SDOS Episode 37 – Training New York City Dogs with Sarah Dixon

Episode 37 – Training New York City Dogs with Sarah Dixon

Today dog training insights are coming to you from the city that’s so good they names it twice, and I don’t mean Sunderland, Sunderland. We have Dog Training expert Sarah Dixon on the show. Sarah is originally from British Columbia but has recently upped sticks and moved to the big apple where she now trains the dogs of New York City. She shares the story of how she was inspired to becomes a trainer and gives some awesome insights into the challenges of exercising and training dogs in a busy built up urban environment.

Mentioned in this episode

Sarah’s Website

Instinct Dog Training Website

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Dom:     Hello, me bonnie bairns, and welcome to the Super Hero Dog Owners Show, episode 37.

Alex:      Crikey.

Dom:     Yeah.

Alex:      Crackin’ on, aren’t we

Dom:     Yeah. Motoring on.

Alex:      Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dom:     I’m the host, Dom Hodgson, obviously. And I’m joined by my very good friend, Alex, the video guy.

Alex:      Good afternoon, everyone.

Dom:     With … I think we’re going to go get a milkshake, Alex, after this.

Alex:      Yeah. I would have to agree.

Dom:     It’s looking good. Yeah.

Alex:      Summer is here.

Dom:     It is. It’s nice. It’s nice. People will be thinking about going on holiday and stuff soon. And you’re on a holiday very soon as well, aren’t you, actually?

Alex:      Yeah. Yes, yes. Very soon. Off to-

Dom:     Tell everyone where you’re going.

Alex:      I’m off to the south of France. We’re flying to Bergerac and then we are driving somewhere. I don’t know where. It’s the South somewhere, but yeah, really looking forward to it. Be a nice little break

Dom:     Yeah. South of France is nice. Great.

Alex:      Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dom:     Holiday, you’ve just been skiing, too, no, snowboarding for the day.

Alex:      Yes. Did that in Scotland, yeah.

Dom:     Went to America last year.

Alex:      Yes. Two weeks in Florida.

Dom:     He’s getting paid too much money this kid.

Alex:      Don’t say that.

Dom:     That’s good. And-

Alex:      We just don’t have any kids yet. That’s the thing. I actually, and this is a true story. Just the other day, I was talking to my dad about this. I sat at home and I was talking about France, and I said, “When you have kids, does this stop?” And he was like, “Yeah. You just can’t do that stuff anymore.” I was like, “All right. Okay.”

Dom:     That’s not strictly true. We have been to France three times, and we took the kids with us.

Alex:      Well, yes.

Dom:     Yeah.

Alex:      You can’t [inaudible 00:01:43].

Dom:     Sorry, yeah, that’s the only downside of it.

Alex:      Yeah, you can’t just leave them, yeah.

Dom:     So going to France very soon.

Alex:      Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dom:     I love France, love the south of France.

Alex:      Yeah. [crosstalk 00:01:55]

Dom:     Been to the States, love the States, too. Been there twice.

Alex:      Yeah.

Dom:     Would love to go again.

Alex:      You will.

Dom:     Still haven’t got a show sponsor, but if someone wants to chip in, I might be able to afford to go a bit sooner. Today’s podcast guest actually comes to us from the States. I believe she’s from Canada, but she was definitely in New York when she recorded this interview with us. I’m talking about the amazing Sarah Dixon, and Sarah is a dog trainer and a dog owner in New York, which presents some challenges, Alex.

Alex:      Certainly would.

Dom:     Being a-

Alex:      Compared to somewhere like England.

Dom:     For sure, where we got much more access to woods and beaches and things like that here. So this is the interview, it’s a fantastic interview. Sit back, relax, and Alex will press play.

Alex:      Play.

Dom:     So my guest today is a full-time certified dog behaviour consultant. She works with Instinct Dog Behaviour and Training. They’re based in New York, but she’s originally from British Columbia in Canada. She’s skilled and experienced in helping owners of dogs with complex behaviour issues including fear, aggression, and anxiety. And I’m delighted to get her on the show because I first contacted her about seven months ago, but here she is. Welcome, Sarah Dixon.

Sarah Dixon:       Hi.

Dom:     Thanks for giving us your time today.

Sarah Dixon:       No problem. I’m just having coffee.

Dom:     Well, it is early there. It is early. We’re having afternoon tea here.

Sarah Dixon:       Yeah, it’s not early for a normal person, but it’s early for me.

Dom:     That’s cool. So we’re going to start with a quick fire round. This is … Not a quick fire round at all. I’ll do that again. We’re going to start with the Greyhound Round, which is like a quick fire round. And we’ll get to know you a little bit better. Are you ready to go off the leash?

Sarah:   Yes.

Dom:     Brilliant. What is your favourite doggy film?

Sarah Dixon:       The first one that comes to mind has got to be Homeward Bound.

Dom:     Ah, the old traditional. Like it, like it.

Sarah Dixon:       Yes, which also has a cat in it, so hopefully, that counts.

Dom:     What’s your favourite animal that isn’t a dog?

Sarah Dixon:       Oh, it has to be a fox.

Dom:     Oh, okay.

Sarah Dixon:       I love foxes. I have one tattooed on my arm. Can you see him?

Dom:     Yeah, wow.

Sarah Dixon:       [crosstalk 00:04:03]

Dom:     Yeah, nice.

Sarah Dixon:       Kind of obsessed

Dom:     Just a little bit.

Sarah Dixon:       But I would love to have one.

Dom:     Yeah. What’s your favourite superhero? Two even.

Sarah Dixon:       I’m not super into superheroes, but right now, I’ve been watching the Luke Cage series. So we’re going to go with Luke Cage.

Dom:     Okay. I like that. That’s cool. That’s different. I like that. Are you an early bird or a night owl?

Sarah Dixon:       Well, kind of already hinted at this one but definitely a night owl.

Dominic Hodgson:           Would you prefer to walk a Weimaraner in the woods or a Bulldog at the beach?

Sarah Dixon:       Ooh. Since I would rather be hanging out with a Bulldog than a Weimaraner, and it’s a toss up between the beach and the woods, we’ll go with the Bulldog at the beach.

Dom:     Okay. Good choice. Good choice. I think a Bulldog would like that as well. Do you prefer read or white wine?

Sarah Dixon:       Red wine.

Dom:     Hey, another good choice. Nine out of 10, Sarah. Well done. We’re off and rolling. So let’s … We’re going to start at the very beginning. Before you were Sarah the dog trainer, when you were just Sarah growing up in British Columbia, what was your experience with dogs? How did you first come into contact with dogs?

Sarah Dixon:       We didn’t have a lot of family dogs growing up, actually. We had one when I was really little that I don’t really remember that was a very close companion. My parents were very busy because they had me, and then when I was four, they had triplet girls.

Dom:     Wow.

Sarah Dixon:       So dogs were not a priority. We did have one dog when we were a little bit older. It was a lovely family pet, a little Cairn Terrier named [Jocko 00:05:47]. But we tried, there was a few other dogs that they tried to add in that just weren’t really good fits for a busy family with four kids and ended up sending them to, they got re-homed. But I grew up with a lot of small animals, so I had a lot of birds, and we had a lot of guinea pigs and bunnies and things like that and a lot of cats. That’s more what I grew up with. We had the odd dog but mostly cats and birds and small animals. And I did a lot of training with those little guys.

Dom:     Okay.

Sarah Dixon:       Yeah.

Dominic Hodgson:           So where did the inspiration come from to work with dogs then? What was the incident that happened with that?

Sarah Dixon:       I always loved dogs. Despite not really having them as parts of our family as a mainstay, always loved dogs. And whenever I had a chance, I would be training my own dog or training the neighbor’s dogs or whatever we could do. Pretty much as soon as I moved out and was on my own away from my parents, I was volunteering at the animal shelter, I was learning how to be a dog trainer, and I ended up eventually getting my own dog.

Dominic Hodgson:           Wow. Cool, cool. What was your dog? Who was the-

Sarah Dixon:       I had a beautiful Siberian Husky named Maui. And she was three years old when I adopted her, and she just passed away last year.

Dominic Hodgson:           Oh. Sorry about that.

Sarah Dixon:       Yeah, that was a dog that kind of made me into a dog trainer, really. Before her, I fostered quite a bit and worked a lot with dogs coming out of the shelter and that’s how I started.

Dominic Hodgson:           So was there anybody who kind of inspired you to want to be a trainer or anybody who has inspired you with pursuing a direction with training?

Sarah Dixon:       Yeah. When I first started, actually, the lady who first taught me was … She’s not even really worth mentioning. She turned out to be basically a scam artist, so that’s a whole other interesting story. But she did help me get my foot in the door. And through my dog, my Siberian Husky that I adopted, I met a lady by the name of Donna McLaughlin, who lives in Lethbridge, Alberta, who is a amazing animal trainer. And I ended up mentoring under Donna for a while. I learned a lot from her about not only training dogs. Donna was the person who introduced me to clicker training, so I learned a lot about clicker training not only with dogs but also with chickens and miniature horses. And we did a lot of really cool work.

She’s helped me learn, starting to learn about behaviour modification, which I didn’t know much of at that time. So that was really, that was definitely one of my first mentors and inspirations. And she’s the person who I sort of fell into clicker training with which is great because that’s been huge for me. Obviously, I was a pretty heavy handed trainer before that. And then there’s lots of people down the road that have been inspiring. Currently, right now, my bosses, Brian Burton and Sarah Fraser, I work a lot hands-on with them. If you don’t follow them at all, they’re amazing. Both very highly intelligent people, great animal trainers.

Dominic Hodgson:           Cool.

Sarah Dixon:       I could go into them. There’s [crosstalk 00:09:09].

Dominic Hodgson:           No, that’s great. That’s fantastic. Can you tell me, I always like the dog trainers I ask on the show to, if they can think of one and they can usually think of many, to tell me an embarrassing dog training story so that any pet dog owners who are watching can realise that we don’t everything things right all the time either.

Sarah Dixon:       Oh yeah. There’s lots of those. Let’s see. Which one can I pick? Well, there was one time when I was training my dog, and I fell on my head and got a concussion. So there’s that.

Dominic Hodgson:           Okay.

Sarah Dixon:       I’m looking more for embarrassing in public, my dog once took a poop in the middle of a demo.

Dominic Hodgson:           My dog once did a one in the middle of a farmer’s market, so that wasn’t very good.

Sarah Dixon:       Yes. They like to pick inopportune times. Yeah, they definitely keep you on your toes.

Dominic Hodgson:           Yeah. We can laugh about it.

Sarah Dixon:       Of course, [inaudible 00:10:12] to be Siberian Huskies, too, so they were always, had to have a sense of humour when training them.

Dominic Hodgson:           Brilliant, brilliant. Good stories. I know you’ve just fairly recently moved to New York. What was the reason for the move?

Sarah Dixon:       I got a job offer from Brian and Sarah, and we have a business at home in Canada, but it’s to a point now where it’s fairly stable. And we had been thinking about moving to the US for a little while. I teach workshops, and where we live in DC is quite remote. It was extremely difficult to travel out of, so we had thought about maybe moving somewhere eastern US, and then it’d be a lot easier for me to travel. We had a few things come up when we got the offer in New York. My husband and I talked it over, and we were like, “That sounds like a really good adventure.” So why not just move to New York?

Dominic Hodgson:           Yeah, brilliant.

Sarah Dixon:       We did.

Dominic Hodgson:           Brilliant. So what kind of challenges are you seeing in New York with the pet dog owners in New York that are different from what you saw back home?

Sarah Dixon:       I think probably some of the biggest challenges that people face here is the environment is just so congested. So if you have a dog who is fearful or reactive, it’s really, really challenging to work with them because as soon as you walk out the door … People don’t have yards, right? That’s one thing. So as soon as you walk out the door, you’ll see five dogs walking down the street and 20 people. If you have a dog who’s fearful or reactive or aggressive, it’s very stressful. So that’s probably the main one and the main things that we deal with is a lot of reactivity, anxiety, and aggression and things like that but also, just house training in New York.

Everybody has apartments, it can be a bit of a challenge especially when you have a puppy who’s maybe not got all its vaccine. You want to make sure he’s not getting sick, but you also want to start taking outside to go to the bathroom, that can be a bit of a challenge. Just apartment living on its own is difficult. Where do you take the dog to exercise where it’s safe? Especially if you have a dog who’s not going to be happy going to the dog run. A lot of people do use dog parks, there’s off-leash hours at Central Park, but it’s, again, very crowded. So if you have a dog who’s not a very friendly social dog, what do you do?

Dominic Hodgson:           Mm-hmm (affirmative). So how do you-

Sarah Dixon:       Yeah, those are some of the common challenges that we see.

Dominic Hodgson:           Yeah, so how do you go about dealing something like that then?

Sarah Dixon:       With the main one, with the lot of the anxiety and behaviour problems that we work with, we do have an upper hand where we have a facility, so we can do board and trains and the dogs can stay with us, and that does a few things. It lets the dog get a break from the stress of going outside all the time, so they don’t have to constantly encounter that. We can work on foundation skills inside and bring them outside, and that’s a huge advantage. And also, we can have absolute consistency over the animal’s environment. So we can make sure that every time they’re coming out, they’re learning what they need to learn, they’re not learning what we don’t want them to learn. So everything is done with absolute consistency and making sure that the dog is having positive experiences.

What we do a lot is we basically work through it with basic obedience, so we use positive reinforcement and teach the dog basic obedient skills that will transfer over well to the owner, so things like go to your bed and stay, come when I call you, walk nicely on a leash. Through that, because we’re using a positive reinforcement training, when you start to take the dog outside, now they have skills that they understand how to do, that gives the dog confidence, you can give them direction that’s meaningful for them. And then because they’re also learning through reinforcement and we’re using really, really high value rewards that the dog likes, there’s now an element of counter-conditioning that goes on as well. So the dog is getting the stuff that it likes and around things that he’s nervous about, and then he starts to feel better in that environment. And he’s like, “Oh, okay. There’s a scary person there, but I’m getting chicken, so …

Dominic Hodgson:           Yeah, okay. Yeah.

Sarah Dixon:       “… it’s okay.” He starts to actually …

Dominic Hodgson:           Feel so bad.

Sarah Dixon:       … feel better as well. Because you’re always looking at … Generally when the dogs are anxious or being aggressive, they’re not just doing it to be jerks. They’re doing it because they have some icky feelings, and we need to work to address that as well. So there’s always an element of trying to help the dog feel better and also giving the dog skills that will help to make him feel better, help him respond to the owner. And then we teach the owner how to handle the dog.

Dominic Hodgson:           Yeah. Brilliant, brilliant. Do you do much work with them kind of ongoing as well?

Sarah Dixon:       Yes.

Dominic Hodgson:           yeah?

Sarah Dixon:       Especially some dogs with the major behavioural problems, it’s ongoing. And you and I understand that, but people that are, the pet owners may not understand that if you have a dog with behavioural problems, it’s a lifelong thing. [crosstalk 00:15:17]-

Dominic Hodgson:           You’re managing it, aren’t you?

Sarah Dixon:       Yeah. You’re always working on it, always working to make it better. They’re never fixed which in some ways is a little bit depressing I think for some people, but it’s just like a person that has a drug problem or an alcohol problem. You’re always in rehab, right? And dogs with behavioural issues are the same way. So some of these dogs it’s a lifelong support, and we form relationships with the owners. And this was what it was like working at home, too, but you form relationships with the owners, you become friends, you see the dogs coming back for classes, for boarding. It is not just, okay, here I trained your dog for two weeks and see you later. Definitely we do group classes for free for the life of the dog, we do offer boarding at the facility. And there’s lots of private lessons, as many as they need to feel comfortable.

Dominic Hodgson:           Brilliant. Brilliant. That sounds awesome. What kind of things do you … Thinking about the living conditions that you see, they have … With the lack of space and stuff, what kind of things do you have to teach the owners where to exercise their dog in the space that they’ve got and stuff? What kind of tips could you give for people who may not have a lot of space, may not have access to beaches, woods, fields, all this kind of thing, but it’s still stuff that you can do to exercise your dog and it’s still stuff you should do to exercise your dogs? So what easy things could pet dog owners do in your opinion?

Sarah Dixon:       It’s a great question, and this is something that I think applies to everybody, not necessarily someone that lives in New York and has a dog that can’t go to the dog park. But even if it’s icky weather and you want to exercise your dog, mentally there’s lots you can do. I love any kind of nose work so even something as simple as taking the dogs breakfast and spreading it around the house or spreading it out on the floor so they have to use their nose a little bit to find it, that’s really great enrichment activity. There’s a lot of really cool puzzle feeding toys on the market, Kong’s, Kong wobblers, there’s so many. Those are all excellent. Hi, Dexter’s coming up.

Dominic Hodgson:           Hi, Dexter.

Sarah Dixon:       Any kind of trick training. Dexter, sit down. Trick training or basic obedience training is great mental enrichment. A lot of what I’ll recommend my client to do that maybe can’t take their dogs out to dog park is to take the dog out on a long line, muzzle if necessary. Some of the dogs, if they could be a bite risk, it might have to be in a muzzle, but if you just can’t let your dog off leash, a 30 of 50 foot leash and just sort of letting them go around and sniff, again, you can hide treats for them in the park, you can hide toys for them. That way, you can throw the toy a little bit.

If your dog likes to, playing tug can be a really, really good activity that you don’t need a lot of space to do that’s excellent aerobic and mental activity. It’s also really good relationship build. Those are the basic ones. Definitely nose work, trick training, any kind of puzzle toys, and for people that can’t let their dog run around on the floors doing, taking him out on a long line walk, letting him sniff, and playing with him a little bit. That way can be really good.

Dominic Hodgson:           Yes, it’s [inaudible 00:18:42]. It is good. It’s great because it means you can enjoy the walk and they can enjoy the outdoors, but at the same time, you’re kind of controlling them, aren’t you? By playing games and keeping them entertained, you keep them next to you. Keeping them safer.

Sarah Dixon:       Another thing that can be really fun for lots of people is to do urban agility. So when you take the dog out on a walk just around your neighbourhood, if there’s concrete lips, the dog can jump up and walk on them, jumping over benches, going under things, going around, that can be a really great activity for people to do on walks. I take my own dogs and do things like that. We do nose work in the park, we go out to the park and do obedience training, and they’re quite happy. I have three high-energy herding dogs, and they get their hard runs. I do take them to the off-leash park a couple days a week, but they’re not doing two hours of heavy physical exercise a day. A lot of what they get is mental exercise, walking on the streets. I do think that that’s very good for them. They like to walk around here because there’s so much stimuli.

Dominic Hodgson:           Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Sarah Dixon:       Thankfully, they’re not too fearful.

Dominic Hodgson:           Yeah.

Sarah Dixon:       But they do enjoy walking in the city. But even just that, just walking around and seeing things and smelling things is quite stimulating for them.

Dom:     Yeah, definitely. Definitely, yeah. That’s fantastic advice. If you could wave a magic wand, Sarah, and get every pet dog owner to do something new with their dog, you might have answered this already, actually, but that they’re maybe currently not doing now, what would it be and why?

Sarah Dixon:       I think it would have to be get involved and doing some kind of activity with your dog. And I think I’m going to go to nose work because nose work is a good one that’s very easy, it doesn’t take a lot of money to practise at home. There’s most places you can find classes now, and I haven’t met a dog yet that didn’t enjoy it. Otherwise, my usual advice to people is find what your dog likes and do that with them. They’re not, because not every dog is going to really love doing agility, not every dog is going to maybe really love doing tricks. Not every dog might not love nose work, but I haven’t met one yet that hasn’t, and that’s might that I think definitely people could get involved in. If nothing else, just go out and take a class and do something with your dog.

Dominic Hodgson:           Definitely. Definitely, yeah. And I think with the nose work, if you’re going to use food, for example, you’re going to feed the dog anyway, so why not just make it a little bit of a challenge for him?

Sarah Dixon:       Yeah. How much harder is it for you to take that food instead of putting it in a bowl, spread it out around the kitchen floor?

Dom:     Yeah, definitely.

Sarah Dixon:       It takes you no more time.

Dom:     Less washing up as well.

Sarah Dixon:       Yeah. Exactly. You don’t have to mop.

Dom:     What’s a best bit of advice you’ve ever been given in your life? Dog related or something else?

Sarah Dixon:       Probably the best bit of advice that I ever got was actually from my high school band teacher. And it was you can never grow old if you don’t grow up.

Dom:     Okay. Okay. And how have you used that advice?

Sarah Dixon:       I think what that means to me is if you always go at things with a young heart and embrace things with a good sense of humour that life is a lot more fun that way. Basically, just lighten up, have fun, don’t be so serious about everything. Hey, take risks sometimes, right? Yeah, sure. Let’s move across the continent into a different country and start a new job in Manhattan. Why not?

Dominic Hodgson:           What’s the worst that could happen? Brilliant.

Sarah Dixon:       We go bankrupt. End up …

Dom:     Yeah. We won’t worry about that.

Sarah Dixon:       [inaudible 00:22:35]

Dom:     That’s way down the line. Don’t worry about that. That’s fantastic. Where can people go to find out a bit more about you, Sarah, and what you’re doing, what you’ve got coming up this year?

Sarah Dixon:       I have a personal website that has a little bit of information about me and my training. My contact info is all in there, and if I have any seminars or anything coming up, it’ll be listed on there. And that is www.sarahfulcher, which is F-U-L-C-H-E-R, dot com. That’s my maiden name before I got married. I also can be reached at Instinct Dog Training, which is, and that’s the company I work for in New York.

Dom:     Brilliant. Brilliant. And yeah, this has been absolutely amazing. I’ve really, really enjoyed talking to you. I’m so glad you gave us the time.

Sarah Dixon:       Yeah, thanks. I’m glad we could finally connect.

Dom:     It’s been brilliant. It’s been absolutely awesome, and I hope we’ll have you on the show again sometime.

Sarah Dixon:       Okay, great. Thank you very much.

Dom:     Awesome. Thank you, Sarah. Take care.

Sarah Dixon:       Bye.

Dominic Hodgson:           So Alex.

Alex:      Yes, Dominic

Dom:     How awesome was that?

Alex:      Crackin’, wasn’t it? It was a really interesting one.

Dom:     Makes you want to go to New York just to do a bit of dog training with Sarah.

Alex:      Yeah. Just a bit more than I did already.

Dom:     Yeah. Exactly, yeah. But it is really interesting because we’re quite blessed here in a lot of ways living where we live now. Sunderland’s a city, but it’s not exactly metropolis in more than one way, but we do have access to lots of parks, open spaces, beaches, miles and miles of beaches, woodlands.

Alex:      Lot of places in the UK I think, even if you are somewhere like Birmingham or maybe even in like London or somewhere, you’re not too far from getting out in the sticks.

Dominic Hodgson:           Yeah, that’s right. Yeah, yeah.

Alex:      Taking the dog [crosstalk 00:24:15].

Dom:     A lot of it was interesting how they cope with the high-rise living and obviously they still love their dogs, still want to own a dog and stuff. I think it might put me off a little bit, all them flights of stairs for that last minute wee.

Alex:      Yes.

Dom:     But so on next week’s show, Alex, we have another interview. I have an interview with the marvellous Jane Arden. This is second time Jane’s been on the show. We recorded this when we were down recently, and Jane was talking to us about mindfulness in dog training.

Alex:      Yeah.

Dom:     Really, really interesting. Jane also recorded a masterclass for us, Inside the Inner Circle, so if you want to get the full version, then you need to join the Inner Circle using the web address underneath here. But next week, we’re going to be giving you a little insight into the mindfulness. We recently did a seminar [inaudible 00:25:03] didn’t we? We did the Grow Your Pet Business Faster seminar.

Alex:      We did, yeah.


Dom:     And How To Be a Dog Superhero seminar as well which they both went down really, really well. If you want tickets for the Grow Your Pet Business Fast or the How To be a Dog Superhero seminar, I’m doing those in Scotland, London, Colchester, Devon, and Nottingham. So you can get the details, they’ll be on Facebook or you should join my email list and you can find out exactly where to go then. You get a special offer if you come to both seminars, perfect for dog trainers, dog groomers, dog walkers. And if you’re a pet dog owner, you want to learn how to bond or connect with your dog more, then you should definitely come to the How To be a Dog Superhero seminar because you will really, really enjoy yourself. So that’s it for this week, Alex. Thank you for your time as always.

Alex:      No problem. I enjoyed it.

Dom:     Me too. That’s goodbye from me.

Alex:      And goodbye from him.

Dom:     And if we don’t see you through the week, then we’ll see you through the window.

Buy Dom’s bestselling dog training book ‘How to Be Your Dog’s Superhero’ here

Meet the Author

Dom Hodgson