What a beginning it was...
What's the significance of that in an article about dog training? I learned that if I didn't try something, how would I ever know if I was into it or not? Needless to say, I fell in love, with parrots and fish-keeping and the whole art of it... As I said, I'd grown up with all manner of animals, but never considered a career in exotic pets! Providing amazing enclosures, stimulation, socialization, time, affection.. It's a balancing act to properly keep and enrich an animal that is not domesticated. That being said... one day, an amazing man by the name of Fred, a district services manager at the time - (a position that doesn't even exist in that company anymore - not to date myself!) - approached me when I had put in a request to transfer, because I was moving off-Cape. (To all you Cape Cod folks out there, we all know only two realms in the world actually exist: "On Cape" & "Off-Cape.") I got sat down in the managers' office, and Fred said "Ya know, they need a part-time dog trainer up there, and we think you'd be great for it." I was like, "Fred, I don't have a DOG. Does that matter??" The reply was, "We don't care. You got the personality, we'll train you the rest." I said.. "Uhhh.. Yeah, ok. Sounds good. I never would have known I loved parrots if I hadn't been exposed to them in this kind of environment... So let's do this."
So I did.
I transferred to my new store and had a few weeks of down time before I went off to "accreditation." But the moment I got there, my whole life changed forever...
I fell in love with the craft of dog training from the moment I got my hands dirty. Everything. From ethology, to the craft of modifying animal behavior (free-shaping to luring to negative reinforcement): whether or not I agreed with any or all of it, I found it all fascinating.
I was also incredibly fortunate at that time to be mentored by a diamond in the rough that that big box store found. She'd only been training for a year and a half at the time, but had that type of "knack" or incredible energy that lends itself to one being "a natural" at something, truly talented, and I was sold. This particular trainer also incidentally had PIT BULLS, among her five or six dogs. She brought them up with her to check in with me after I'd been accredited and was a part-time trainer at my new store, and I just about lost my mind; needless to say, I WAS in fact accredited :). I'd never really INTERACTED with pit bulls at that point, and while I thought they were BEAUTIFUL (who wouldn't?? ;), I had no pre-conceived notions about them. I wasn't afraid. I wasn't in love. They were one type of dog among hundreds that I was putting my whole heart into learning about.
I saw her dogs, and not for nothing, she saw something in me... Her dogs were extremely well-trained, (obviously), and when she went into the office for a second, she handed me their leashes and asked me to watch them for a sec. I was hooked after that.
I worked at that same big box store for years as a dog trainer, moving up the ranks from part-time dog trainer, to full-time dog trainer to Area Trainer (I'd become the trainer who TRAINED trainers, just like my mentor who'd trained me and caused me to fall so desperately in love with the art!), and eventually the time came where I felt boxed in (how ironic).
I remember seeing one time before I ever left the Cape store to go to Bellingham, a sign at my original store: DOG TRAINER WANTED. I also remember distinctly thinking "YEAH right. That's SO much pressure!!! You're in charge of human safety, canine safety, memorizing a curriculum, SALES... NO way." Now... it's almost funny, but it also may give a bit of insight into how well you know your own self!
So the day came where I decided to take the plunge and start my own company. Never thought I'd ever do that. I'd been so engrossed in the industry for so long, especially in pit bull "advocacy," (a term I'm not especially comfortable with, but that's another article), that my options had run out and I was like "OK. It's this or take up another career." My heart isn't IN another career, however, so HEX was the answer.
Worth mentioning at this point that from the time I began this career as a business owner, as well as a dog trainer, way back at that big box store, I fell passionately in love with it and immediately began to expand my education. In short order, as quick as the requirements allow, I was certified as a Canine Good Citizen (and now Community Canine) evaluator through the American Kennel Club (AKC), certified through Animal Behavior College, certified through Do More with Your Dog as a CTDI (Certified Trick Dog Instructor), and received a diploma through Penn Foster Career School in Dog Obedience Instruction (https://www.pennfoster.edu/). This year, in 2014, my dear friend, Kim Chatha, & I merged as partners and owners at HEX and moved into a brand new facility at Top Dog Daycare in Medway, Massachusetts.
It has been a wild ride since July 8th, 2007 when I started this journey, and let me tell ya, there is never a dull moment! I am now the proud owner of four rescued pit bull dogs, and have fostered many others over the years. They, starting with Spark Plug & Caruso, completely changed the course of my life, and without them, I have no idea how HEX may have been different... or myself for that matter... and I am so proud and honored by what we have become. I encourage everybody to take the plunge, take a chance, take a walk and "follow your dreams" (just a little bit of cheesy thrown in there!), because if I had been too scared to take those chances, I'd never be where I am now...
For the record, "where I am now" is not glamorous, it's not easy, I'm not a millionaire, but I'll tell ya this: I get to get up every day and do what I LOVE and there is no substitute for that.
Just a nostalgic moment for me (one of many this week for some reason...) and seemed a good time to finish this article! If you'd like to write to me with questions, concerns or for the helluva it, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
-Cassie-Leigh Stock, ABCDT, CTDI, AKC-CGC, CDT