I sat on the grassy hillside near a field, running the leash through my hands, trying to catch my breath in the fresh air. Feeling alone, frustrated, and lost, I had attempted unsuccessfully to run away from the hurt until my legs gave out and my heart pounded in my ears. I reached out to my dog sitting nearby, her tongue lolling and the sun warming her soft, black fur. Stroking her back habitually, I was overcome by the insecurities and gravitas of teenage angst. As I touched her though, she leaned into my hand and shifted closer, balancing her weight against my side, allowing me to fully embrace her. My troubled heart heaved a grateful sigh of relief. It has taken me nearly 20 years to fully appreciate how remarkable dogs are, but what I experienced in that moment seared a love and desire in my heart and mind to associate with animals the rest of my life. There is incredible potential within the relationships of humans and dogs that can be unlocked through benevolent stewardship, scientific truths, and trustworthy mentorship; the difficulty is in how and where to find that.
Dogs can bring an unparalleled connection, support, and affection to our lives and communities, often making a significant difference in the short time they share their lives with us. We invite them to live among humans and they brilliantly respond, attempting to navigate the foreign nuances of our world, deciphering what we want and adapting to fulfill needs. Raising a dog does not usually come intuitively, and there are so many methods and opinions on how best to do it. When expectations are not met we are left to wonder where the deficit lies and who to turn to for help. Society depends on the expertise of dog trainers and behavior consultants to bridge the gap when struggles emerge.
Several years ago I experienced this when two dogs of my own started to erupt in fights that I could not predict or control. I realized then that love and good intentions are not always enough; I needed someone who had expertise with dogs to show me the way. I wanted to restore peace in the lives of my dogs and joy in having them as part of mine. However, while pursuing various methods of dog training I could not discern the dogmatic from the enlightened, the self-appointed from the educated, and the bond with my dogs deteriorated. It was a mystery to me at the time why they were struggling to begin with, and I was led to believe I had failed at training them. It was a heartbreaking journey, rife with regret and shame, one I know others have experienced and countless more potentially face. It brought me to an acute realization of the value of professionalism and the need for expertise in the dog training industry. The wellbeing of animals, people, and communities depend upon it. The unresolved confusion and frustration became a catalyst for me to learn all I could about dogs and training. It committed me on the path to becoming the professional I had desperately needed, to achieve the level of expertise required to genuinely and effectively help others.
Volunteering for a large animal rescue organization fortunately led me to a generous and gifted mentor who patiently guided me through evidence-based learning. As my knowledge of learning theory, ethology, and behaviorism grew, I gradually shed the misconceptions and guilt I had carried for so long. I have since gained the tools to help others, forever changing how I approach dogs and people. It is true that how we do one thing is how we do everything. Science-based dog training has transformed my life, reawakening the joy-filled passion I once felt for animals, and has brought new positivity in working with people. The experience and insights I have gained along the way working with rescue organizations, pet owners, and assistance dogs in training, and attending courses have been invaluable. I have learned that an altruistic learning environment free of coercion and retribution is just as crucial for humans as it is for dogs. We cannot provide compassion, control, and choice to one and not the other and have both thrive. It takes universally inclusive and uplifting interactions to develop trusting relationships where learning and change can occur. I have witnessed again and again as I teach volunteers, families, and organizations, that the same principles of how to improve our stewardship of dogs carries over into various aspects of people’s personal lives. In my own life this is a gift that has precipitated becoming a better parent, friend, and citizen.
Each one of us is at a different stage in our quest for knowledge, but it’s imperative we share with all who are willing to learn. Good will and education are enabling and transformative, and we can never fully predict another’s potential or influence in benefiting society. I believe in mentoring others with integrity and unconditional kindness, holding professionalism to a higher ethical standard of stewardship. Rebecca Park embodied these virtues with poise and provided an enduring example for others like myself to follow. I’m striving to emulate her in cultivating trust and sharing expertise in a way that dogs and people will be receptive to learning. I plan to bring clarity to a convoluted industry for individuals and families, and provide empowering education to organizations seeking to improve the lives of dogs, to help them set the standard for animal stewardship in the communities they serve. It is a worthwhile sacrifice of time and effort when each individual and organization I reach creates a new sphere of positive influence that will share with others, radiating out, touching the lives of innumerable dogs and people.
Receiving the Rebecca Park Scholarship will enable me to perpetuate her influence and example by providing expertise and instruction to others in understanding, improving, and repairing the bond between humans and dogs through humane training and benevolent mentorship.
Aubrey Williams devotes her time to her family of 5 children, 2 dogs, faith, karate and community. She is a dedicated lifelong learner continually attending courses, voraciously reading, and carefully applying as she endeavors to serve and improve the lives of animals and people. She is embarking on a new journey this year as a blog writer and the owner and principle trainer of You Me We – Canine Consulting, Care and Education in Calgary, Alberta.
Aubrey was the winner of the 2016 Winter Rebecca Park Scholarship and is currently enrolled in our Animal Behavior Consulting: Principles & Practice course.