Interview with Kristi Jones, A Dog Behavior Consultant

“When a puppy named Jack entered my life,” said Kristi Jones, “my curiosity in dog training was piqued.” Her curiosity eventually led her to work with dogs in shelters, rescues, and a training facility. Eventually, out of a desire to work with aggressive dogs and with cats, she opened her own business called Mind Your Manners. Kristi has several certifications, and continues to develop her skills by attending seminars on training and behavior modification.

ALLISON: What inspired you to open your business?

KRISTI: I developed my love of animals early in life, growing up with family dogs and an assortment of small furry critters. I didn’t acquire my first cat until I was living on my own and a stray cat showed up at my apartment deciding he wanted to live with me. My apartment complex didn’t allow pets, so I found one that did, and soon a second cat joined the family. A friend introduced me to parrots and I’ve had at least one parrot ever since.

ALLISON: What other experience qualifies you to run your business?

KRISTI: I grew up in a family business and I’ve been a bookkeeper for small businesses for 30+ years. I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly of what it takes to run a small business. I’ve always been an independent person, so working for myself just seems like a natural thing for me.

ALLISON: Share a memorable experience from working with rescues.

KRISTI: One of my good memories is that of rescuing a mom and her litter of puppies from a flooded crawl space. Another time we were in an abandoned house and could hear puppies crying but couldn’t find them. We finally discovered they had fallen through a hole in the floor and had to pull up all the floorboards to rescue them. All these puppies would have suffered horribly if we hadn’t found them and gotten them to safety.

ALLISON: What is your most touching moment in working with hospice?

KRISTI: Many hospice animals are abandoned by their families just when they need them the most and so many times when I get them they’re really confused and scared. Not only are they possibly getting medical care they aren’t used to or comfortable with, everything they’ve known in their life has changed. The most touching moments are when you see the love and gratitude in their eyes, and they understand you are there to help them.

Photo provided by Kristi Jones
Photo provided by Kristi Jones

ALLISON: Why are you drawn to animals with special needs?

KRISTI: I love knowing I can make a positive difference in their lives and give them the best life possible! Just as with hospice animals, many special needs animals have been let down by humans. I’ve had dogs that were blind, deaf, and handicapped. I’ve also had dogs with behavior special needs, which are often the more difficult ones to deal with. My cat Stellar, who was only about a year old when I adopted him, and was incredibly aggressive to me the first five years that I had him. He will still attack any female that comes in my house, but he’s very loving with me now. I had a dog that at four months old was incredibly vicious toward children and many adults too. Chances are if I hadn’t done everything in my power to provide these animals with a home that fit their needs, they would’ve been euthanized. Stellar is now 14 years old and going strong and my dog lived a full life until cancer took him.

ALLISON: What does it look like to use low-stress handling?

KRISTI: Low-stress handling and fear-free training are super important to me! Many times we have to do procedures to our animals they don’t like, such as giving them medication or trimming nails. So it’s important to create as little stress for our animals as we can while they have to endure these processes.

I have a cat that needs medicine twice a day and he will actually come remind me it’s time for his medicine because he loves the treats he gets afterwards so much. I know I have created conditions surrounding the actual medicating procedure that keep his stress to a bare minimum. Believe me, he doesn’t like actually being medicated, but his stress remains minimal during the procedure.

I equate it to going to the dentist, which is something many of us dread. If the dentist straps you down and just starts sticking things in your mouth you’re going to be much more stressed than if they prepare you for what’s going to happen and give you a way to signal if you are uncomfortable or need a break for a moment. We still have to have the work done, but we can cope with it better when it’s performed in a low-stress manner.

ALLISON: What does it look like to use fear-free training?

KRISTI: Growing up, it was punitive measures for training the family dogs. It’s just the way it was done back then. When I started in training classes with my own dogs, it was balanced training. Yes, they got a cookie if they did it right, but if not then you jerked on their pinch collar or forced them into position. I remember saying to a trainer that I wanted to pick my battles with my dog, so if it wasn’t important to me if they didn’t do something. I was told I had to win every battle; then there wouldn’t be any battles to win or lose. My dog was to have no choice or say in any matters concerning him. That never felt right or comfortable to me.

Not having any control over our situation in life is incredibly stressful for people. Our current situation is a perfect example of this. Our animals are exactly the same. Having some say and some control over what happens and the way it happens should be a fundamental right for all sentient beings.

Punishing animals never teaches them what they should do and can have some very serious fallout. Fear-free training is all about having a two-way conversation with your dog. Listening to your dog is as important as your dog listening to you. When you ask your dog to do something and they don’t comply, instead of forcing them, figure out why that is. Do they really understand what you are asking? Are they stressed by something in the environment? Are they physically capable of doing what you are asking? Is the reward valuable enough for them?

Fear-free training is not about being a cookie pusher. Food is an intrinsic reinforcer because we all need food to survive. In addition, many things in life can be rewards for our animals, from praise and petting, grooming, play, allowing your dog to go sniff their favorite fire hydrant on a walk; the list is pretty extensive.

Fear-free training is all about having the best relationship with your dog that you can, it’s that plain and simple.

ALLISON: If I visited your business, what would I expect to see?

KRISTI: Well, I don’t have a physical location, but mostly if you see me working with an animal or a client and their pet, you should see that everyone is having fun while learning. Yes, training is serious, and the outcomes can have serious repercussions for everyone involved; but learning happens much better in an atmosphere of fun instead of a punitive one.

Many people are frustrated or worried about their animal’s behavior and part of my job is to help them understand what is going on, why and what can be done about it. Letting them see that they can have fun with their dog while teaching their dog the skills needed to alleviate the issues goes a long way to reducing everyone’s stress. Fear-free training isn’t just a benefit for animals, it’s a benefit for owners too!

ALLISON: What mistakes did you make when you first started?

KRISTI: Probably my biggest mistake was not taking the owner’s needs into account enough. In the beginning, if I ran into resistance to a training plan, I’d tell the client they needed to figure out a way to implement it because this is what they needed to do. Now I work with a client to figure out the best way for them to reach their goals with their pet. Solutions have to work for both ends of the leash or they really aren’t solutions.

ALLISON: Share a funny or embarrassing moment?

KRISTI: Well, just recently on my first Zoom meeting, one of my cats was playing chase with one of my dogs and my cat jumped up and knocked my computer off the table at the same time my dog jumped on me causing me to spill hot tea down the front of me. While I always make sure my training is family friendly, what came out of my mouth at that moment was not appropriate for children!

Photo provided by Kristi Jones
Photo provided by Kristi Jones

ALLISON: How are you helping clients during COVID-19?

KRISTI: Since social distancing is the order of the day, I’ve switched most all my training sessions and all my classes to online. I was skeptical about it at first, but it’s gone amazingly well. Also, thankfully, since I’m not very technology inclined, my clients have been very understanding and helpful!

I have a Rainy Day Games class that is all about games and enrichment activities that enhance your dog’s training. That is a self-paced four-week class with videos and handouts.

I am offering access to several training programs from other venues as well, such as the world-wide Sexier Than a Squirrel challenge by AbsoluteDogs. This is a 30-day program with a new game and activity each day to help your dog have better focus on you while out in the world. It’s an extremely fun and effective program!

I’m also offering mini sessions for people covering just one topic of their choice, such as barking, jumping, etc. It’s just a quick 20 minutes to go over some ideas to help with that one subject.

I am in the process of putting together a puppy socialization class as well. Many people are very concerned they can’t get their puppies out into the big-wide world right now to socialize them, but most all socialization can be done in the comfort and safety of your own home.

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