Meet Your Merchant: Taking a walk with Truckee’s top dog
TRUCKEE, Calif. – If there’s anything Carla Brown learned over the past two years, it’s that you can reinvent your career at any time and you can always teach an old dog new tricks.
After working for 20 years in the technology industry inputting clinical information systems in hospitals, Brown switched fields in a big way: She opened a canine training facility in Truckee.
“I knew this was always something I wanted to do, so eight years ago I decided it was time to make a change and I left one business to start studying a new one,” Brown said while petting her four-legged, furry best friend, Kaya, at Truckee’s Savvy Dog located on Deerfield Drive.
“It’s a humbling experience when you’ve spent 20 years in an industry, building a reputation where you’re seen as an expert, and then all of sudden you start over again.”
Brown had been volunteering at Bay Area shelters and at the Humane Society of Truckee-Tahoe, where her appetite for dog training grew. Upon relocating from San Francisco to Tahoe in 1997, she became increasingly drawn to the profession.
“I was fortunate to have a lot of opportunities to take classes in the Bay Area with some of the best trainers in the world where I received a lot of education through classes and hands-on training,” Brown said. “I spent a lot of time with shelter dogs and I think that is the best way a trainer can get started.”
When she decided to take the leap into a new career, Brown and her friend, a fellow aspiring dog trainer, traveled to Maryland to study under Pat Miller – a premier certified trainer and author of the nationally-acclaimed book, “The Power of Positive Dog Training.”
After logging 300 hours of experience and passing a meticulous, painstaking written exam, Brown received the title of Certified Dog Trainer through the Council for Certification of Pet Dog Trainers – a label that prompted her to open Savvy Dog in spring 2010.
“When you own a dog, it becomes part of your family and it’s an emotional connection – so when something is not going right, it can be a very emotional thing,” Brown said. “Training can help people understand how to build that communication link and that’s what I focus on in my classes – I bring people to a place where they can learn to understand what natural dog behavior is and what are we trying to change and why.”
While mass media has propagated the illusion there are quick fixes to behavioral issues in canines, scientific research is starting to prove otherwise, Brown said.
“One thing I love about dog training is that it has become a science, and so much research is being done all over world on how dogs communicate, how they act in pack, and why they may or may not show aggression,” Brown said. “We now know things about dogs that we didn’t know 20 years ago, and we’re able to take that information and use it, so it’s not a guessing game anymore.”
While there are some behavioral issues that are not easily altered in dogs, like abnormal phobias and strong fear of response, science has shown that many of these idiosyncratic habits can be prevented through early puppy socialization wherein a newborn pup receives as many positive associations as possible from birth until four-months-of-age.
“One thing we know about dogs is that if they encounter something as young puppy that they don’t know about or that scares them, they form these associations and they file it, perpetuating their fears in adulthood,” Brown said. “It’s a fairly new concept, but we are finding that if we prepare dogs and create that social foundation, the dog can go on to deal with the world that surrounds them.”
Through word of mouth – or rather, word of bark – Savvy Dog is growing to be an elite dog training center in Northern California, and Brown hopes to expand her efforts this year through online blogging tips and tutorials, seminars with local veterinarians, and through her bi-monthly dog training column in Truckee’s Moonshine Ink.
Among her training messages to local dog owners, Brown contends the lack of leashes in Tahoe is a major challenge pet owners face.
Brown admits to being a culprit of walking a leash-less dog through Martis Valley, but stresses the importance that people recognize and honor those who must leash their dogs to prevent them from running off or acting with aggression.
“When you see a dog on a leash, there’s usually a reason and it’s best to address the dog owner – yell ahead and find out if the dog is OK with other dogs or humans, and if they say no, get out of the way or turn around so that person can get by,” Brown said. “There are some amazing people up here who have taken on some very difficult cases and these dogs still need to be walked, so we need to be respectful of that.”
Just as behavioral issues in humans are difficult to unravel, the same can be said for our four-legged counterparts. However, through continuous education, Brown is determined to expand her knowledge and understanding in order to pass the latest information along to North Tahoe families and dog lovers.
“If I’m still doing this when I’m 80 years old, I’m sure I’ll still be learning – that’s the nature of this business; you can never know it all,” Brown said.