In November of 2021, Hand in Paw partnered with Rebecca Mason of Love Them Train Them to assist and mentor our current and potential Therapy Teams. Rebecca is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA) and Certified Trick Dog Instructor (CTDI) who holds a Master's in Education and is a member of the Pet Professional Guild. We are so excited to partner with her to support our current Therapy Teams and help to encourage and assist our potentials in training.
To help introduce our teams and supporters to Rebecca, we thought it would be fun to ask her some "get to know you" questions! Rebecca is warm, encouraging, extremely knowledgable and positive, which is truly shown by her answers below. We hope you enjoy getting to know Rebecca!
I think the most exciting thing right now is watching teams that I have worked with, both in HIP Team Training and in general obedience classes, go through the certification process, succeed, and become a team. Some of these teams are folks I have worked with for years, whose dogs I have watched grow from just a young pup! It is such a joy to see it all come full circle for folks who have worked so hard for so long. I am also loving getting to know the current and previous HIP teams! I’m doing some clinics right now with them, to help brush up their skills and keep the training fresh and fun for the dogs. Getting to make friends with both the dogs and their handlers is a blast! It’s an honor to get to support them in their journey in any way I can.
I became a trainer because I love dogs and I love to teach! Before I started my training company, I used to be an elementary school teacher. I always knew, even as a small child, that teaching was what I was meant to do. Until I entered the world of dogs, I just didn’t know how or where I was supposed to put that ability to use! Much of what I do is teaching people, not training dogs. The dogs are often the easy part! I want to empower pet parents so they will have not only the knowledge but also the skills they need in order to set their dogs up for success. As far as being a certified trainer, that’s important to me because it means I am committed to continuing education and providing my students with excellent, research-based methods.
Hand-signal based cues like “watch me” should be first and foremost. Dogs are visual learners, but a lot of people don’t know what. If you want your dog to respond to the cues you give them, starting with eye contact is everything! I’m also passionate about having a positive way to redirect dogs when they’re thinking about doing things most pet owners don’t like, such as getting in the trash, jumping on someone, or pulling on the leash. So redirection and focusing are the main things my students work on in their first session with me.
Training with positive methods is non-negotiable to me! It’s easy to correct your dog (“no,” “stop,” “nah-ah”), but how are they supposed to know what you DO want them to do unless you teach them? That’s where positive reinforcement training comes in. Your dog does something you like - be it a behavior you asked for, or a behavior they offered to you unprompted - and something good happens for them in return (a treat, toy, petting, a game of tug, a toss of a ball). The dog learns that, hey, when I do that thing, mom really likes that AND I get something too! It’s about finding what motivates your dog. A lot of therapy dogs are very tactile and LOVE to be petted, so our therapy teams use physical touch as a reinforcer when they’re on a visit. For beginner pups, I typically use treats or toys, because in a group class environment, you often need things like that to keep them “in the game.” But positive reinforcement is about so much more than treats; it’s a way of life, a way of communicating things clearly to your dog so they understand what you’d like them to do in any given situation. This is one way of advocating for your dog - setting them up to succeed by giving them clear communication. Positive reinforcement training really grows your bond with your dog, too!
Absolutely! Dogs are all SO capable. I have students come to me with dogs who are 8 or 9 years old, wanting to know if it’s too late. In fact, I once had a 9 year old sheltie mix come to beginner class with me. His family thought they were just giving the old fella something fun to do, but he ended up living another 9 years and taking multiple classes, and learning so much! And he and his family bonded more and more because of the training they did together. So no, it’s never too late! All ages, all breeds… they are all capable of growth. That being said, dogs have their own personalities, gifts, and abilities, just like we do. As for me, I’ll never be a marathon runner, but I’m creative and I have other things I’m good at! Dogs are like that - they all have things they’re going to be better at than others. Not all dogs will be therapy dogs for example, but some might be masters of tricks or agility, or scent work! The dog world is so full of opportunities now! People should never let their dog’s age, breed, or lack of training stop them from pursuing some fun & some bonding time (which is what good training is, no matter the topic!)
You can learn more about Rebecca's classes on her website!