Did you see the photo that Associate Trainer Jay Lowry posted last week (October 12th) on Wildrose’s Facebook page? The photo from the North Dakota pheasant-hunting trip? On top of Jay’s trailer sat nine black labs—along with one bright yellow lab. Shanna Hodges Burgoyne commented on the photo, saying what lots of other folks were thinking when she quoted the Sesame Street song that taught our kids “different” and “same:” “One of these kids is not like the other ones. One of these kids just isn’t the same.” Yep, the different lab in Jay’s photo, the yellow, was Mike’s Indian. And if you know Indian, well, you know that he’s different. Anyway.
I thought of the same line when I saw a group of Wildrose trainers walking down the kennel driveway the other day. All of them wore the same ball cap, but out of the back of one ball cap draped a long, dark brown ponytail. Different. Folks, meet Mary Elizabeth Griffin, Wildrose’s newest trainer.
Last Labor Day weekend, Mary Griffin moved from her home in Georgia to begin a new adventure in Mississippi. Hiring on as Wildrose’s first full-time female trainer, she’s also our first Adventure Dog trainer. Already an experienced dog handler, Mary began her work by acquainting herself with the finer points of the Wildrose Way of training. She has been fortunate to learn from Mike Stewart and from the other staff members. In her first month of work she has been carrying out varied duties, including advanced work for finished gundogs, and basic obedience exercises for DADs (Diabetic Alert Dogs), newly arrived client dogs, and recent UK imports.
Mary is very excited about working with the Adventure Dog Program because she finds it so interesting to have a program designed to get owners and their dogs to participate in outdoor activities with each other, and then reward them for it. Mary will work with Adventure Dog Program enrollees to get them comfortable in different kinds of “adventure” scenarios, such as camping, biking, fishing, and hunting. Mary finds it “awesome” that such a training program is available to help dogs do these things. “How,” she wonders, “can we call it ‘work? ‘”
Mary has also been called upon to work with DADs, as I mentioned, and she is really enjoying working with Rachel Thorton, the DAD Program Director. Like most of us, Mary thinks it’s amazing what we are able to teach our canine companions to accomplish, and the scent work that their noses are capable of. Mary views the DADs as lifesavers to so many people, and she’s very honored for the opportunity to be a part of the program. She reports that she worked with a couple of DADs-in-training on their obedience and public access. The DADs have stayed with her at her house, and occasionally they accompanied her to the Laundromat, restaurants, and even Wal-Mart. Mary knows that it’s very important that, even as young dogs, the DADs must become accustomed to going anywhere, and must have a strong foundation of obedience.
As a part of her duties with the DAD program, Mary flew to Texas last week to return Olive, a DAD dog, to Devon Wright at Baylor University. Olive is sister to Deke, our Ducks Unlimited mascot. She is among many star performers in the DAD program and she had spent some re-tuning time with Rachel. After delivering Olive, Mary stayed on a couple of days in Waco, attending classes with Devon and Olive to monitor their work together. She’s pleased to report that the reunion went very well.
On each routine workday Mary works with about a dozen dogs at various levels of training. Some of the gundogs that she works with, like Ruff, Beretta, and Jill, are older dogs with advanced training. With those dogs, she performs advanced retrieving exercises like walking baseball, rotational backs, and complex handling. Mary also remembers to pay attention to the little things with them, working on such basics as place, wait at the door, and crate entering and exiting. When Mary is working with other dogs that are new to training, such as Cinnamon, Haven, and Bud, she focuses the majority of their training on obedience and steadiness exercises, including heel work, sit-stay, recalls, denials, and honoring another dog. Distractions are the hardest part for dogs to work through, Mary reports, so she spends a lot of time working among distractions.
Occasionally a dog comes into training because he or she has developed a behavioral problem. Stonewall is a young dog that had developed a fear of people approaching him, his owners, or his house. If someone approached, he started barking, and sometimes even growling in an attempt to scare the “intruder” off. If that person continued to approach, Stonewall tucked his tail and tried his hardest to run away. Mary has worked with him for a little over a week now with social conditioning and, while he’s no “social butterfly,” she sees some confidence building in him. He’s still nervous, Mary reports, but he continues to make improvements every day. A patient trainer, Mary knows to go slow and be calm in working to acclimate the dog.
In a recent interview Mary described herself and talked about her background. Here she is, letting us get to know her in her own words:
“I have lived in Georgia my whole life, and am very proud to call it home. I grew up in a wonderful family, with a younger brother and a younger sister, whom I’m also proud to call my best friend. My dad was a big sportsman, and I like to say that I grew up at the deer camp “with the boys.” Hunting, fishing, camping, boating, four-wheel drives—you name it—I was in. My parent’s decision to home-school my siblings and me made all of this outdoor activity possible. This decision was supposed to only last a few years, but it stuck all the way to the end of high school. Growing up, my siblings and I attended a local ‘home-school group’ weekly where we took additional classes, as well as spent time with our friends. In high school, we were able to have our own yearbook, prom, football games, and even a graduation ceremony. I have always appreciated my parent’s decision to home school, and I strongly believe it is one of the reasons I am so close with my family.
“Growing up, we lived with at least one dog in the house all the time. ‘My’ dog growing up was a wonderful black Lab named Jake. Several other dogs (of varying breeds) came and went, but my passion for dogs never did. At the age of fifteen, I started my first job at a local vet clinic, working in the kennel. I continued to work at this veterinary clinic until I graduated high school.
“After graduating high school, I enrolled at Triple Crown Academy’s School for Professional Dog Trainers in Hutto, Texas. While enrolled, I was overwhelmed by how much there was to learn about dog training. We studied everything from house breaking and basic obedience to personal protection and narcotics detection. The school participates with local shelters and rescue groups so the students have a chance to work with a variety of different breeds and temperaments of dogs. These rescued dogs are then either adopted by the student, or returned to the shelter/rescue with a much better chance of getting adopted. While at TCA, I was able to work with many different breeds, including a German Shepherd, a Jack Russell Terrier, a Blue Tick Coonhound, an American Pit Bull, and my own Great Dane and Labrador. After lots of hard work, and stressful tests, I graduated with my certification as a Canine Training and Behavior Specialist, and returned to Georgia.
“Once back in Georgia, I struggled finding a job training dogs. I eventually wound up back in a veterinary clinic for about eight months. After a while, I happened upon a job working as a trainer for a company that only did in-home dog training. This job was a wonderful opportunity for me to work with many different types of dogs and people. I had clients from ten to eighty years old, and dogs from tea-cup Yorkies to massive Great Danes and Rottweilers. I stayed with this company for a year and a half, until the economy took its toll along with my job. I went back to work at a different veterinary clinic, and also worked part-time at a local ‘doggy daycare’ facility.
“Enter Wildrose Kennels. I found out about Wildrose while browsing on the job posting page for graduates on the Triple Crown Academy website. I sent a quick e-mail asking if the position was still available and waited to hear back. I got a reply a few days later that the position was not available, but I could send my resume anyway and they would keep it on file. About a week later, I received an e-mail from Mike Stewart that he had read my resume and wanted to set up a time to talk. After a few long phone conversations, and two trips out to Oxford, I (and my Great Dane, Bruce) ended up in Mississippi!
“My first trip to Oxford was a very brief visit—enough time to drive in, talk with Mike for about three hours, and drive home. That’s about all it took to fall in love with Wildrose Kennels. The atmosphere surrounding the facility was about as pleasant as I could have hoped for.
“My second trip lasted a little longer. Mike and Cathy were kind enough to take me to dinner at Ajax Diner on the Square in Oxford. We made a quick tour of the University and they set me up at a wonderful Bed and Breakfast. (These were certainly people I could see myself working for!) The following day I was able to shadow Mike working a few dogs, and talk with a few more people working in the kennel. I was offered the position, and began working in early September.
“Since arriving in Oxford, I have been awed time after time at the beauty of the land, as well as the entertainment of the city. The people in Oxford are definitely a breed all their own, showing almost unheard of hospitality and kindness. The restaurants, the shopping, the football games—what’s not to love?
“Working at Wildrose has already been a marvelous experience. My first two weeks were pretty overwhelming. As Mike once said, ‘It’s like drinking water through a fire hose.’ Once I got in a routine, and had somewhat of an idea of what was expected of me, I dove right in. The staff at Wildrose is something else that makes it a job like no other. They treat clients as a top priority, and always strive to improve what, to me, is already a extraordinary company. The people I work with are very helpful, and willing to teach me something new on a regular basis. The other trainers—Ben, Patrick, and Steven—are very patient with this ‘rookie,’ when I ask if I can watch them work a dog, or to explain a certain task or drill. It’s very rewarding to learn so much from them.”
Mary has also started to do her share of educating folks about training, as well. She wrote an article on “re-direct” that appears in this month’s Wildrose journal and, on the 18th, she posted a Facebook photo and a training note on conditioning a dog to load and unload on a truck.
Since being in Oxford, and working at Wildrose, Mary says that she has learned a great deal in a short time. She believes that “it’s only the tip of the iceberg.” To her the job holds so many possibilities that she is eager to see where this awesome journey will take her.
All of us who have gotten to know her, who have felt her lively spirit, and who have seen her assured manner of handling dogs are also eager to go with her on that journey.