So, you need a dog trainer…
I understand what you’re going through. I’m a dog owner and dog lover first, and a dog trainer second. So I know what it’s like trying to figure out what’s best for you and your best friend. There are many trainers and many methods out there to choose from, so I hope that giving you a little more information about me will help you in making the decision that’s right for you.
Choosing someone to train your dog is like choosing someone to help you to care for and teach your child. Not only do you want to find someone with the proper background, education and experience, you want to find someone you trust and feel comfortable with and whose methods and ideas make sense to you. For that reason, I have always offered a free evaluation session to give potential clients the opportunity to meet me, see how I interact with their dogs and ask questions about my methods and programs. If you like what you read here, feel free to contact me to schedule our first meeting, a free evaluation of your dog.
People often ask how I became a dog trainer. It’s a sad story, but I think it tells a lot about my motivations as a dog trainer and why I truly empathize with my clients when they’re having difficulties with their dogs. I was raised in suburbia just outside Pittsburgh, PA and just couldn’t wait to get out on my own (partly because I couldn’t have a dog!), so at 16, I moved to New York City to attend Baruch College on an early admissions program.
Always a dog lover, I couldn’t wait to get my first dog. But my apartment didn’t allow pets, so to get my dog fix, I got a job as a kennel attendant at the Manhattan Pet Hotel. It was a dirty job, but somebody had to do it… and I loved every minute of it! All of my time that wasn’t spent scooping was spent playing with dogs, but it just wasn’t the same as having a dog of my own. I ended up moving to a new apartment and the landlord agreed to allow me to have a dog. Off to the ASPCA!
There were so many dogs to choose from, but being a softie and knowing nothing about how to pick an appropriate dog, I took the most pathetic, downtrodden dog I could find… the one who rolled over and peed all over herself when I said hello! I named her Sam. She was the sweetest dog ever, but was also confused, skittish, aggressive and definitely NOT the right dog for an inexperienced owner. But she was mine, so I did everything I could to make it work. My first exposure to the (mostly) wonderful world of dog training.
Sam had almost every behavior problem I can think of. She wasn’t housebroken. She ate nearly every pair of shoes and piece of clothing I owned. She dragged me down the street when we went for a walk. She tried to bite a couple of people in the elevator of my apartment building. So I called the dog trainer at the ASPCA, desperate for help. Instead, what I got was a lecture. After all, I had only had the dog for 4 weeks. She told me that an adopted dog needed at least 3 months to adjust to its new environment and that I should call back then. I told her I was afraid that the dog might hurt somebody. She said to give the dog some time to “settle in” and to call back in 2 months.
So I went to the bookstore, bought an armload of dog training books and got to work. Within a couple of weeks, Sam could happily sit and lie down on command with either verbal commands or hand signals! And she still wasn’t housebroken. She was still eating my stuff. She still dragged me down the street. She was still trying to bite people in the elevator. And she’d developed an ugly new habit: barking and howling the whole time I was away every time I left the apartment.
Neighbors started complaining. I pulled out the Yellow Pages and started calling dog trainers. Yes, they said, they could help me. For a HUGE fee, all paid up front. I asked if I could work out a payment plan. No. Not one of them was willing to give me a break, and I just didn’t have the money to pay up front.
My dog was bad, a terror, but I loved her. I worked on the things I read in my dog training books every day, but still had no idea how to solve her biggest problems. I started getting calls from my landlord. Get rid of that dog or get out. Tried to find an apartment that would take me and my loud, crazy dog. No luck.
So after trying everything I could think of to fix my little damaged doggie, I had to either take her back to the shelter or end up without a place to live. I made the hardest decision of my life and took Sam back to the ASPCA. When I was there, I was terribly upset and started talking to the employees in the adoptions department about what had happened. Somehow, by the time I left, I had scheduled a job interview. I thought somehow that I might be able to make up for not being able to save Sam by helping to save the rest of the dogs there at the shelter.
Soon thereafter, I started working at the ASPCA as an adoption counselor, helping to match owners with appropriate pets for their homes and lifestyles. It was a very gratifying job, but also a depressing one with a high employee turnover. Dogs and cats were being put to sleep in huge numbers, since there are always more pets than homes. I would see people turning their pets over to the shelter looking just like I had when I brought Sam back. Crying, guilty, frustrated, devastated. And I heard it over and over again… “I just can’t get her to stop peeing in the house,” “She chews up all of my furniture,” “He keeps knocking the kids over”… problems that might have been easy to solve, if only the owners had known how. More often than not, these (almost) perfectly good dogs would end up being put to sleep.
I started thinking that there had to be something I could do to help keep this from happening. Maybe I could become a dog trainer. One who didn’t make people feel guilty and tell them to call back in 2 months. One who would let people make payments if they didn’t have all the money up front. One who wouldn’t treat people the way I was treated when I called all those dog trainers for help. (See, I told you I knew what you were going through!)
I started researching and found a dog training school in Ohio, The National K-9 School of Dog Trainers. I took a leave of absence from the ASPCA and enrolled in and graduated from their Master Trainer program in 1988. I returned to work at the ASPCA and started working with a few private clients in NYC, but what I really wanted was to open my own dog training school. A few months later, I opened Rebecca Setler’s Dog Training Center in Pittsburgh, PA. I did private lessons and board-and-train programs at my facility, focusing on obedience training and behavior problems, and quickly found myself with a good reputation, lots of referral business and a full schedule.
I began offering private in-home lessons when clients requested them, and I found that the results of in-home training were even better than those that could be achieved at a training facility. In the home, I could observe the dynamics of the family and the dog in a way that I couldn’t in my training center. I could help my clients teach the dog to stay off the couch instead of just telling them how to do it. I was totally sold on the concept of in-home training, but not so terribly sold on the idea of driving to clients’ houses in all that ice and snow. Off to sunny California!
I sold my dog training center to another trainer and moved to Los Angeles in 1990. I’ve been training dogs in LA and beyond ever since. Once again, I find myself in the fortunate position of getting the vast majority of my business through client referrals and repeat business, even getting referrals for behavioral consultations by phone with clients as far away as Japan and Romania. And now, thanks to the internet, I’m able to help dog owners all over the world with my free housebreaking website, The Housebreaking Bible, and my book, Puppy Sleep Training – The Exhausted Puppy Owner’s Nighttime Survival Guide.
I miss Sam to this day, but I feel incredibly fortunate that my nutty, growly, destructive little beastie led me down the path to becoming a dog trainer, because, to me, helping dogs and their people to understand each other better is the most gratifying job in the world. I look forward to helping you live a better life with your dog!