Interview With Dog Trainer Kate Perry

BY Taylor Rebhan

Things just got a little better for man’s best friend. Meet Shinola Pet, a new line of high quality, American-made canine accessories, from Shinola dog beds to toys to leashes and collars, developed alongside famed photographer (and next-level dog lover) Bruce Weber. To kick off the collection’s launch, we sat down with three women—a breeder, a trainer, and a humane society advocate—who know a thing or two about keeping canines happy. 

For Kate Perry, it was a serendipitous encounter with a pack of Tribeca canines that sent her on the way to becoming one of New York’s most in-demand dog trainers. They just happened to belong to famed lensman Bruce Weber, and the experience set off a domino effect that would soon lead Perry off the beaten career path. The intervening decade has been a veritable whirlwind of events for this self-proclaimed “trainer to all walks of life.” In 2010, New York magazine dubbed her the city’s Best Dog Trainer, and that same week, Penguin Books came calling. The result was her much-lauded Training for Both Ends of the Leash, released in 2012. Perry has worked with the pets of everyone from Anna Wintour to Jon Stewart, and today does in-home training consultations in Manhattan. 

Below, she speaks candidly about getting her start as a trainer, pooch personality types, and her ultimate dog owner’s mantra.

What was it that drew you to dog training?

I always knew that I was going to work with animals, but it wasn’t specific to dogs–I loved all animals. I was en route to become a vet, so I started a dog walking business back in the day, and somebody said, ‘Well, there’s a pack of dogs down in Tribeca that nobody wants to walk at 8:00 in the morning,’ and I was basically going to do that as a side job and do my evening courses as a vet. But by meeting Bruce’s dogs, I started learning about the psychology, and that was it. I knew that that was my calling. I always say that vets heal them with the stitches and the Neosporin, and I want to heal them from the psychological aspect. It’s the kind of profession that, the more you do it, the better you get. A two-year course ain’t gonna do it, it’s lifelong. The difference between my style and a lot of other trainers’ is what I call the four character traits: party animal, sensitive artist, methodical thinker, and workaholic. I always say to owners that we have those traits, too. Maybe you have all of those, but you have your primary trait. I always use Bruce as an example, because he has five Retrievers and people tend to stereotype them as a happy-go-lucky dog, and of course they are, but those five dogs have very different personality traits, or what I call “canine-ality” traits. A lot of times people will call me in and say ‘My dog’s not very bright,’ and I’ll say, ‘No, actually, it’s more of a methodical thinker.’ It pauses before it does something. So when I go and work with people, I sort of get a sense of what the personality type is on the dog, and also the owner. Very often my job is going into people’s homes where it’s not always the perfect personality match and making that work. Just like with any relationship, you grow and kind of adjust.

As a trainer, what are your views on adopting versus going to a breeder?

Any trainer under the sun for the most part is going to advocate adopting. Dogs are overpopulated. There are too many in the shelters, and there are too many “recycled” dogs. And there are plenty of good ones in there. The challenge is that you still have to match up the right dog with your lifestyle. Know your lifestyle, know what your capabilities are, know what your budget is before adopting. Just having a big heart and wanting to have a load of dogs is one thing; having the finances to properly care for those dogs is another. Sometimes it’s better just to volunteer at a shelter to do good in that context, rather than just adopting a dog for the sake of adopting a dog. It goes back to what I was talking about before: knowing yourself and really taking time to pick out the right match. The same holds true for going to a breeder. You want a good breeder who’s breeding for temperament, not aesthetics. I always say get a professional trainer, whether you’re getting the dog from a breeder, or whether you’re getting it from a rescue. That should be part of the financial investment in that dog. People are prepared to go to a vet, and to spend loads of money on dog outfits, and fancy food, but people think getting a trainer is an indulgence, but actually it’s an investment in having a happy, healthy relationship between you and your dog.

If you were trying to give a mantra to owners on the path to a better-behaved dog, what would it be?

“If you’re going to correct it, redirect it.” I always use the analogy that if water’s going down a pipe and you plug it, it’s only going to burst the pipe, or if there’s another pipe to go down, it will redirect it. Old school military concepts of training, like the choke collar and the shock collar–it’s just plugging the emotion, it stops it through aversive stimulus. “I don’t like the barking, I’m going to zap you.” To me that’s a little barbaric, because you don’t know what the emotional state of that bark is. If I’m in anxiety and you hurt me, then I’m going to be in more anxiety.

Your book is called Training for Both Ends of the Leash; could you elaborate on what that title means?

It’s cooperation training for you and your dog. The method of training derives from dolphin training, but the point of the book is using real-life stories, to show that people have to shift sometimes, and to train them to alter their behavior to then alter the dog’s behavior. I always say training means practice. When you’re training for a marathon, you train for a marathon, you don’t just run 26 miles. Training for both ends of the leash takes practice. As a trainer, we have to get trained to become a trainer, you go through apprenticeships and you learn the craft, the art, the science. At the end of the day, it’s about training owners and pets for connection, so that you can your dog can cooperate.

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