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By Caroline, Dog Mom and Pet Lifestyle Contributor

If you’ve ever wondered where pursuing a pet project might take you, spend some time with Sara Carson. From Ontario, Canada, she’s known as one of the top international trick dog trainers, and she’s entirely self-taught.

Since appearing on season 12 of “America’s Got Talent” in 2017, Carson and her troop of five Super Collies have been captivating audiences around the world with their playful demonstrations of more than 400 behaviors. Some of their other TV appearances include “America’s Got Talent The Champions,” “The Late Show with David Letterman” and Animal Planet’s “A Year in Pup Culture,” to name a few.

From dance routines to balancing acts and getting her Border Collie, Hero, to blow bubbles on command, Carson is a reminder that with the right training, every canine companion is capable of impressing a crowd.

“It definitely takes a special person to work with animals and train dogs. But it’s practice, and it takes a lot of patience. If you have a passion to do it, you can pretty much succeed at it,” said Carson.

We got a chance to talk to Carson, just in time for National Adopt a Shelter Dog Month. Keep reading for her tips on trick training and things every dog owner should know.

But first…

Here’s a little more on how Carson transformed her passion for animals into a full-time career.

She grew up with a family dog. After watching a few YouTube videos of people doing agility and trick training, she decided it was time to put her Cocker Spaniel to the test.

“I wasn’t that social as a kid, and I didn’t connect with people as well as I did with animals. So, I would work with literally any animal. I worked with chipmunks and squirrels and hamsters and rats, and I just really enjoyed teaching something else how to do something and then actually having them complete the behavior. I thought it was really rewarding,” said Carson.

Sara Carson with her dog Hero

After fine-tuning her skills, she started teaching basic agility training to a few pet owners and their dogs in her backyard. From there, her roster grew, and she moved to a new facility where she taught about 40 clients a month. Carson doesn’t have any formal training, but every new client is a learning experience.

“Thankfully I’ve had the opportunity to not only work with thousands of different kinds of dogs in person, but I’ve also traveled internationally and taught workshops and taught online. I’ve had a lot of opportunity to perfect my skills and learn new ways to work with different breeds and dogs,” said Carson.

Here are her tips for teaching your dog some new tricks and things every pet owner should know:

1. You can teach an old dog (or any dog) new tricks. Don’t let age, breed or your dog’s affinity for napping deter you. All dogs have the potential to learn something new.

It just takes lots of patience, persistence and passion whether you do it on your own or seek the help of a trained professional. However, there are a few things to consider if you have a senior dog.

“The only thing I tell people is to make sure that your dog is fit. Make sure your dog is not overweight and don’t do any high impact crazy stunts unless the dog has been conditioned to do so,” said Carson.

2. Trick training is a great way to strengthen the bond between you and your pet, and you can use your dog’s food as an incentive.

More than just having something new for your Instagram feed, trick training is a fun way to spend some quality time with your dog.

It’s what inspired Carson to developed the app, Puppr. You can download it for free for access to tools (including clicker training), techniques and training tips.

3. Dog ownership is a big decision. Before adopting a new pet, understand what kind of dog you need for your lifestyle.

For example, if you’re someone that travels all the time, and you want to take your dog with you, a small dog that fits in a bag may be the best option. However, if you work 15 hours a day, and you’re never home, you probably shouldn’t get a dog explained Carson.

“You need to be aware of what your lifestyle is, and how a dog can fit into that lifestyle successfully, and that’s fair for the dog,” said Carson.

You can also visit our Pet Adoption Guide for more tips on how to find the best dog for your lifestyle, along with house training tips and how to curb behavior problems before they start.

4. Get informed before you bring your new family member home.

“Honestly, read a book,” said Carson. “Because it is a lot. It’s like bringing a new child into your household, and there are classes for that. People just need to get educated and educate themselves on exactly what a dog needs and what is and is not appropriate to do with a dog.”

5. If your dog is acting up when you’re not home, it’s not because you have a bad dog. Your pup just needs to learn how to behave when you’re not together.

“Do you let your kids do whatever they want? Probably not. You give them structure and put them in their crib,” said Carson. 

“I hate to say dogs are like kids, but it’s an animal. You really have to give them structure and teach them, hey you’re a dog, you don’t get to go on the furniture whenever you want." 

Structure is everything in every household, and dogs look for this guidance from their packleader (you). By giving your canine cohabitant a job, like going in their crate when it’s time for you to go to work, you’re also providing them with some mental stimulation, and dogs want this.

“Dogs look up to their owners, and they want to do something. So if you implement even just a little bit of structure, you’ll have a happier dog,” said Carson.

6. Before bringing a new puppy home to your kids, try practicing with a stuffed animal.

This can help both your kids and your new family member feel more comfortable and reduce the likelihood of any bad interactions.

“The worst thing you could do is put that puppy in a situation that makes the puppy fearful of children,” said Carson. “Any bad interactions that a puppy has with the kid could scar them for life. You could be dealing with a dog that is either reactive or scared of children, and you do not want to have that.”

Instead, teach your kids how to handle, feed, walk, crate and even take a stuffed animal puppy out to go potty. This will help the whole family prepare for the new responsibilities that come with adopting a puppy.

7. Keeping your dog in a crate isn’t being mean. Really.

Pet owners need to look at crate training as structure and safety and get past the fact that your dog is in a cage, explained Carson, who crates all of her dogs when she’s not home. She also secures them in crates when they’re on the road.

“The biggest thing is that people think a crate is punishment or cruel,” said Carson. “But would you rather your dog be in a crate or jump up on the counter, eat a chocolate bar and die? Or get bored, chew on electric cable and electrocute itself?”

Crates are a good idea. If your dog is properly trained, they’ll look forward to being in their crate as a safe place for relaxing, sleeping and getting fed.

Still feel like you and your pup could benefit from some in-person training? Carson hosts workshops around the world. You can visit her website to see what’s happening in your neck of the woods. Now, back to belly rubs.

 

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