My Story as an Animal Trainer

Beans.  The first dog I trained for studio work.


Lets start at the very beginning…My story as an animal trainer starts back in 1987.  I had moved to Florida from my native England and wanted to train dolphins.  In a nutshell that’s what I did.  I started at Ocean World  (a now defunct 60’s era marine life park) as an assistant/trainee/fish cutter/apprentice…Luckily Ocean World was one of the  few marine life parks that still trained on the job,  I loved every second of it.  I stayed for about three years and then left to drive cross country to Hollywood,  California to become a studio animal trainer.

In 1994 I started working at Studio Animal Services. Based approximately 45 minutes north of Hollywood it provides the industry with animals of all shapes and sizes for any production, whether it be a movie, a print campaign, commercial or television show.  I have been working as a trainer in the studios now for close to 19 years.

Training animals for studio work involves a lot of creativity, patience and dedication. Of course, a strong love for animals is a must.  No day is the same, every day brings new challenges and along with that a varied and somewhat erratic work schedule, which is part of the reason I like it. Variety is the spice of life!

What works for one dog as far as training, may not work for another. And sometimes you only have a day or two to train something. Aside from dogs, I have trained lots of different animals, there have been squirrels, rats, ducks, cats, mice, goats, chickens, pigeons and wrangled everything from snakes to cockroaches and flies! Nothing exotic though, no bears or lions. I’d prefer not to be responsible for someone’s life!

Telling you how I started in the animal training world wouldn’t be complete without briefly telling you about Beans.  Beans was the first dog I trained for studio work.  I found her in a local shelter when she was approximately six months old.  Beans was an exceptional dog and  I’d like to say I knew what I was doing when I plucked her from death row, but at that stage it was more like dumb luck.  She did like tennis balls. I knew enough to know this was a good sign.  Beans made me look good as a trainer – she picked things up quickly, was very adaptable to many different scenarios and was pretty fearless. She would try anything and was specifically requested for many jobs over the 12-14 years she was in this business. Sadly she passed away around 15 1/2 years old – a fantastic dog who will never be forgotten.

Over the years I have been asked by actors, directors, producers etc., to train their dogs.  It’s a nice balance – being able to step away from  training a squirrel to retrieve something to getting back to the good old basics of puppy training.  Puppy training has to be on the top of my list as my favorite project. They are so receptive and willing to learn (for the most part) their minds are like little sponges, waiting to soak up all this new information – teaching them the good stuff is by far a better way to go than trying to retrain later and break bad habits.

In this blog I will be sharing lots of information. There will be quite a few posts based on training, some fun post from my days on movie and television  sets in Hollywood. Along with that I would like to share places that I come across in my travels that are pet friendly – from hotels to restaurants, parks and vacation spots.

Please feel free to contact me with any questions about your pets, ideas for posts and any places that you have visited that are pet friendly that you would like to share and we will get the word out!

Working a Shiba Inu puppy on a commercial shoot for Advantix

2 replies
  1. Alyssa
    Alyssa says:

    Hey Sue!

    I read everything that you post on your blogs and Im thrilled you have a new one. I wrote on check the gate that it would be awesome if you could post some tips on training for fun tricks and activities to entertain dogs on cold or rainy days. My aussie is a holy terror when he cant get outside because of the weather and I hate it, so if you have some good stimulating games or tricks, it would be much appreciated!

    • sue
      sue says:

      Hi Alyssa,

      Thanks for the comment. Sorry for the delayed response we have been so busy finishing up the pet collection, that, plus working my regular job, its been crazy!! I will definitely keep this is mind for future posts – but the one fun game that comes to mind is hide and seek of your dogs favorite toy. Especially good for those working breeds like Aussies! By the way, this is how we start training search and rescue dogs. Get your Aussies favorite toy and start of easy. Hide it in plain view. Place your dog on a sit stay and he can watch you “place” the toy. Release him from a sit and use the words “find it”. When he goes to the toy, encourage him to bring the toy back to you and give him huge praise and play with the toy. Over time you are going to make this more and more difficult. Until you can hide the toy in the most bizarre places, In drawers. Up high on shelves. You are teaching your dog to use his nose to find the toy. Something all dogs love to do – but especially those working breeds. The toy must be returned to you by the dog. If you place the toy in a place he physically cannot retrieve it from (say the drawer or up high on a shelf), you can shape his behavior so he sits and “looks” at where he thinks the toy is – this is called a passive alert. There’s no scratching at drawers, knocking stuff off shelves trying to get it – he has to be trained to sit and look at the place he thinks its at. when you go to said place and open the drawer to reveal the toy – play with the toy with him, throw it, tug of war with it or if he prefers treats you can use treats, but its best to just try and use his play drive! Good luck and let me know how it turns out!


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