A long time before Ashley Douglas, owner of Paws On Learning (POL) on Hilton Head Island, became a certified professional dog trainer, she was a dog owner with a heart for working with animals. She was also an elementary school teacher for 18 years where she honed many of the skills she now uses to educate dog owners and train their furry best friends.
Douglas spent years volunteering at animal shelters, as well as working at veterinary hospitals and a law enforcement dog training facility. It was those combined experiences that inspired her to change careers.
The Dog Training Crew: Jaxx Long, Ashley Douglas and Tanner Schaidt
In 2017, Douglas attended National K9 Dog Trainer School in Columbus, Ohio, where she became a certified professional dog trainer. In 2018, she opened POL’s daytime board and train facility. As POL grew in popularity, the training enterprise quickly outgrew its original space and relocated to its current, larger facility at 4 Hunter Road, Suite 4C.
“Initially, I was working alone, but within a year I knew I needed to begin looking for a larger facility as well as employees to help with the workload,” Douglas said. “At the current location on Hunter Road, I’ve doubled my training space to about 1,500 square feet. Plus, it’s just a hop, skip and jump from where I was before, which is really nice because the environment where we work the dogs now is the place where I worked dogs six years ago.”
In an industry that has a high employee turnover, Douglas makes every effort to create an enjoyable working environment. Tanner Shaidt has been working at POL for two years and enjoys working the Focus and Relaxation strategies, and also runs the Fetch Some Fun Friday program. Jaxx Long has experience working in several dog daycares and is trained in the effective use of e-collar work for clients interested in off-leash training.
Long was a student in Douglas’s fourth grade class in 2004 who loved animals and who always volunteered to clean out the pet cages in the classroom. Douglas began recruiting Long three years ago. Finally, Long was able to take her up on the job offer.
(From left to right) Client Dan Shike with Princes sKitty (a.k.a. PK), owner Ashley Douglas and Tucker, client Anne Healy and Camper, Paws on Learning Team Members Tanner Schaidt with Attila, and Jaxx Long with Cowboy.
“Twenty years ago, in that fourth-grade classroom, Ashley ignited my passion for animals and now it’s come full circle,” Long said. “I love teaching beside her and working with the dogs. While I’ve worked in several kennels and doggie daycares, there is something different at Paws On Learning that just works. Her concepts are innovative and can cut training time in half. Even my own dogs (who were already trained in obedience) have benefitted from Paws On Learning methods.”
Douglas’ passion for what she does motivates her to continue to engage in new and different ways to approach animal behavior and how dogs learn. To stay current, she attends at least two workshops a year. Her most recent workshop endeavors include Jay Jack’s Play is the Way, Nelson Hodges’ Relationship Based Behavior Modification, Ivan Balabanov’s Training Without Conflict, and Jason Vasconi’s Large Field Socialization workshop.
Additionally, Douglas stays current with Training Between the Ears strategies, as these serve as the base for all the programs at Paws On Learning.
Douglas’ training program, which is primarily family obedience, is – not surprisingly – set up to run like a school classroom. Parents attend an orientation first, where they learn the logistics of the facility and the training.
When the training cycle begins, dogs are dropped off in the morning and they stay all day. Each dog has its own folder with their picture on it – “You can’t believe how many dogs have the same name or how many Golden Retrievers we have,” Douglas said. At the end of each training day, trainers fill out progress reports for each dog, screen shot it to send to parents, and put the hard copy in the folder. This way they can keep track of how the dogs are progressing.
“We do a work-rest-play model, where the dogs work part of the day, rest part of the day, and play part of the day,” Douglas said. “Dogs learn best in 5- to 15-minute increments, so having your dog at our facility and utilizing this model provides multiple training opportunities throughout the day. The owners come in for lessons, too, so they can reinforce the new skills when the dogs are at home.”
Ashley Douglas, owner of Paws on Learning with her first client, Camper the yellow Labrador.
Not sure where your dog is on the spectrum of learning? Not to worry – POL offers several programs.
• Puppies 10-16 weeks old are recommended to begin with Pre-K;
• Kindergarten (for puppies and dogs 16 weeks and older);
• Elementary (for graduates of Kindergarten);
• Junior High (for graduates of Kindergarten and Elementary School);
• High School (for graduates of Kindergarten, Elementary, and Junior High);
• College (for graduates of Kindergarten, Elementary, Junior High, and High School)
• Focus and Relaxation (for fearful or anxious dogs).
The core training programs build on the lessons learned at the previous level and as a dog progresses, pricing for each five-day class from Elementary through College includes a $50 discount.
Core programs aren’t the only thing that dogs are up to at POL. Recently, Douglas attended a training on “large field socialization.” Douglas recalls a time when dogs were able to live a freer, more amiable life. They could visit a neighbor, play with their children, and carouse with other familiar dogs. Dog fights and instances of dogs biting children were far less frequent than today, and as a result dogs had better social skills and more self-control.
However, as times have changed, laws have changed as well. Dog owners must now follow much stricter rules, keeping their pets inside more than is healthy. This leads to dogs having poor social skills, more anxiety, and less self-restraint.
“Obedience training is very helpful in establishing you as your dog’s leader, but in order to have a relaxed, confident pet that you can take anywhere you want without them becoming frightened or defensive, there is nothing more valuable than proper socialization,” Douglas said. “We began our large field socialization program in January. We have an acre of land, fully fenced with a 6-foot privacy fence, where dogs can socialize with each other off leash in a safe space with their handler present.”
The key, according to Douglas, is to not interact with the dogs. Owners will simply observe from a distance, walking the perimeter of the fence in a counterclockwise formation and pretend not to pay attention to the dogs, not play with them, not touch them, or talk to them – just keep moving. It’s important to keep the energy flowing. The trainers are there to intervene if necessary – for example, in the case of one dog chasing another dog who doesn’t want to be chased.
“Large field socialization helps dogs become a better communicator with other dogs,” said Douglas. “It also hones their skills at impulse control, they learn how to better control their emotions, and how to make better decisions when stressed and under pressure. It is an efficient activity to fulfill dogs and bring trust and balance to their lives.”
Another new, exciting service at POL is exercise sessions offered in partnership with Bluffton Dog Runner. This is helpful for providing exercise to dogs whose owners may not be as mobile as they used to be or for those dogs whose owners can’t necessarily keep up with their dog’s pace.
Douglas loves being an entrepreneur and networking with other entrepreneurs, and is grateful for the support friends and family have contributed along the way. While she started the business entirely on her own from a financial perspective, she acknowledges that a great deal of her success is a result of the love and support of family, friends, and returning clients.
Douglas welcomes dogs and owners from Hilton Head, Bluffton, Beaufort, and the Savannah area, and she looks forward to helping every furry friend reach their full potential. To enroll your dog, visit PawsOnLearning.com or call (603) 540-2614.