Our students are the future of dog training and the heart of our school.
That’s why we regularly take a moment to recognize one of our top aspiring trainers here.
Our Featured Student this month is James McGuirk of Freehold, New Jersey. At the time of this posting, Jim has just completed his Master Class program and graduated as a CATCH Certified Dog Trainer (CCDT). Congratulations on all of your hard work and accomplishments!
A Word from James
My Favorite Recent Study Topics:
First: Shelter Externship.
I’ve been a volunteer dog walker at the Monmouth County SPCA for 4 years. The Canine Behavior Manager is a CATCH graduate. Once she heard I had started my CATCH studies she took me under her wing and added me to their ‘Buddy Program’ a group of staff and experienced volunteers (including two CATCH graduates) who train and de-stress more challenging dogs. I was able to apply the material I learned in Phases 3 and 7 to help several dogs learn manners, overcome behavioral challenges and eventually get successfully adopted. I also had the privilege of working side by side with many experienced trainers and animal care staff, several of whom are CATCH graduates. They willingly shared their knowledge and helped me learn and grow as a team player. I learned to be adaptable and resilient in a tough environment as you never know who or what is coming in the door next.
I signed up for the CATCH mentor as part of my Master Class and it was the best move I could have made. My mentor owns Sugar Paws in Ocean NJ and she quickly put me to work assisting with her puppy classes. Given my CATCH training I felt confident enough to jump right in and work with the pups and their parents. This enabled me to not only hone my training skills but also gave me the opportunity to interact with lots of families. I used my CATCH training for everything from discussing breed characteristics and how dogs actually learn, to potty training and body handling, and teaching important disengagement cues like Leave It and Hand Targeting. All of the wonderful material in CATCH was quickly coming to life for our clients thru me. Clients’ eyes lit up when they helped their dog do a simple Leave It!
We keep our classes fun and fast paced. It’s great to see the parents learning how to manage and train their pups. I love seeing them smile! Shortly before graduation I was hired as a full time assistant at Sugar Paws. The studio opened less than a year ago and we are booming!
Third: Private Lessons.
Nicole Wilde keeps it real and practical while keeping her sense of humor. I treasure her advice to do your prep work, be diplomatic and professional, and never judge. I put this to good use one week after graduation when I started doing private lessons. My CATCH training gave me the confidence to go into my first private lesson and provide real value to the client. It was personally fulfilling to see my client smiling after they did successful emergency recalls and hand targeting with their pup. CATCH has given me the skills and confidence I need to engage the client to understand their needs, create a solid plan, and then present it to gain their agreement. Aligning with the client upfront helps make the sessions productive and fun for all.
My Favorite Recent Hands-On Activity:
1. I love working closely with a family in our puppy classes and in private lessons. For many kids it is their first dog and the parents want their children to interact safely and responsibly with their new pup. Once mom and dad see their kids prompting their pup to do a simple sit/stay or down/stay their faces light up. I’m able to build on this and move into very important activities such as Body Handling, Trading High Value objects, Desensitizing Scary Objects and training Loose Leash Walking. And it’s always joyous at graduation when the kids and the pup perform their favorite trick!
2. In nearly every class I encounter someone trying to push a dogs butt down into a Sit or trying to pull a dogs front legs out to get a Down. These are awesome teaching moments. I use my CATCH training to remain calm and never judge or criticize the client. I then explain how dogs can learn, the benefits of using our LIMA approach and I coach the person thru the steps to teach the behavior to the dog.
3. In a class of 6 or 7 pups there will typically be one or two star performers who are ahead of the class. Rather than have them do reps while others catch up, I confidently leverage my CATCH training to challenge my stars to go to tackle the next steps. I’ll ask them to turn a down/stay into a circle stay, to fade a lure, to shorten and then tighten the hand prompt for a spin, or to leverage hand targeting to maintain loose leash walking and control in tight spaces. My CATCH training enables me to stay a few steps ahead, and helps me keep all of the dogs and their humans engaged and enthused.
How My Studies Have Changed the Way I See Dogs:
CATCH stresses throughout the curriculum that every dog is a unique individual, that judging a dog by its breed can be problematic, and that any dog can have a good day or a bad day, just like humans. I now have the skill and experience to constantly read every dog’s body language and behavior for the entire class. This helps us manage play: knowing which dog gets the ‘VIP’ area, who needs a timeout, and who is matching up successfully by altering their play style for a smaller or larger dog, and who is more motivated by treats or petting than by play. It also helps me coach the parents of a dog who is a bit shy or a dog who is more assertive. By the second or third class, when the shy dog begins to gain confidence and blossom, or the assertive dog learns some impulse control, the parents become proud and happy instead of self conscious and embarrassed.
What I’m Most Excited About:
The CATCH learning experience is brilliantly constructed in that the phases on how dogs learn, how they behave, and reading body language, combine to help improve the quality of the hands-on experience. At the same time, the hands-on experiences build on, reinforce, and make more relevant all that I’ve learned in the phase training. I love that CATCH stresses simplicity throughout. Clients don’t want jargon and they don’t want theory. Many clients are as eager to learn as their dogs, and they both love simplicity! CATCH helped me embrace a few simple principles for success: listen well and adapt to the clients’ needs, do your homework, be professional, and don’t judge. By embracing these principles I realized that I don’t need to be perfect to successfully train dogs and their humans, I could simply jump in and do it! Finally CATCH has helped increase my awareness of animal welfare issues and has motivated me to do more. I continue to do pro bono training as a member of the MCSPCA Buddy Program, I do large scale transports, and I deploy as a member of the ASPCA Field Investigation and Response Team.
Way to go, Jim, we’re so proud of you!