If she can click-train a chicken, chances are Sue-Ellen McIntyre can teach your dog a thing or two. Click training is classic conditioned response behavior. The animal learns through positive reinforcement by hearing a click and then immediately receives a reward for responding to it. McIntyre, who trained with chickens as part of her dog-training internship, is all about positive reinforcement.
McIntyre is the owner and chief dog trainer at savvysnoots, which she operates from her Norwalk-based home office. "My goal is to make peoples' and dogs' lives together better," she says. McIntyre works with dogs and their humans one-on-one in order to help them "improve their relationship and to bond," and she does so mainly in clients' homes. Sometimes she'll take the humans and dogs to a park to work on commands such as coming when called and walking on a leash.
Originally from Toronto, Canada, McIntyre has lived and worked in Norwalk for just over a decade. She opened savvysnoots a year ago, but has been working with dogs for more than three years. Most of her clients, she says, are dog owners who work outside the home and are unable, due to time constraints, to devote enough time to working with their dogs, which, as any pet owner knows, is a decidedly full time venture. A longtime dog lover, McIntyre volunteered at PAWS in Norwalk while she underwent her dog training studies. And of course she has dogs of her own who she says she's constantly training. She has hopes of her dogs one day becoming therapy animals, which provide comfort to people in hospitals, retirement and nursing homes and schools, as well as those with learning difficulties and those in stressful situations, such as disaster areas.
Her experiences as a trainer have led McIntyre to the conclusion that a "well-balanced, well-mannered and well-trained dog" is possible if owners work with, and not against, that dog's instincts. Retrievers, in other words, will retrieve and German shepherds, working dogs, are happiest when they have "work" do to. Owners, says, McIntyre, need to respect their dogs' instincts and then work with them in order to make that dog happy, and in turn, to be a perfect companion.
Successfully training a dog is not always an easy or linear journey, says McIntyre. It takes time, patience and ongoing positive reinforcement, but her philosophy about dog training – and life – sustains her. "It's not a race. It's all about the practice."
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