Lisa Edwards was looking for candy—not another canine companion—when she made a fateful stop on her way home one Halloween. But a sign that read “Puppies: $49.99” drew her attention to Boo, a clumsy pup who turned out to have poor eyesight and an uncanny ability to bond with Dog’s best friend. In A Dog Named Boo, Edwards chronicles her life with animals and Boo’s evolution into a therapy dog.
Can you tell us about your career in publishing?
I had a number of jobs in publishing starting with an entry-level position as an assistant in operations at Putnam. This was followed by four years wearing several hats at Thunder’s Mouth Press in publicity, operations, and acquisitions. I concluded my publishing career running three literary agencies under the auspices of the Scott Meredith Literary Agency, after its purchase by Arthur Klebanoff. In addition to the nuts and bolts of running the three agencies, I also did a little acquisitions on the side.
When did you decide to become a full-time dog trainer?
Around 2002, the Universe gave me a big push. While contemplating the fact that my publishing career was stalled (and I wasn’t very good at it), I had been given the opportunity to start teaching the AAT (Animal-Assisted Therapy) class for HART Programs. Since I seemed to be much better at teaching dog training than publishing, it was a natural, though terrifying, step. Dog training is not typically a business in which one gets rich. In fact, most dog trainers do this part-time for the love of it. Taking it on full-time was a risk, but it was time for something new.
How does someone go about finding the right trainer?
We understand the credentials for medical professionals—like doctors with MDs—and we know that these people have been licensed and deemed competent after receiving a degree. Similarly, with dog trainers and behavioral consultants, folks should look for trainers and behaviorists who have credentials that have been earned through an independent organization—via testing, peer review, and ongoing education requirements. A few of the credentials to look for would be the DACVB (veterinary behaviorist), the CAAB (applied animal behaviorist), CDBC (certified dog behavior consultant), CPDT-KA (certified professional dog trainer), or CBCC-KA (certified behavior consultant canine).
How can you tell if a dog will make a good therapy dog?
The first and most important question is, “Does my dog want to meet and greet every person they pass on the sidewalk?” The dog with the best aptitude for therapy work is the dog who firmly believes every person they meet has come to see them; and is confident enough to tolerate stressful situations.
What have you learned from working with animals?
Patience and persistence, and that perfect is not all it’s cracked up to be. When training dogs, we often use what’s called “successive approximations.” This means we have a goal in terms of what we are trying to teach a dog, and we understand that if the dog lands anywhere along the path to this goal it is good and worthy of reward. All too often, with people, we only acknowledge the final “perfect” result—and sometimes not even that. It is important to give credit to people who are working along their individual paths.
How have your relationships with animals affected your relationships with humans?
I am more patient with people than I was before working with dogs. I am also pretty happy with my personal mantra: I only want to belong where I am wanted. Before working with dogs, I struggled to belong and be accepted at all costs. I no longer have that need; I have a loving husband, a sweet little baby boy, good supportive, and loving animals. Just like when I’m training Boo, I celebrate the good and try to ignore the unpleasant.