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To be a professional dog trainer, Caryn Liles says you must have empathy and analytical skills and, above all, love dogs. (Sean Howard Photography)
To be a professional dog trainer, Caryn Liles says you must have empathy and analytical skills and, above all, love dogs. (Sean Howard Photography)

My Career

‘I am a people trainer for dogs' Add to ...

What is your full name and title? And how long have you been in this role?

My name is Caryn Charlie Liles, and I’m a certified professional dog trainer. I founded Whatta Pup in September, 2008, and co-founded the Toronto Centre for Canine Education in June, 2012.

What exactly do you do?

I am a people trainer for dogs. With one company, Whatta Pup, we provide family dog training: puppy socialization, basic manners and behaviour modification. I also offer bite-prevention workshops for children and new parents, a course for pet professionals, and fun classes like tricks or anti-jumping workshops.

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With the other company, the Toronto Centre for Canine Education, we specialize in ‘socially-challenged dogs’ who are aggressive toward other dogs or people, or exhibit other complex behavioural problems. We also offer seminars on these topics for the general public as well as dog trainers.

Describe what you do on any given day.

There’s always plenty of administration, but my afternoons are spent doing phone or Skype consultations, perhaps a day-training client (where I train the dog without the owners present), and finally a few group classes or private clients. I have two amazing certified trainers who often teach classes for me while I work with my private behaviour-modification cases in my office.

What’s your background and education?

I went to school for languages and human resources. Once I got into dog walking, I started attending seminars, webinars, and conferences, and taking courses in animal behaviour, psychology and learning theory. I am a Knowledge-Assessed Certified Professional Dog Trainer through the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT), the first national certification program for dog trainers.

How did you get to your position?

In the corporate world, I never felt like I was making a difference in the grand scheme of things, so I threw caution to the wind and started a dog walking company while working under a trainer as an apprentice. I felt very early on that the style of training being used was not for me so I embarked on a new journey with a different method and soon I was training full time, starting with basic behaviours, then group classes, and finally behaviour modification, all using positive reinforcement and force-free methods.

What’s the best part of your job?

The best part of my job is seeing progress in both the human and the dog; when the light bulb goes on and suddenly they can communicate clearly and be successful as a team.

Every case is different and what works for one client might not work for another. We cannot use a cookie-cutter approach – everything really must be tailored for that dog and that person.

Even if I have seen a particular behaviour challenge before, I always do research so that I know I’m sharing the most up-to-date information and techniques, backed by scientific research. I also have the most amazing network of supportive colleagues, who are so experienced and willing to share knowledge.

What’s the worst part of your job?

Helping clients make difficult decisions such as rehoming their dog or even euthanasia. That is the worst part by far.

Sometimes I take on clients whose dog has been trained using harsh methods and we spend months, if not years, trying to rebuild that dog’s confidence and spirit. Other times I will work with a client who has a dog with a particularly challenging concern and they will demand faster results or a “quick fix” and go to another trainer that simply uses punishment to suppress the behaviour rather than treat the root problem. I feel as though I have failed them and it’s difficult not to take that to heart.

What are your strengths in this role?

As a people trainer, you must be a people person who really loves dogs, first and foremost. You need to be an excellent communicator, compassionate, patient, and of course willing to always learn and be flexible.

Empathy is very important – we have to put ourselves in other people’s shoes often to truly understand their challenges without judgment. Analytical skills are key – we have to work with two different species at the same time and be able to read both as accurately and quickly as possible. It’s not enough to understand canine body language; we must truly understand human psychology as well.

What are your weaknesses?

Finances. I’ve had to hire someone to take care of that side of things for me so that I’m not setting myself up for failure.

What has been your best career move?

Ignoring those who said, “you shouldn’t” or “you can’t.” I should, I can, and I will.

What has been your worst career move?

I don’t know that I’ve had one. I learn from all my experiences whether they’re successes or failures. Every job I’ve had has taught me something that makes me better, personally and professionally.

What’s your next big job goal?

Well, I do have something pretty big planned, but can’t reveal it just yet, so stay tuned.

What’s your best advice to others who might want to follow in your footsteps?

Get educated. It is the most important thing you can do. Don’t just watch a TV show or read a book and call yourself a dog trainer because it’s the career of the week. Being a trainer can be likened to being a professional of any kind; a doctor, a lawyer, a psychologist, a mechanic, a chiropractor.

Would you hire an amateur surgeon who became a surgeon after watching four seasons of Grey’s Anatomy? I should hope not. People need to research their professionals and choose those with a true education, not just a love of dogs.

Do you know an executive or leader who has an interesting career story for My Career? E-mail mycareer@globeandmail.com

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