certain people that well, you know, I think your dog is capable of making really good choices. And actually, that’s kind of a premise of the end goal of what we want to get to, in a relationship with our dogs. Because we want them to have a relationship where their dog doesn’t have to look at them, like these programmed robots, that he could make good choices to do the good things and not take situations in his hands, own paws and be like, I’m going to go and, you know, bite that person. You want them to make good choices and not bad choices. So I help people get there with their dogs.
I love that. I was just looking at your website, one of the other things that’s really interesting to me, Lisa is, you have something called Canine Coaching, where it’s working with the dog only and not the owner, which is a little opposite of how some of us think about training right, the traditional training. So talk to me for a few minutes, just about what does that look like? Why do you do it? And how does that translate when you spend time with the dog and then you hand them back over to the owner? I do require that clients that want to utilize us for Canine Coaching, which is training with the dog only or for the busy professional that doesn’t have time. I want them to know exactly how we’re training their dogs and what we’re doing with their dogs and our philosophy of dog training. And so we do require that they have, like an initial consultation, so that we can go over those things and kind of show them how we will be working with their dog and then giving them homework after our sessions. Whether it’s through video or through written homework, or both. Sometimes depending on the dog, just so that they can keep up the good work on their own.
But after you know, training dogs for 30 some years, I will be the 1st one in line to tell you that there are so many people out there that either says they don’t have time or they don’t have energy and they just really want someone else to do it. And as much as I’m like, Oh, it’s terrible, right? I understand that that’s the reality. So I would much rather the dogs get these skills under their belt and be able to make it easier for the human that they live with so that when they do go to ask him to do something the dogs like, I know this. I’ve got this. And because they see how we’ve done it, then they’re like, Oh, okay, Wow, it works, you know? So it does work. Every trainer will be like, Oh, you know, we really want the people to be involved with the training. Absolutely. That’s always our first. But the reality is there’s going to be a lot of clients that want dogs but don’t want to train them, so I would much rather be the one to do that. Then have those dogs be trained with methods that I am not comfortable with or agree with, or I’m downright against them. Things should be illegal. So I would much rather those dogs have a positive experience with me and my trainers, then to go out and be stuck somewhere that’s not really a good environment.
Yeah, I will say, you know, it’s an interesting concept to me and furthermore, I think what really grabs me on this one is the fact that you are like not everybody wants to train their dog. And what do we do for those that don’t want that? So you found a way to make a bigger impact to reach a broader audience and not every business owner, not every trainer, has that same thought process. They’re like, this is what I do. This is how I want to operate, and if they don’t want to get on board with what I do, well, then there’s somebody else for them, and you said there is more opportunity, I can make a bigger impact. It can reach more people and you went to this, what I would call a very nontraditional way of training, to make that impact. And so I think that’s part of the educational side of what you love in making that bigger impact. So I love that and congratulations to you for really thinking outside the box on that. Part of my background too is being taught how to think outside the box and try to help as many people as I can. So not to say that there are some people that still want, like a magic wand or instantaneous training, which in my opinion doesn’t really exist. You can’t have that. I don’t know anybody, really, who will say I married the first person who asked me. So relationships take time and if they don’t take time, and sometimes you make a wrong decision.
So in a lot of ways, having a dog is like having a relationship with the significant other. It’s not something to be taken lightly. It takes time to develop those skills and to develop that bond between them. And so I think people need to have more patience. I think patience is 90% of working with anything, with any person, any animal, so it’s a good reminder to all of us. I definitely love that.
Lisa, as we get close to wrapping up here, I know we’ve talked about quite a bit today. Is there anything that we missed, that you want to talk about before we wrap things up? I just think that people need to forget sometimes with their preconceived notions are about how they work with their dogs. And I certainly talk to almost anybody, about how to improve the relationship with their dog. And it doesn’t have to be just sit, down and stay and come here and you know, yes, all of those things are super important. They can save your dog’s life, and I do feel their foundational skills that your dog should have. But there’s so much more, and I feel like there’s something for everyone, and it doesn’t matter what kind of a breed of dog you have. I’ve had many different breeds, so positive reinforcement works with all breeds of dogs, and using those types of techniques are the winning techniques because those are what’s going to give you a good bond between you and your dog. Yeah, greatly stated, and I agree.
Well, Lisa, this has been great to chat with you and connect with you and learn a little bit more about you as a person and as a trainer. I just love everything you’re doing. So thank you again for being on the show. Thank you so much for having me. It’s been a pleasure.
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