After holding various positions in corporate America, Biddeford resident Jessica Robichaud decided to pursue her passion for working with dogs. She now holds various titles, including Knowledge Assessed Certified Professional Dog Trainer and AKC Canine Good Citizen Evaluator. Upon completing her training at the national retail chain Pet Smart, Robichaud began teaching puppy and beginner training classes in New Jersey. Ultimately, she became the senior trainer, teaching up to 12 group classes per week and conducting private lessons for owners of dogs with specific behavioral needs. She continued her education while working as an assistant volunteer trainer at one the of most influential schools in the country, St. Hubert’s Dog Training School in Madison, N.J.

Through her Biddeford-based business, the Capable Canine, the 34-year-old Robichaud helps create a lifelong trust between owners and dogs using positive reinforcement and behavior modification. She will be among those participating in the L.L. Bean-sponsored Dog Days of August on Saturday at the Freeport retailers Discovery Park on Main Street. She will do a program from noon-3 p.m. on the Canine Good Citizen test, a certification program designed to reward dogs that have good manners at home and in the community. All dogs that pass the 10-step CGC test receive a certificate from the American Kennel Club.

Robichaud, who holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism-communications from the University of Hartford, is a professional member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers and attends numerous seminars each year. She enjoys volunteering for Boxer Angels Rescue, doing pet therapy work and participating in Rally Obedience. Robichaud resides in Biddeford with her husband and two rescued dogs, a Boston terrier named Bean and a boxer named Layla. She recently took a few minutes to speak with the Tri-Town Weekly about why she chose a career with animals, the need to train owners more than their pets, and if the old adage that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks is actually true.

Q: How did you decide to become a professional dog trainer?

A: I grew up in a family where we always had dogs and did some training. My older sister was a trainer and a breeder. I went through the training program offered at Pet Smart and decided to pursue my passion for animals. I was a volunteer St. Hubert’s Dog Training School in New Jersey and eventually received certification as a KACPD (Knowledge Assessed Certified Professional Dog Trainer).

Q: How does one receive that certification?

A: You have to have over 200 hours of training and receive a letter of recommendation from a veterinarian, a recommendation from a client, and also a recommendation from a colleague. After you have those in order, you have to pass a four-hour test.

Q: What are a few techniques you employ to train dogs?

A: It’s more training people. I train people to train dogs, if that makes any sense. I may spend an hour at a home with an owner but that is not enough time to spend with a dog. Training a dog is a process and owners need to spend time working on that process every single day. We show the owners how to train their dogs effectively and how to communicate with their dog effectively. There’s usually a miscommunication between the species; the dog thinks one thing and the owner thinks something else. I’m not sure if dogs make assumptions but people certainly do. This is where I come in and demonstrate the techniques I’ve been using for a long time.

Q: What type of techniques?

A: I use positive reinforcement training. I usually use a clicker, a mechanism that dogs associate with good behavior and are rewarded with a treat. When dogs hear the clicker, it means they did something we like and want to encourage. The reward doesn’t always have to be a treat. It could be a toy, a ball, or something like playing in the water.

Q: What are a few common mistakes that dog owners make in the training process?

A: Sometimes it’s repeating the same word over and over. It’s a foreign language to a dog, they really don’t understand it. It would be like my speaking German to someone who doesn’t understand the language. I can keep repeating the word, louder and louder, but they are not going to understand. With a dog, you need to have the object associated with the word, like a water bottle, for instance, that you can point to. It’s about making connections. Owners will want to give affection where it’s inappropriate and in the wrong place as far as the dog is concerned. Owners will misread the body language, it’s very important and well documented. The owner needs to study the body language of the dog and sometimes a wagging tail is not always the sign of a happy or friendly dog.

Q: How about something like not getting the dog to tug on his leash when going for a walk?

A: It’s about taking time with the dog. It all depends, you can’t give a timeline, and you may be working on it for a few months or an entire lifetime. It comes down to the owner and the dog.

Q: Is it true that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?

A: No, that’s definitely not true at all. What I like to compare that to is an older human; an older person can certainly learn new things and dogs are extremely intelligent. An older dog may just not be as motivated and you have to figure out what motivates them, that’s the key. Once you figure out what motivates the dog, then you can work with that. If the animal doesn’t care, of course it’s harder. If the dog just likes to lay on the couch, it can be tough. A golden retriever, for example, is a dog that loves everything from taking walks to going in the water. With an animal like that, I can manipulate those interests to help train.

Q: When you go into a home, what types of things do you evaluate?

A: I evaluate everything in the house from the fact there are kids to the owners amount of time. I usually recommend at least five sessions. Every case is different because every dog is different.

Q: Are there certain breeds that are easier to train than others?

A: I don’t want to name certain breeds because it comes down to enthusiasm. There are lists that say certain dogs are smarter, which I don’t buy. It really comes down to what motivates the dog. Some breeds that get rated lower are actually smarter. One dog may want to think it through before doing something.

Q: What about severe methods like shock collars?

A: I avoid shock collars unless it is a dire situation. I have used citronella oil, which dogs don’t like, as an aversive method. It’s harmless and does not administer pain. If you cause pain through a choke chain, they associate you with pain. It can damage the relationship with your dog and create trust issues. They can see you putting it on them.

A CLOSER LOOK

L.L. Bean will host Dogs Day of August, Saturday, Aug. 24, from 8 a.m.-4 p.m., at the retailer’s Discovery Park on Main Street in Freeport. The event will feature free family activities, canine contests, dog training demonstrations, and low-cost rabies shots. In conjunction with the Dog Days of August, the Coastal Humane Society will sponsor the eighth annual Paws for a Cause 5K Run/Walk and a 1-Mile Walk at Memorial Park, on the corner of Bow and Park streets, adjacent to the Hilton Garden Inn. The walk is designed for animal lovers, dogs and friends. Registration fee for the Paws for a Cause is $25 and must be done in advance by signing up at coastalhumanesociety.org. All proceeds from Paws for a Cause will benefit the animals in the Coastal Humane Society shelter.

Biddeford-based dog trainer Jessica Robichaud with one her canine students. Robichaud will be participating in the Dogs Day of August, an L.L. Bean-sponsored event featuring dog training demonstrations, family activities, and low-cost rabies shots, Aug. 24.


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