Interview with Dove Cresswell
An interview with Dove Cresswell, professional dog trainer in TV and film, and creator of the video course, Puppy and Dog Training.
At 25 years old, Dove Cresswell has already earned a reputation as a well-known professional animal trainer for film, television and commercials. She has trained many different sizes and breeds of dogs, as well as large reptiles, rodents, birds and deer.
As a result Dove has worked on many feature films (Saved! and Sam's Lake), TV shows (Romeo, Behind the Camera: Charlie's Angels and Cougar Crossings) and commercials (The Source).
In this interview, Dove shares some of her insights on dog training - including her views on shock collars, why dogs bark, the difference between training large and small dogs, and more. Enjoy!
Tell us about your background - how did you get started as an animal trainer?
Dove: I've been a professional animal trainer for film, television and commercials for five years now. I've trained everything from cougars to cockroaches, and of course, lots of dogs. I can teach basic and advanced obedience, tricks, movie tricks, and I can train any dog of any breed up to the Master's level in agility.
What got you interested in dog training?
Dove: As a young teen I took some obedience classes with my lab pup, which sparked my interest and after that spent hours in my back yard setting up obstacle courses for my lab to run through and taught him many tricks.
I also volunteered at the SPCA and accumulated an odd assortment of pets including iguanas and crows. At age 16, I began seriously volunteering at an animal hospital every week and by age 17 was a paid staff member there.
Then I pursued my BA, Science-Biology at university and somehow found myself working in film. By chance I was working on an animal docudrama, Cougar Crossings, and proved that I was knowledgeable and capable of handling the juvenile cougars and other animals.
Working with cougars is such a wild way to begin a career! With dog training, do you prefer one particular method or many?
Dove: I have had the great fortune to have studied dog training under several of the top trainers. As a result I have learned that there is certainly not just one way to train anything. Every dog, and every dog owner is different and some methods work better than others for certain dogs and owners.
In the training modules I often give a couple of options for training one action. It's best to try them all and find out what your dog responds best to and what feels most natural and comfortable for you. Having the opportunity to learn dog training from several different sources has also added a flexibility and creativity in my training. I have been asked to train some unusual animals and have dogs do some unusual things for film and television.
Sometimes you just have to get creative and try something you think might work. Sometimes you get results, sometimes you don't. These training modules are designed to take away some of that guesswork but I encourage everyone to have fun and get creative when training their dog.
Do you still study dog training yourself?
Dove: Absolutely! There is always more to learn. I own a large collection of training books, which I'll read looking for new ideas and I will watch any videos, even old ones, looking for ideas. I also participate in weekend training seminars; courses and competitions to keep on my toes and constantly improve myself as a trainer.
What aspects of dog training do people struggle with the most?
Dove: One weakness is definitely these hour-long, once a week obedience classes. Ideally training sessions should be short (15-25 minutes max) to keep the dog's interest and keep the energy level up for both the dog and trainer.
And doing three ten-minute sessions a day accomplishes a lot more than one half hour long session. I also find many dog training instructors only offer one method of training and they often lack creativity when dealing with dogs that are presenting a training challenge.
I like the fact that your dog training videos don't have any fluff - just answers.
Dove: Exactly. If pet owners need to correct a particular behavior (such as pulling on the leash) they can go directly to that video. It's a lot less hassle that way.
What else makes your dog training better than conventional methods in obedience classes and books?
Dove: Dog training should be fun and that's what I focus on in my training. And the more training you do with your dog, the more fun you are going to have with your dog, as well as creating a happier, more confident and better behaved pet.
Unless you are teaching a dog not to do something, absolutely everything should be trained in an upbeat and positive manner. And even when it is necessary to correct a dog in a negative way, you must then immediately show your dog the right behavior and praise it in a positive way.
So after every negative, we follow with a positive to keep your dog happy and wanting to work for you. And we always end training with a play session! Training should be fun for both you and your dog!
Do people need any experience or special skills to follow your program?
Dove: The program is designed for everyone from no previous dog experience to lots of dog experience and it's all in simple terminology. The lessons are designed for everyday life with a dog, not a formal obedience, competition-style format.
What's your take on the use of radio-controlled shock collars? We think it's pretty sad.
Dove: I feel electronic training devices are overused and are nothing but a quick-fix solution. While they give a correction (a zap) to deter the dog from doing something, the dog learns not to do that behavior - but it is purely negative reinforcement training. Where is the positive reinforcement when the dog is behaving?
It is far more humane, effective and usually faster, to actually train your dog using a one-on-one human-dog interaction with lots of positive reinforcement for the correct behavior and nothing but a disapproving tone of voice to correct a bad behavior.
When someone puts an anti-barking collar on a dog and then goes off to work, when does the dog get praised for being quiet? How are they to effectively learn not to bark when there is no one there asking them to be quiet and then praising them when they are quiet?
And why do dogs bark?
Dove: To let the outsider know that this is their territory. Don't you want your dog to protect your house? These electronic devices also take away from a dog's confidence. After every negative correction, it should be immediately followed with a positive reinforcement on what the right behavior is. Yet all they get is negative, negative, and more negative with these collars. Not to mention pain.
So back to your method, how early can you start training your dog?
Dove: Please start training your dog as soon as you get it! Puppies can start training at a very young age (6-8 weeks old). Puppy brains are sponges just waiting to absorb all kinds of knowledge and training. Just keep it fun and positive!
Is there a difference in training big dogs versus toy dogs?
Dove: There are slight modifications that a trainer must make to accommodate the extreme height difference between a trainer and a small dog, but all of these training courses will give you an example when needed for any of these modifications.
What makes your course the best?
Dove: First, I have to say that there are many different approaches to training dogs and puppies. I wanted to take the "best of the best" of everything I have ever learned and then simplify it into a program that would work every time for every owner and every dog. That's why throughout the training I often offer more than one approach. If the first way doesn't work for you, then try the alternative.
Once I knew I had the best and simplest step-by-step training method, my next challenge was: what format should I use? Book, ebook, DVD? In the end it was really a process of elimination. I know that when people have puppy problems they need and want answers right away. Who wants to wait for a delivery in the mail and who wants to pay shipping and handling charges? So I wanted to create a program that people could access and download immediately.
Next, your voice is so important in dog training that I knew that people would need to hear exactly how to give the commands. I also wanted people to be able to hear me explain things as they saw the pictures. And so that eliminated a book format and any ebook format that did not include audio.
And so you knew all the things you didn't want...
Dove: Yes. And then I happened to meet a person who puts together professional training programs for corporations and organizations. He's an expert in taking a lot of material, simplifying it, making it easy to follow, and most important of all, making it fun and entertaining to watch. When people have fun learning, they retain the information.
That's my favorite aspect - it's fun.
Dove: Thank you. Yes, I am really proud of what we've accomplished. It's literally months of work based on years of skills for all the people involved. I think I should also mention that we were fortunate enough to get one of the top web designers to actually build the training modules on the website. He's done an awesome job! People love the way each lesson is laid out, how simple it is to navigate, and go straight to particular sections.
Congratulations, on what you've accomplished. I think you've done a great job!
Dove: Thank you. And I also want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who purchases my course. You're going to love it!
Dove's dog training program is currently unavailable due to technical issues but we'll put the link up here when it's back!
In the meantime, we also recommend Secrets to Dog Training by Daniel Stevens for an in-depth online dog training course.