No matter what we do, what we do matters.
Meet Scott Harris. Scott is a dog expert, trainer, and founder of Peace of Mind Canine. Peace of Mind espouses a lifestyle of training both dogs and families to create a union that minimizes the stress of pet ownership and focuses on the benefits and love that dogs can bring to our families.
G: Tell me a little bit about how this all got started for you.
S: At a young age, I knew I wanted to do something with animals. I thought maybe I would work at a zoo, a vet or a farm. My Mom’s side of the family were dairy farmers, so there were animals everywhere. My Dad’s side of the family lived around a lot of animals too. In the neighborhood, I was the kid who was obsessed with dogs, but never really thought about it as a career. Slowly over time, people noticed I was good with dogs and asked me to help them. I had worked a lot of different jobs, but at the same time I was shadowing trainers and doing some private lessons and dog training. Then I got a job at a kennel in St. Louis and I was all the way in with dogs.
G: Your business really started out with just training, which your company still does. How did it evolve into raising puppies and selling well-trained dogs?
S: For a while puppies remained a mystery to me. I was always wondering how these puppies were getting so messed up in their training so easily and I was baffled by bad dog behavior. Then I started to get lots of training and education and I started figuring it all out. I realized I wanted dogs out there that I had raised and molded. You can’t save the world, but this dog or that dog can be really good. At the time I was involved in my board and training program I had started and it just evolved. People started asking me to raise puppies for them and it just went from there. I was surprised how it kind of went crazy. No one was doing it, and no one really thought to do it.
G: Talk to me about your work. What is a typical process for you in raising a puppy?
S: It varies. Sometimes I’ll just go out and buy a dog that I want to raise and start training it. Then people will call me and have an idea of what they think they want. Then they realize though, that the known is better than the unknown. I send pictures and videos of the dog that I am raising and they see how well behaved it is. I’ve had people completely switch breeds of what they think they want. A lot of people though come to me with a breed or an idea of what they want and they are willing to wait. Then we find a breeder and make it logistically possible to get them what they want. A lot of breeders now put me on their lists to call when they have puppies to sell because they know it will reflect good on their breeding when I raise their puppies. I have an entire network of trainers and breeders around the country, and some trainers who work within my company now throughout the country training and raising dogs, so I have all of that information. I have created a community.
G: People who get dogs from you are not just getting a well-trained dog. They are getting an entire experience and lifestyle with you and your training philosophy.
S: I insist on it being an experience. I know a lot of people who are training dogs a list of commands and are then just having dogs delivered. For me, that’s not an option. When I am delivering a dog, I need to go to the location. I need to see it, feel it, breathe it. Anyone can just give a list of commands to communicate with a dog. I want to make sure clients understand the why and the how. I want the clients to understand how to learn and respond. I could train a dog for two or three years straight, and it can be undone. I need to teach the lifestyle. Owners then tweak it to fit their own lifestyles but the core principles stay the same.
G: What are those core principles?
S: Simple things. Structured walks. The dog can’t just bark and run at the door when someone comes to the door. I need a dog with manners. A dog who is confidant. A dog the owners won’t enable. All dog handlers make mistakes, but the idea as a dog owner is to minimize mistakes. Part of the core principle is that it’s a dog. Yes, they are part of the family, but we have invited a predator to live in the home. We have to have some rules. It can be wonderful. Or it can be horrible. Sometimes when people call me for help I wonder how they live like that. It should not be a big interruption in your lifestyle. It shouldn’t be stressful other than just the responsibility of owning a dog.
G: So often we all hear stories of how families get dogs, and it just ends up being such a hassle. The dog eats the kids’ Legos or pees all over the house. It just ends up being the opposite of what they wanted in the experience, which was for it to enhance our lives in some way.
S: Absolutely. And all dogs are different, and people’s lives change. They have kids. They remember their dog they had growing up at an older age, rather than how hard it was when they were a puppy. We come home from work and we just want to love on our dogs and unwind from our day. But that is just part of the deal. My job is to prepare dogs for being in the world, not just to train them to be like stuffed animals. We have gotten away from being instinctual with these animals.
G: How do you go about training the dogs in that way?
S: Well for example, recently at the Fourth of July. I had two puppies, so my focus was to get prepared so that the dogs could handle fireworks. I work with them on thunderstorms, and watch them learn to climb the stairs. This morning I had dogs on cookie sheets on my kitchen counters to get them ready to go to the vet or the groomers. These dogs won’t be drooling in the corner in these situations. I work on exposures and teach them a lifestyle. I work on not feeding in to certain things and feeding into the right things. I focus on building confidence and being around all types of other dogs. They are all pieces of the puzzle. It’s a combination of art, science, nuance and years of experience.
G: What are the benefits you hear in doing this for these families? How are these families responding to you and what you do?
S: The biggest word I hear is that people love the “experience”. The minute we get on the phone, I want to get to know you. We are in at least a decade-long relationship. I instantly start sending photos and videos of the dogs that I am working with. The more we have a relationship, the more we are all rowing in the same direction for the dog. I am insistent that we stay in touch and I get the “thumbs up” that everything is going well. What I do is hard work. I am up with puppies at 2 in the morning. When I am training a dog I am playing with them in all weather and thunderstorms. I am sure that there are people who will raise or train a dog and then never hear from them again, but I just can’t do that. It’s my passion.
G: It truly is such hard work and you are all in. What keeps you going and motivated at 2 am with a puppy or out in a thunderstorm?
S: I get the coolest pictures, emails and texts from happy dog owners and it’s just so awesome. With the puppies, it’s those small moments. First swims. First trips up and down the stairs. I’m just entranced by it. I get to be there in those first moments. My job is to bring out the best in them so that they can go on and not just make the families happy, but to be a happy dog. They are living creatures, and it can’t be easy to bark all day long or be nervous all the time. I just know I enjoy it. It’s hard work. The payoff is phenomenal. I find myself in tears after dropping off a dog to be delivered. I’ll find myself crying my way through Pennsylvania or some place. It’s a good cry. And then it’s on to the next adventure. Which puppy is coming next? Which family is coming next?
G: People that love their dogs reallylove their dogs. What do you think that dogs bring into our lives?
S: I can only speak for myself. We need those times where we are out in nature and away from our daily lives. It’s in those times that I always want a dog with me. It’s different for everyone. Maybe someone is lonely. Maybe someone is stressed. Maybe it’s filling a void of some kind. I can’t say what it brings to everyone else. All I know is that what I get back from the families I work with is positive. Now I am talking to adults who had my dogs as kids and they want one of my dogs for their families. Now I am passing it through the generations and it’s amazing.
For more information about Scott, visit peaceofmindpuppy.com