Force and Fear Free, Backed by Science
If you're taking the time to read this, let me first thank you for allowing me to share my story with you. Please feel free to use the Contact section to share your own story with me!
As a child, I was *that* crazy cat girl. Toys, magazine subscriptions, and nonstop chatter all about all things feline. Our family had a black lab mix named AJ, few cats, one of which I named "Sprite" (Spryte) after the Legend of Zelda cartoon show. My combined love for fur babies and video games clearly had a vey early start.
Later in life I adopted my first dog on my own, Clyde, a beagle mix. He was the first pet I was independent in ownership of and he came to me as an adult who seemingly hated men. I only had Clyde for four short years until liver cancer took him away, but those four years were spent in helping Clyde learn that men weren't bad, and in fact, they predicted something amazing - carrots. Clyde LOVED carrots (and really, any treat if I'm honest) and I was happy to make sure that anyone who visited was well stocked to help Clyde make a new friend.
Upon Clyde's passing, I was given a puppy to help me cope with the pain of losing my best buddy. I named her Celes, after one of my favorite Final Fantasy VI characters. (Again with the video games). I initially didn't want a puppy, but seeing her adorable black lab face reminded me of the dog my family had growing up and I agreed to take her on. At that time I had no idea (and likely no business) caring for a puppy.
Celes came into my life in 2009 and I remember trying to find dog training resources. However, the information I had access to didn't help... the instructions were convoluted, made things worse and at times it even contradicted itself. Some of it was even downright abusive, yet the sources of information seemed like they should have been credible. I was so confused as a new puppy owner!
There was no known importance to socialization, or happy experiences. There was nothing written online about how to help your dog develop their Acquired Bite Inhibition (ABI) or fear and aggression prevention. Sites told you to be the Alpha pack leader and eat before your dog.
I didn't mind eating my burger sooner but let me tell you, I saw zero change in her food guarding. She was a puppy with access to all the food in the world and still food and resource guarded and yet these websites only told me to use my magic "alpha energy" to resolve the issue. And still.... I saw zero changes in behavior.
This really got my wheels turning in wondering how do we know who to trust, and what difference do certain training methods make.
As the years went on, I began to volunteer in local animal rescue and even began to foster dogs. My first ever foster was a pitty named Blue. He came to me so beaten and starved that you could see his lungs through his ribs and yet, he turned into the most perfect angel of a dog you could ever imagine. It was gut wrenching and I couldn't understand how a human could treat "man's best friend" like this. His resilience was astounding and yet I still ask, how did we get here? How can I help prevent this? What can I do? How were we lacking so much information and compassion? I still remember feeding Blue his first meal as my foster. He ate and wagged his tail and he was SO happy. Despite years of abuse, he was still the happiest and most trusting boy. I never wanted another dog to be put into this situation again. It broke my heart that someone could abuse their bond of trust with their fur baby.
Continuing on as a volunteer in rescue, I had the pleasure and honor of fostering dogs who came from many different kinds of homes, but those who came from homes of abuse simply broke my heart. Where was the disconnect between human and companion animal? What information or compassion was missing?
For the next few years I would try to obtain information and education, but I found myself just as stumped as I had been when Celes was a puppy. It was now 2012 and we still lacked so much public information that was accessible and didn't contain false promises, magic, or called you a bad alpha leader while also telling you to hit your dog for having a potty accident. What even was this information?
Finally, in 2014 I began to foster for one dog rescue who was entirely based on force and fear-free training and practices. I started to obtain resources and information that confirmed what I had been wondering all along: pain and aversives can make things worse. Much, much worse. This isn't just about being pandering, it's about being a responsible dog owner and it's about preventing fear and aggression issues as much as humanly possible while maintaining the best relationship with your dog.
And finally, in spring 2019 I was accepted into The Academy for Dog Trainers, a rigorous 2-year program which is considered "the Harvard of dog training academies worldwide". It is force and fear-free and is entirely backed by science and evidence. I graduated with my CTC (Certification in Training and Counseling) in January 2021.
This education was everything. It scientifically proved how fear and pain can create and exacerbate fear and aggression issues whereas a pain and fear-free approach could give you the best start to life. Happy associations meant healthy relationships. Teaching a dog to sit was great, but socialization and Acquired Bite Inhibition (ABI) was the best. It changed my way of thinking about flow charts and Classical Conditioning. I learned about Operant Conditioning (OC) and the quadrants and why we avoid two of those quadrants like the plague.
I learned about doggy evolution, how we humans and canines may have become friends, and theories on why dogs are dogs with scientific research to back it up.
There is no magic to dog training. There is no big Alpha energy. There isn't even Alpha at all, actually! It's treats and a great time.
In May of 2021 I was accepted into the Julie Naismith Separation Anxiety Pro (SA PRO) program and graduated in October 2021.
All that to say... I'm here to help you learn the science behind having a great relationship with your fur baby. I'm here to help provide resources so that dog-training knowledge can be your superpower. I want you to prevent fear and aggression and I want you to be able to read dog body language and I want you to have a dog who is well cared for to help prevent abandonment and surrender where possible. We can do all this with great treats, happy talk and understanding that our dogs are dogs and it's important to understand what they are telling us. All this without pain, hitting, yelling or grabbing.
When you work with me, you become part of the Gifford Gang.
Now for some info about the GG!
Max - My hubby since 2019 and my #1 employee!
Celes - My Ride or Die, champion co-foster and of course, the one whose face is plastered all over my site and logo. We lost Celes to lymphoma in September 2021...
Dinah "Dee Dee" - My "Foster Fail" pitty, resident tap dancer and smiler
Jake "Shakey Jakey" - Our lanky American Staffordshire Terrier who never met a treat he didn't love
Biju - All black cat whom you will never see in the light
Obi Wan - Screamer for no apparent reason. Heaviest cuddle bug
Jax - Black dwarf, 100% adorable at all times
Llama - Angora and voice actor/honker for Untitled Goose Game (unconfirmed)
As an educated dog trainer and your co-hort in behavior, my goal is to create a happy and safe atmosphere where questions are encouraged and treats are plenty. There are many myths about dog behavior and I'm here to guide you to understanding what is normal behavior, how we can change what we don't like, and a realistic approach to making those changes. Dog training is meant to be a happy and fun process not only for the dog, but for you as well!