Kathy Santo unknowingly discovered her dream occupation when she was seven years old, thanks to a package of deli meat in her fridge.
“We had a 100-pound Great Pyrenees growing up, and she was badly behaved,” says Kathy. “My parents took her to obedience school, and they came back frustrated. My father said that the trainer stated that the dog could not be trained.” Thinking she knew more than her mom and dad, Kathy decided to start training the dog on the sly. “I’d take deli meat out of the fridge and train her.” And so began her interest in dog training and obedience.
“I thought it was fascinating. I learned to make the dog do something in turn for what it wanted.”
While living in Atlanta in her early 20s, Kathy discovered competition training. She was mentored by a competitive instructor and began honing her skills.
“In a few years, I became a top competitive instructor, and I began teaching camps all over the country to instruct owners how to show their dogs competitively.” During that time, Kathy learned an essential aspect of her job by understanding the importance of teaching her trainers to problem solve and understand that every dog is different. “The people who came before me in dog training guided me,” she says. “They were generous with their time, and I appreciate it.” Kathy continues the legacy and sets herself apart from other trainers by encouraging her staff and owners to problem solve. She encourages them to figure out why the dog is exhibiting a particular behavior rather than ask the instructor for an answer. “You have to understand the dog and its owner and deliver instruction with compassion and firmness,” she says.
Kathy’s facility in Waldwick offers in-person as well as virtual training sessions. Private lessons, boot camp, group classes, and an intensive board-and-train program are available to new and current students. Dogs enrolled in programs can also participate in PlayCare, Canine Gym, and Agility, among others. Kathy’s team even offers a transportation option for pick up and drop off of your pet. She caters to a worldwide audience with remote training offerings and even a “Text the Expert” program (for owners, not dogs!).
The importance of a well-trained pet has been a hot topic throughout the pandemic. “People got dogs during COVID, and now they have to return to work,” says Kathy. “Families that adopted puppies during the pandemic may see the dog undergoing separation issues when they return to work. The dogs have never been left alone for long periods and didn’t learn to self-soothe.” She advises dog owners to observe their canine's behavior and note if anything needs to be addressed. Many issues can be rectified with some patience and proper training. “The shelters are full now because people can no longer handle their dogs; more dogs will be able to stay in their homes if they are well-trained,” says Kathy.
If you’re in the market for a new puppy this summer, plan ahead and think it through. Kathy advises carefully considering your lifestyle to understand what type of dog will fit in with your family. Are you open and willing to address a dog’s grooming and veterinary needs? A small dog may go along if you like to travel, but a big dog may need to be boarded. Consider whether your home and family would be better suited to a particular size or breed. Kathy also advises visiting reputable breeders and rescue organizations interested in learning about your family life and willing to help determine which puppy would have the personality and temperament that fit your family’s style. Disposition is evident at five weeks of age, so ask a trainer to perform a temperament test on a puppy that interests you. New pet owners must keep in mind that, although little Susie or Johnny promises to take care of the dog, the buck stops with the parents to assume the costs and responsibilities.
Kathy suggests that parents and kids attend training classes together with the dog. The whole family should be on board and understand the methodology and processes of training a new puppy. And, it’s fun, too!
Making the ground rules for safe interactions will keep everyone happy. Your dog will thank you for it. “Dogs teach us all lessons about relationships, problem-solving, responsibility, and forgiveness,” says Kathy. “Every kid should have a dog!”
Sidebar Page 4: Kathy’s Tips for Kids and Dogs
Wave, Don’t Touch
Teach children to wave at dogs rather than reach out to pet them. Remind a child that their face doesn’t belong near Fido’s face, and never allow small children to play with dogs unsupervised.
Know the Wag
Encourage kids to understand a dog’s body language. Ask questions like, “Is that dog happy?” Teach kids the importance of reading signals and that a wagging tail doesn’t always mean “friendly.”
Asking “may I pet your dog” isn’t good enough. If the dog is very still, staring, flicking its tongue, or moving away, leave it alone.
Dogs like downtime just like we do. Sometimes your dog wants to be left alone. If your dog walks away, it may need a little space.