Saturday Jul 30, 2022

Episode 18: Meet Noelle Blessey of Thank Dog in Nashville

Dr. Marc Smith: Hey there ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the PET | TAO Holistic Pet Products Podcast. I am your host, Dr. Marc Smith, 20-year practicing veterinarian and co-creator of PET | TAO Holistic Pet Products. I have a special guest for you, a lady that I've known for about a year now. She is a dog trainer and her name is Noelle Blessey. Noelle, can you say hello please?

Noelle Blessey: I can say hello please.

Dr. Marc Smith: Hello, good to see you, glad to have you here and I'm excited to talk to you on an interview basis. Noelle has been a client, or you've come to my clinic for about a year now.

Noelle Blessey: That's right.

Dr. Marc Smith: We went through kind of a troubled time with one of your pets and I've gotten to know her on a client basis, but also a friend basis and that's real important to me. Noelle is a dog trainer. She's been a dog trainer for eight years and Noelle, like I said, we have had multiple dog trainers on our podcast and we like to present our listeners with different ways of people doing things. There's more than one way to skin a cat. I'm sure you've heard of that.

Noelle Blessey: Absolutely.

Dr. Marc Smith: Noelle went to the University of Texas. Let me tell you something and I want to make sure you understand this, okay. Texas has a T in it, but they're not the Big Orange, let's get that straight, okay. That's the first thing. Anyway, she went to University of Texas and she's got a degree in marine biology. She graduated in 1993.

Noelle Blessey: Easy.

Dr. Marc Smith: She is a lifelong dog owner. Noelle, can you just tell people how you got into dog training? What motivated you?

Noelle Blessey: Yeah. Lifelong dog owner. I remember going through training with the family dog when I was a kid. Actually, I always wanted to be a whale trainer, or be involved with marine mammals. That's why my degree is in that. Didn't pan out, life took me a couple different places and the profession of dog training became an option to me through some other avenues, but I met a wonderful mentor in Jill Bowers, who's my business partner. It's my passion, so I've definitely ended in the right place.

Dr. Marc Smith: Now, tell me about Jill, because I don't know her.

Noelle Blessey: Okay, so Jill started the Thank Dog Training company in LA.

Dr. Marc Smith: Okay.

Noelle Blessey: She was probably training already for ten years when I met her.

Dr. Marc Smith: Okay. She started a company to help you get started-

Noelle Blessey: That's right.

Dr. Marc Smith: Help you learn the craft and those type of things.

Noelle Blessey: That's right.

Dr. Marc Smith: I know we've talked and your kind of suggestion, or maybe your angle is you train dogs primarily in their environment, in the home, right?

Noelle Blessey: That's right, that's right.

Dr. Marc Smith: Why do you do that?

Noelle Blessey: Well, my main focus with training is behavior modification. The clients I'm seeking out, or the clients who are seeking me out are dealing with behavior issues. It's primarily obedience training.

Dr. Marc Smith: Okay.

Noelle Blessey: There's a lot of great trainers in town who do primarily obedience training and they'll actually compete in obedience. I'm actually going into homes where they're having some pretty serious issues.

Dr. Marc Smith: Okay.

Noelle Blessey: The environment is a piece of that. Keeping them in that environment, working through what they're going through in that environment at the direction and the hands of their own owners, so I'm doing a lot of people training too.

Dr. Marc Smith: Right. Just so everybody knows, you've got obedience training. That's where you teach Rover how to sit, stay, pee-pee outside, poop on the left side of the house, all those type of things, right?

Noelle Blessey: Right.

Dr. Marc Smith: Then you've got problem-solving behaviors like separation anxiety maybe is a good example.

Noelle Blessey: Yeah.

Dr. Marc Smith: Or, maybe a dog that's aggressive, or maybe a dog that's ... I don't know, what's another one?

Noelle Blessey: Leash reactivity, so you can have a dog on a leash who is making a lot of noise and jumping around and maybe that's aggression, but maybe that's just excitability.

Dr. Marc Smith: Yeah, okay.

Noelle Blessey: Like he wants to go meet the other dogs. Basically, it's the owner doesn't have control.

Dr. Marc Smith: Right. There's two different facets kind of, of dog trainer, maybe broad categories.

Noelle Blessey: At least two, yeah.

Dr. Marc Smith: Yeah, at least two. You have on the one side obedience, and that's the basic stuff, and on the other side you have kind of the problem-solving, or reactive, or behavioral side of it. We're going to stick with the behavioral. Again, why do you prefer to do that in someone's home? Is that because you can see the actual behavior? If you can treat the pet and the owner, because obviously the owner plays a big role in why the behavior started in the first place, right?

Noelle Blessey: That's right, absolutely.

Dr. Marc Smith: Okay. Why do you ... Why in the home? Just so you can tell everybody, why?

Noelle Blessey: A lot of times a dog's behavior is really dependent on an environment, so if I took the dog out of that environment, and I'm a dog trainer, so I'm going to do things in a certain way with that dog.

A lot of times dogs will not show me the behavior that they're showing for their own owners in their own environment. In a way, we have to have them in that environment in order to actually see the behaviors that they're showing.

Dr. Marc Smith: Okay. What is the most common reason you get called, or you get calls? What are they?

Noelle Blessey: Some of the big ones are definitely dogs who have been labeled aggressive. We have to be really careful. That term is used pretty generally. Usually that means the dog is growling in certain situations, maybe he's barking a lot on leash and lunging. There's a difference though between an aggressive or vicious dog, and a dog who has and shows aggressive behaviors. Most often, most dogs are good dogs showing aggressive behaviors, and so we're addressing that. Sometimes it's fear though. Sometimes we've got some really timid dogs. Sometimes especially if it's a new rescue, they're just very, very shy, very timid, underexposed to the world in general, so that's one that we do a lot of too.

Dr. Marc Smith: I guess a lot of it's perception, right?

Noelle Blessey: Absolutely.

Dr. Marc Smith: On the owner's side.

Noelle Blessey: That's right.

Dr. Marc Smith: They may think the dog is being aggressive, but you go out there and you ... It's not really that aggressive compared to all the pets you work with and that type of thing.

Noelle Blessey: That's right. There's a spectrum. An owner's reality is what they know and as a professional I see an entire spectrum.

Dr. Marc Smith: Right.

Noelle Blessey: Like the assessment piece, an initial consultation is extremely important when you're doing this kind of training, because an owner will write you a long email and tell you all kinds of things, but until you actually see the dog and put together what the owners, "story" or perspective is, but then see it yourself, could be slightly different than what you've been ... What's been described to you. Just because you know different ... As a professional you know some different things about behavior and motivation.

Dr. Marc Smith: Right.

Noelle Blessey: Yeah.

Dr. Marc Smith: Let's think about this, or let's pretend this. Let's pretend Rover, that's my dog, okay. Rover, every time the mailman comes up, he runs outside and growls, and barks, and slings saliva all over everybody. Just tell people real quick, how would you approach that? I mean, the mailman, he's tinkled in his pants, right?

Noelle Blessey: Right.

Dr. Marc Smith: The dog is throwing saliva all over the place, right?

Noelle Blessey: Right.

Dr. Marc Smith: How would you approach that with an owner if they called you up and that was their long email or that was their complaint, how would you approach that?

Noelle Blessey: Well, the first thing I would talk about with them is a lot of times people have what they believe to be the why of why a dog is doing something, and so we'll talk about ... Let's talk about dog brain, let's talk about the way they actually think and it tends to be much more simplistic than what we as humans think. We put a little bit of human perspective a lot of times on dog behavior, so I'll say to folks, "You realize the postman approaches your house every day and the first time your dog barked at the postman, because he didn't want him approaching his house, the postman left, didn't he?"

Dr. Marc Smith: Right. Yes.

Noelle Blessey: In a dog's mind, because he barked the postman left.

Dr. Marc Smith: He won, right?

Noelle Blessey: He won.

Dr. Marc Smith: Yeah.

Noelle Blessey: The postman, he didn't listen, he came back the next day. Now, the dog thinks, "Well, maybe I better tell him a little louder, maybe I'd better be a little more serious this time. Oh look, he left again. It worked, me being louder worked, right?" Will the postman come back the next day? Now the dog's going to ... It's just this escalating, elevating behavior because this continues to happen and the dog says, "This isn't working. Why does he keep approaching the house?" His behavior just gets more elevated and more elevated. That's number one. Let's talk about why the dog is doing it, what does he think he's actually accomplishing? Then let's talk about how do we deal with this? How do we ... There's a management piece. There's not allowing the dog to be in a place to maybe observe the postman for a certain period of time, while we can teach the dog an alternate behavior to reacting that way. We do still use obedience commands for behavior modification, it's just that we're creating a desired behavior that we want to then introduce in place of an undesired behavior.

Dr. Marc Smith: With that being said now, so you're replacing the undesired behavior with the desired behavior.

Noelle Blessey: That's right.

Dr. Marc Smith: How do we reinforce the desired behavior? Okay. If I think about with my friends, right?

Noelle Blessey: Right.

Dr. Marc Smith: I tell my kid, "Put your cellphone down please."

Noelle Blessey: Right.

Dr. Marc Smith: The older I've gotten, the more I realize that I need to say, "Hey honey, can you please put down your cellphone," right? Then I don't get the desired effect.

Noelle Blessey: Right.

Dr. Marc Smith: The next time I'm like, "Hey, put your cellphone down now."

Noelle Blessey: Right.

Dr. Marc Smith: Then the third time I'm like, "Get that damn thing ... If you don't put it down I'm throwing it in the trash, now."

Noelle Blessey: Right.

Dr. Marc Smith: What you're telling me is a dog does it the same way, kind of the same way.

Noelle Blessey: Yes.

Dr. Marc Smith: Okay. Then, but if he uses that, "Hey honey, put your cellphone down." How do you enforce that, or reinforce that behavior? What is an idea to do that, or a way to do that?

Noelle Blessey: No, well that's a great example, because the way that you described it is a way that dog owners often ... It's a way that they often approach their dogs. They'll ask for something, if they don't get it the first time they'll get a little louder, get a little more serious.

Dr. Marc Smith: Yeah.

Noelle Blessey: "No, really, sit. Come on now, I really mean sit," right? By the third, fourth time, you're angry, you're loud and the dog goes, "Oh, I'll do it now." Now you've got a dog who will only do it when you get loud and angry.

Dr. Marc Smith: Right.

Noelle Blessey: Because that's become a routine. They're routine-based animals, so repetition is easy if they sense that you really mean it at the point that your face gets red and you're screaming at me.

Dr. Marc Smith: Right.

Noelle Blessey: However, most dogs are pretty easily motivated. We'd rather come from a place of using a dog's motivation to get him to want to do something for us, as opposed to intimidating him into doing something for us. It's much more likely you're going to get it to repeat if you can get him to work for something he wants for himself, because dogs are selfish creatures.

Dr. Marc Smith: What's something he'd want? Food, snack, play time, what is something he'd want?

Noelle Blessey: Could be a treat, could be a toy, could be as simple as, "Good boy." You're around animals all the time and you're dealing with energy and emotion a lot, right? They're in your practice, they're maybe not comfortable, but coming in and just using a voice that is soothing, or happy, they do pick up on tone.

Dr. Marc Smith: Right.

Noelle Blessey: If I've got a dog, I ask him to do something, we've gone through it enough times that he knows that if he does it the first time, "Good boy," right? He gets that and they lock ... They tend to really watch you and engage when you give that. Plus, maybe a little pat on the head, a little scratch on the ear.

Dr. Marc Smith: Yeah.

Noelle Blessey: A lot of dogs are really motivated by emotion.

Dr. Marc Smith: It's funny you mentioned that, because I kind of don't do things the traditional way, so I don't wear a white coat.

Noelle Blessey: Sure.

Dr. Marc Smith: I may wear shorts. I may even wear my crocs and I ... Most of my exams I do on pets while I'm sitting in the chair.

Noelle Blessey: Right.

Dr. Marc Smith: Right.

Noelle Blessey: Just casual.

Dr. Marc Smith: I don't put dogs up on the table. I've done that, sometimes I might, but it seems like the response out of the pet is, "Okay, this guy's being real casual. He's cool, he's hip, he's not doing anything to me. Yeah, I'll sit here and I won't bite at him."

Noelle Blessey: Right.

Dr. Marc Smith: When you say that, what you just said, that reminds me of my approach and maybe my energy or whatever you want to call it, is casual and so the dog doesn't, or the pet doesn't seem to be in a ... I don't even know the right word, but in a "prone" position maybe.

Noelle Blessey: Sure. Vulnerable, anxious.

Dr. Marc Smith: Vulnerable, yes.

Noelle Blessey: They get anxious when they feel tension.

Dr. Marc Smith: Absolutely.

Noelle Blessey: Yeah, absolutely.

Dr. Marc Smith: Absolutely. That's an interesting concept. What other problems do you treat? I just mentioned aggression. What are the most common problems you treat?

Noelle Blessey: We tend to see a lot of separation anxiety, especially if it's a new dog in a new home in a new environment, or it's an old dog who's going through a lot of change. Maybe folks who have had to move around a bunch recently, maybe they bought a home and then it wasn't ready, or ... There's a lot of ... Any circumstance where there's a lot of change going on in a household, the dogs notice because they are such routine-based animals.

Dr. Marc Smith: Right. I agree.

Noelle Blessey: When they can't predict what's going on around them, you'll see things like anxiety pick up, you'll see things like fear pick up. Fear really is the base of most aggression, so then if it goes on long enough, it does usually get to aggression.

Dr. Marc Smith: I did a podcast, that brings up another interesting point, a couple of episodes ago that talked about this emotional cycle of change that people go through and it's pretty predictable. Pets, we don't really apply it to pets from this depth that I go into it on the podcast, but they probably do, but we know that when that pet changes, it sure does apply to the owner.

Noelle Blessey: That's right.

Dr. Marc Smith: They're changed behaviors, they're emotional changes they go through, so that's another interesting point. I'm pretty ... I'm becoming enlightened today, thank you.

Noelle Blessey: Good, absolutely.

Dr. Marc Smith: What I would ... This is kind of my opinion, but I'm going to broadly or generally say that a lot of these behaviors in pets, not all of them, but some of them, a lot of them, let's say that, they are kind of maybe not caused by the owner, but they are ... Gas is thrown on the fire by the owner.

Noelle Blessey: They're linked.

Dr. Marc Smith: Would you say that?

Noelle Blessey: They're definitely linked. They're definitely related. I don't tend to walk into a home and say, "You're the reason for the issue," but I'll say, "There's definitely a connection between something you're going through, or just a way that you're trying to communicate with your dog may not be working for the dog." Sometimes it's just as basic as inconsistent communication. Maybe there's not a whole lot of craziness going on in the household, but if you're not doing something the same way every time you do it, the dog can't understand that you want the same response.

Dr. Marc Smith: Structure.

Noelle Blessey: Structure, consistency, repetition.

Dr. Marc Smith: Right, right. How do you ... That's hard to tell somebody and for them to act on it.

Noelle Blessey: Absolutely.

Dr. Marc Smith: That's kind of like hard for me to say, "Hey, don't feed Rover 16 ice cream sandwiches and then his kibble, you need to cut out on the ice cream sandwiches." Well, they don't do that, right? That's a big hurdle to get across.

Noelle Blessey: It is.

Dr. Marc Smith: Any tips? Does that lead to a lot of failure? Does that lead to why maybe some problems that you could help, you can't because of their inability or unwillingness to do that?

Noelle Blessey: I'm pretty honest with the owners upfront in a very gentle way and most people can understand that it is somewhat related to them. We'll talk about a way ... We'll point out specific instances of a way they might be doing something and get them to see that if they just shifted slightly this way, that they would get better results. Usually what I'll do is I'll say ... We'll kind of look at a subset of things that are going on for them and say, "Let's just start with these." Honestly, where we start with everybody is really breaking habits of the human involved and the dog just follows along, because now I've got the human doing things differently. I don't generally get a lot of pushback on that, because the results tend to speak for themselves. I tell people right upfront, I said, "I'm confident your dog is capable of change. I've seen enough dogs in my time to know that 95% of dogs can be helped. The biggest factor, the biggest variable involved in this, is the human owner."

Dr. Marc Smith: Okay, that's good to know.

Noelle Blessey: We lay that out really early and most people are pretty accepting of that.

Dr. Marc Smith: Cool.

Noelle Blessey: Yeah.

Dr. Marc Smith: Cool.

Noelle Blessey: Some take a little longer to change than others, but we talk about that. We stay in close contact throughout the process, so we're constantly checking in on, how's that going? What's going well, what's not going well?

Dr. Mark Smith: We're going to kind of wind this down just a little bit and I think everybody understands that you handle behavior problems. There's two difference in ... Two broad differences in the way we ... There's obedience and then there's behavior and there's other things, but those-

Noelle Blessey: Sure.

Dr. Marc Smith: Are the ones people are most familiar with. Then we talked about common problems and how dogs ... Things you do each and every day in your interaction either reinforce things or they ... Positive behaviors, or they tear down positive behaviors. Now, what I want to say is how do you stay on top of dog training? What do you do to learn more? Is there anything you do to learn more?

Noelle Blessey: Absolutely.

Dr. Marc Smith: How do you stay up with it? How do you provide, or how do you try to provide the best to the people that call on you?

Noelle Blessey: Sure. I'm a part of an international organization of canine professionals, it's not just dog trainers actually, it's basically anyone who is in a business situation or a professional that works with canines. Through that organization I've become acquainted with some of the top dog trainers in the country especially, but some actually in other countries who are doing a great job of putting out videos and sharing stories, and case studies, who are open to receiving questions from other dog trainers. I'm a part of a network here in the states of folks who have trained with the same master trainer that I did. I can always go to them and have discussions and I think that open communication with other professionals in your field is always important. You can always learn from other people, "How do you handle this kind of client and how do you ... Here's what I've already tried, what do you do?" I think a big thing in every profession is just the open-mindedness that there may be a better way to do it than the way you've been doing it. There's a lot of that. We have continuing education opportunities through conferences, or through workshops, whether it's in person, or on video, or some practical hands-on that I can take my own dogs to.

Dr. Marc Smith: Awesome.

Noelle Blessey: Yeah.

Dr. Marc Smith: We're going to end up. If you had one thing to tell these listeners to prevent a behavioral problem in their pet, one thing, tell them.

Noelle Blessey: If you were only going to do one thing at all, I would say exercise your animal.

Dr. Marc Smith: Exercise, exercise, exercise.

Noelle Blessey: A tired dog is a good dog.

Dr. Marc Smith: That's right.

Noelle Blessey: If there was nothing else you were going to do, exercise the animal.

Dr. Marc Smith: That's right. Me tired on Saturday watching football's a good thing too, right?

Noelle Blessey: Well, and you want your dog to be tired and-

Dr. Marc Smith: That's right.

Noelle Blessey: Welcoming laying on the couch with you.

Dr. Marc Smith: You're exactly right.

Noelle Blessey: Yeah, absolutely.

Dr. Mark Smith: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for listening. Noelle, you were awesome. Search her out, look up if you have any dog training questions. Noelle, thank you for being here.

Noelle Blessey: Thank you so much.

Dr. Marc Smith: You were awesome. Thank you for bringing your pets to my clinic.

Noelle Blessey: Absolutely.

Dr. Marc Smith: That's a big deal to me.

Noelle Blessey: Well, thank you and for what you do.

Dr. Marc Smith: Yeah.

Noelle Blessey: Yeah.

Dr. Marc Smith: Anyway, listeners out there, thank you for tuning in. If you liked what we talked about today, then give us a rating on iTunes, because that helps us out. That helps get more outstanding information to people so that they can learn how to take care of their dogs and cats. Also, if you have questions look up our blog at Have you looked at that?

Noelle Blessey: I have.

Dr. Marc Smith: Well, okay.

Noelle Blessey: Yeah.

Dr. Marc Smith: Look at it, there's some good books on there, you would like them, okay. I wrote a lot of them.

Noelle Blessey: I know.

Dr. Marc Smith: Now, they're about medical problems, but they're good, okay.

Noelle Blessey: I'm on it, yep.

Dr. Marc Smith: Go there and look and we will see you next time. Thank you again, Noelle.

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