From some of my earliest memories, I have struggled with anxiety and depression. The only thing I knew for sure was that I had a way with animals. It has been some time now since I have been able to reflect that ultimately animals saved my life and continue to do so with the passage of time.
Early Life Experiences
Early in my life, I knew that I was different. Everything felt so magnified. It wouldn’t be until 30 years later that I would learn I was a Highly Sensitive Person (as defined by Dr. Elaine Aron, Psychologist).
While struggling to understand my own inner battles, our family was shaken to the core. My mother became very ill in 1991 with a very rare and misunderstood illness. For the next four years, my family would pray daily that the life of my mother would continue and that she would find peace from the excruciating pain she was forced to endure.
The illness remains undiagnosed to this day but has resulted in my mother having complete loss of vision. This period of time in my life put me on track to experience some of the most gut wrenching mental anguish which was much later diagnosed as a depression/anxiety disorder and it shaped the trajectory of my life for the next decade.
Life trauma caused me to turn to animals
The only place I felt calmness at this point in my life, was with animals. I turned to animals. Hamsters, bunny rabbits, cats, neighbours and friend’s dogs, cats horses, cows, ducks – anything that would spare me five minutes to connect. Through the 4H program I spent time training dairy cattle and put in an excessive number of hours at any barn that would allow me access but it was always dogs that saved my life again and again with their steadfast love and devotion.
Gaining a University Education
I was determined to get a university education in animal studies and so in 2003 I began my university undergraduate studies at the University of Guelph. I graduated with an Honours Bachelor of Science in Animal Biology with an emphasis on Reproduction and Nutrition of Production Animals.
During my stay at University, I was introduced to the dog training program at College Royal. Up to this point, I had only been exposed to training by way of compulsion methods. These methods were anxiety inducing to say the least and I was hungry to find a better dog training method for the animals that were my lifeline.
Introduction to Positive Reinforcement Training Techniques
In 2005 I began my journey into positive reinforcement training techniques. As soon as this training technique was introduced to me, I knew I couldn’t rest until I had explored the method extensively.
Sadly, pressure built over the course of my University studies and upon leaving University, I suffered a complete and diagnosed mental breakdown. I was at the lowest point of my life with no life vision and did not see any good in my future. Struggling with very concerning suicidal thoughts, I knew I needed help.
At this stage in my life, I had a parrotlett, two bunny rabbits and a Siamese cat that helped me through this low point. I would spend hours clicker training my parrotlett and Pippin became my outlet for training.
Between work and life happening, I did not have the space and proper lifestyle to support a dog so I knew I had to wait before getting my first dog. In the meantime I continued to borrow friend’s and neighbour’s dogs and work with various clients as they struggled with training issues.
I focused my training techniques on Pippin the parrotlett and he was very soon able to do many tricks and very quickly earned the hearts of any and all visitors that walked in the door.
Animals Played a Huge Part In My Desire to Live
After spending a couple of years in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, it was apparent after each session with the counsellor that animals played a huge part in my desire to live. When my desire to give up was pressing down, I doubled down on training another animal, whether my own or a friend’s/relative’s/neighbour’s/client’s. As I began to increase in mental strength and health, I knew I had to have a long term plan for my well-being.
Having spent countless hours at friend’s farms and learning as much as humanly possible about nutrition, reproduction, genetics, training and husbandry, I made the huge decision to purchase my first mega pet. In 2010 Merlin, a 17 hand, 3 year old, off the track thoroughbred horse became my next training project.
By this point in my life, I had trained dozens of dogs for friends, family, acquaintances and spent countless hours with various professional service dog trainers from three different Guide Dog Schools. Upon purchasing Merlin, I was committed to training him through positive methods.
In the first year of owning my horse, I was riding with no bridle and no saddle – the perfect bond of trust forged for a lifetime.
Animals Saved My Life
The only thing that was missing from my life at this stage, was my very own dog. Addison was purchased in 2012 and for the first time in my life, my world felt complete. I continued to feel more and more comfortable in my own skin and Addi gave me more confidence than I ever knew possible. I was acutely aware that every day, she saved my life just a little bit more.
As my mental health improved and I became stronger and stronger, my relationship with now husband, Mitch became a permanent and very much welcomed source of love and support.
Addison felt like a first child to myself and Mitch. I had waited a lifetime to bring Addison home and so I did not place a collar on her for the first year of her life so there would be no ability to ‘force’ Addison to do anything.
Together Addi and I forged ahead with training and games creating a lasting friendship that has spanned the rainbow bridge. Addison was the best student. She would recycle, do 5 and 10, roll over, dramatically play dead, recall from anything instantly, sit, lay down, target, fetch, weave, just to name a few… and she would become the best sister to my son when he was born.
Addi saved my life in so many ways. In very general terms, trainable animals and especially dogs have saved my life in a number of ways:
- They do not judge
- They trust you
- They give you a million chances and then they give you a million more
- They are grounded
- Their whiskers have a way of tickling you at just the right moment
- They know just when to offer a lick
- They run to see you as if you’ve been gone for a lifetime, EVERY TIME THEY SEE YOU
- They don’t care how recently you have showered
- They join you in your crying and don’t ask you to buck up
- They love you as you are, they have no desire to make you someone you are not.
Do I believe dogs saved my life? Yes. Including the myriad of animals I spent time with, unequivocally.
On December 9, 2018, we were devastated by the loss of Addison to a hit and run car accident. To this day it feels as if it was my heart that was hit; the pain is so real.
They say there is often one dog for everyone that you will cry for long after they ever could have lived; Addison is that dog.
I have made it my mission in life now to honour my promise to Addison. Help others to forge the strong and unbreakable bond of trust and mutual respect that Addi and I had for each other. This can only be done through positive training techniques, in my opinion.
And so, Counting Sheep Classes was born.
Addison and me together, founded my breeding kennel which we registered, “Counting Sheep Kennels“. These are purebred, Canadian Border Collie Association registered, beautifully tempered border collie dogs. Addison was joined by Whiskey and later, Benelli Nova who continues Addi’s legacy at Counting Sheep Kennels.
I have an extensive background in dog training and breeding and I take great pride in my dogs. Counting Sheep Kennels has enough puppies on the ground now that many new owners have asked about training methods and go-to products that are tried and true.
I am sought after by many since I have the ability to notice nuances that many miss when they are in the thick of it with their dog.
Dogs Saved My Life, Now It’s My Turn to Save Theirs
I continue to build on my training portfolio because I firmly believe that you can never know everything there is to know about dog training! Dogs saved my life, now it’s my turn to save theirs!
I look forward to hearing from you regarding your training questions!
My mother is legally blind and has had three guide dogs over the course of her blindness, from three different dog guide schools. This has resulted in exposure to various training techniques and the ear, gentle guidance and feedback of professional Service Dog Trainers from The Lions Foundation of Canada, San Rafael and Fidelco.
Counting Sheep Classes advocates the positive reinforcement training technique. I have trained and worked with dogs exhibiting behavioural issues as well as run puppy and adult dog training classes for as many as 8 dog/owner teams at a time.
I live on a crop and sheep farm and I am currently the proud owner of two purebred border collies, Benelli Nova and Whiskey. Benelli is the current breeding bitch at Counting Sheep Kennels and Whiskey is the Breeding Stud.
Benelli is a very driven dog and loves to work. She herds ducks and sheep and needs constant attention and work.
Whiskey is a solid worker but is more driven to chase a ball and/or frisbee. Whiskey is best in the agility/tricks/sporting ring.
I have had numerous referrals for dog/owner teams to assist them with taking their training to the next level. At Counting Sheep Kennels and through Counting Sheep Classes, I am committed to finding a solution that is achieved by positive reinforcement for both the dog and owner team.
- Build up each dog/owner team to a point of mutual respect
- Assist teams to achieve peaceful home life/environment
- Stay current on training techniques that work
- Take your training skills to the NEXT LEVEL
GOT QUESTIONS? Leave a comment!! Let’s Chat!!!!