Trainer Highlight

At Blue Buffalo we realize the crucial importance trainers play in the relationship between pet parents and their four-legged friends. We’d like to recognize some of the incredible work being done by members of our True BLUE Trainer Program. For all her effort and outstanding work with dogs, for our next edition of our Trainer Highlight we’d like to recognize:

Mary Kristen Whalen, AKC CGC EVALUATOR  – Savannah, Georgia

Interested in building better bonds between dogs and people, Mary always knew she wanted to work with canines and has been doing so since graduating from high school in 2011.

After graduation, Mary was hired without experience to be a doggy daycare tech. Within six months, she graduated to kennel manager, and after working directly with the facility trainer, she became extremely interested in canine psychology and behavior.

Passionate Journey

For seven years, Whalen has worked as a trainer and behavioral evaluator at multiple canine daycare and boarding facilities. During the past year, she became a True BLUE Trainer. With over 17 certificates in the field, along with a veterinary assistant certification from the ASPCA/Humane Alliance, Mary has found her true passion.

She teaches AKC S.T.A.R. Puppy Classes, AKC CGC Prep Classes, Basic Manners, Advanced Manners, and Growl Classes for dog-to-dog reactivity, Dognition Evaluations, Dog Daycare Training, and Therapy Dog Prep Classes. And as if that’s not enough, she offers private lessons at clients’ homes, doggy daycare centers, local parks, pet rescues, and shelters. She is currently working towards earning her CCPDT-KA certification and well as her Trick Dog Instructor Title.

Curing a Fearful “Pawdicure”

One of Whalen’s most challenging clients was a seven-year-old black Lab named Harley, who reacted aggressively when anyone tried to trim his nails. Different restraining methods and cutting tools were used (nail clippers, grinders, files) to no avail. Worse, when people attempted to clip his claws, he seemed to hold grudges and reacted defensively whenever he saw them.

Harley’s pet parents would wait until he was sedated during dental cleanings to have his pawdicures — until Whalen came along. Within days of meeting each other, Harley and Mary formed a unique bond, and soon she became his favorite daycare tech.

After permission from his pet parent, Mary worked with Harley for 30 minutes to successfully cut and manually file all the nails on his right front paw. Three hours later, with all four paws done, they rejoined Harley’s mom, who was stunned Mary accomplished something no one else had. 

Whalen explained the reason for her success: She didn’t restrain Harley. Instead, Mary slowly desensitized him to the dreaded clippers and having his paws touched by rewarding him with treats and “toys galore.” Belly rubs added to this pleasurable experience, so Harley responded favorably. After that, whenever Harley came to daycare, he couldn’t wait to get his nails done. Mary says it was one of her most rewarding training experiences.

When it comes to actually rewarding training, Mary has several tools up her sleeve (and in her hand). Clickers, targeting sticks, toys, whistles, and naturally, treats. She’s a huge fan of BLUE Bits® chicken training treats and uses them frequently in her classes.

Advice to the “New-at-Dog”

Mary knows it can be difficult when you first start training, whether it’s your dog or a client’s. She encourages novices to reach out to pet care professionals, other trainers, boarding facilities, veterinary practices, shelters, rescues, and even pet shop retailers. “Learn as much as you can, and remember, we do it for the love of dogs. Never give up!”

Whalen also cautions new pet parents to be patient. It doesn’t matter how old dogs are, they need time to adjust to their new living situations. “Have high standards for your dog,” Mary coaches, “but don’t expect too much too soon.” Structure, consistency and reinforcement are the three keys to her success.

Whalen also advises pet parents not to believe dogs know better and wear the “Guilty Face” to prove it. Many people think canines display guilty behavior when they’ve done something wrong, whether it’s destructive chewing or peeing inside. Pet parents think dogs connect their actions to the result — being scolded.

Instead, Mary explains that dogs associate the aftermath of what’s been done with the pet parent’s presence and negative repercussions. Canines don’t understand that their behavior is what caused the problem. That “guilty” facial expression (which Mary calls a submissive grin) and subdued body language is their way of trying to mitigate further confrontation.

A Dog’s Life

Surrounded by canines while growing up, Mary has always been a dog person. Her first BFF was a beagle named Lady; currently a 1 year old LUA Dalmatian named Sawyer is her best pal. Dog-loving aside, cats, rats and several birds including a Moluccan Cockatoo have all been part of Whalen’s family.

Luckily for Sawyer, Mary’s love of training doesn’t stop at her job, it's a way of life. She strives to make training as engaging as possible for him too, and she loves teaching him new tricks. The reward for all that hard work? Enjoying long walks together at the beach or along a marshland trail.

BLUE is fortunate to have such passionate and talented trainers in our program and we’d love to hear from you. For an opportunity to be recognized in our Trainer Highlight Page please contact [email protected].


Trainer Highlight Archive