Eric Goebelbecker on March 02, 2011The IAABC Conference speaker interviews continue with Gina Phairas of dog∗tec, who will be speaking about running an animal behavior business
We're in the final month before the conference!!
Who are you? What do you do for a living?
I'm a business consultant and behavior case coach for dog∗tec. I assist dog professionals in setting up, running, and expanding their businesses.
How did you get started in animal behavior?
After college, I worked crazy hours in TV and film. I wanted a career where I could spend those hours doing something that I was passionate about. Like most dog professionals, I had an unruly dog at home so I started learning. I was fortunate to meet Ian Dunbar at that time. He gave me a reading list and told me to go study under Jean Donaldson. After attending the SF/SPCA Academy for Dog Trainers, I started my own business. I had the opportunity to further my behavior studies by joining the SF/SPCA training staff and coordinating the cases of dogs with behavior problems. Then I moved over the Academy full-time, teaching students to be dog trainers. I was hooked. I enjoy studying dog behavior and training dogs, but what I really love is helping other professionals begin their careers.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
Helping clients realize their dream of having their own dog business. I feel like I'm able to impact more dogs' lives by helping good dog professionals stay in business.
Dog trainers tend to be passionate and dedicated, and their enthusiasm for what they do is infectious. I get to help people I really like spend their days doing what they love and make a good living doing it.
What do you enjoy least about your work?
Um, that's a hard one. I don't have things I don't like as much as I have things that are challenging. Writing is a challenge. Some days staring at a blank page can often drive me to clean the house. At the moment, I have a very clean house.
What do you do when you are not working in animal behavior?
I have two-legged kids at home (a six-year-old and a 5-month-old) and it's fascinating to watch them learn.
On a good day, I pack up the family, kids and dogs included, and take a hike through the mountains of Asheville, North Carolina.
What do you think is the most important thing people need to know about their companion animals?
People need basic knowledge about how companion animals learn. Understanding that their dogs learn safe/dangerous and what works/doesn't (rather than right/wrong) helps clients stay focused on positive ways to change the behaviors they don't like and get more of those that they do.
What do you think is the most important thing we should teach our companion animals?
That people are safe. I've spent many years working in shelters filled with animals who are fearful of people, whether due to undersocialization or bad experiences. These dogs are much less likely to leave the shelter, and much more likely to return to it if they are adopted.
What is your favorite aspect of animal behavior conferences?
Hearing the latest in behavior research is always great, but what I really enjoy is getting to meet dog∗tec clients in person. After spending so much time with clients on the phone, it's nice to put a face to a voice.
Tell us about your animals at home?
Crumpet — Blind partially deaf Aussie X — 10 years old. I was asked to foster her because I'd had some experience training deaf dogs. Her cheerful nature won me over and we adopted her. She still makes us laugh everyday.
What would you most like to convey to behavior consultants and trainers?
That we are professionals and should act and be treated as such. We spend so much time learning about behavior and helping clients but we undermine that by not charging enough to make a living or by being afraid to actively market our businesses. It's ok to love animals and to still make a living. We try to help dog pros let go of the fear and guilt that keeps them from moving forward. After all, running a successful business means spending more years helping more animals and their humans, instead of spending that time at a "day job."
What would you most like to see in our work together?
I'll be speaking at the IAABC conference about ways to take a more active role in working with clients and their dogs. One of the questions on our pre-consulting questionnaire for business coaching clients asks about goals. The most common answer we see in this section is the desire to help people improve their relationship with their dogs. My talk gets to the heart of this from a training and business perspective.
What's the strangest consultation you've ever had (or the most challenging)?
One of the most challenging kinds of consultations we do at dog∗tec is working with professionals wanting to open large, multi-service businesses, particularly when working with less common services such as water rehabilitation therapy. Every aspect of these types of businesses is more detailed, whether it's developing a marketing plan, creating schedules, or simply defining services. The larger the company, the more there is to do. But I love a challenge and I love to see goals met, however large or modest.