180 Degrees: Happy Tails Dog Training

"Generally the owner has to do a 180 in order for the dog to do a 180."

This week we are introducing a new friend! We were contacted via Facebook by the owner of Happy Tails Dog Training, and of course we jumped at the opportunity to interview her. Dogs are so much more than pets: they are family. And it is our job to shape and guide them into their full potential.

We will be learning with all of our readers, so let’s get started: Introduce yourself!
  • Hey guys!  My name is Sophie Thomas and I have been a dog trainer for 6 years!  The first two years it was more like a hobby and then, about 4 years ago, I went through school and became a certified professional.  
It’s so interesting how hobbies can spark an energy that guides us towards what we want to do with our lives. If you can turn what you love into a thriving career, you are truly lucky! So tell us about Happy Tails, we want to know everything! 
  • I opened Happy Tails Dog Training almost 5 years ago because I have a huge passion for helping owners learn how to live their lives with their dogs to the fullest.   I want everyone to enjoy their dogs, walk them with ease, take them more places, and have a really strong bond with them. Most people that come to me don’t enjoy their dogs as much as they could because they pull on the leash, bark at people, jump on people and disobey their commands.  I absolutely love helping people transform their dogs into pets they can fully enjoy and incorporate into their lives with ease. To be honest, I would do it for free for as many people as possible if I could!
That’s so true! I think we all want our dogs to be well behaved. Not only is it embarrassing to have a pup that pulls at the leash and reacts to everything, but it’s also a source of stress for both. It is wonderful for our furry friends to be able to fully enjoy their outings, and being in control of their behavior makes it a safer environment for everyone involved.

If you could personally let everyone know something about you and your training what would you want them to know? 
  • I think readers should know that I am in this to help dogs and their families.  It isn’t about money or fun tricks to me. It is about real results that allow people to live carefree lives with their pups!  I make training fun for both the owners and their dogs and I teach people how to get the most out of their training lessons.
That’s wonderful to hear. We love the fact that you make it a priority to get to know the owner and the dog or dogs. Training doesn’t have to be a chore, but can also serve as a bonding experience and energy spender.

In five years, you’ve gotten your fair share of clients, and have dealt with a lot of different situations. Although it varies from dog to dog, if you could narrow it down, what would you say are some of the more common issues people approach you with regarding their pet? 
  • This is a very tough question to answer!  I would say there are several common issues that people come to me for help with:
    • Reactivity
    • Jumping
    • Barking
    • Leash Pulling &
    • Over Aroused State of Mind
  • Besides a general lack of disobedience, these are the 5 main issues people come to me for.  All of these issues can be fixed fairly easily with good training and a super clear line of communication.  98% of the dogs that come to me with these issues are transformed within 5 lessons. The other 2% are because the owners don’t do their homework or stay consistent!  And when I say “homework”, don’t worry! I make homework light and easy to fit into your schedule. I teach you how to make the most of your training lessons even if they are just 3 to 5 minutes long!  I want everyone to know that if your dog has these issues, it can be fixed. Even if your dog is older or you think he is too far gone!
Reactivity! Yes, that is a tough one! And really each of those issues is an offset of reactivity. I think a lot of people think that once a behavior is learned it is forever there, but we have to remember, that much like children, our dogs have to be reminded of what they’ve been taught. And there are many every day ways that we can reinforce these positive changes.

How many dogs do you estimate you’ve personally trained? 
  • Hundreds.  I have been doing this for 5 years and I take on a maximum of 25 clients per month so you do the math!!
We will! And actually it comes out to 1,500 clients on estimate! Wow! That’s a lot of drool!

What’s the most crucial piece of advice you’d give to a new dog parent? 
  • Set rules and boundaries from DAY ONE.  Be consistent with them and do not allow anything more or less.  Write a list if it helps. An example of a good set of rules would be:  No pulling the leash, no jumping, no barking, no bolting out of the door, wait in your kennel to be released, etc.  Setting these rules and boundaries from day one will help you tremendously. The sooner you start the better! I would also suggest hiring a trainer to give you guidance!  It may seem easy to set these rules but you may not know how to reinforce them.
That’s a good idea: to write them down. I think it is often too easy for us pet parents to let out pets behavior slide, and we have to remember that we are being trained as much as they are. It’s a job for both parties, not just the dog.

I think a lot of people could be intimidated by the idea of seeking help or guidance from a trainer. Many imagine they must have the worst behaved dog on the planet. Can you give us some insight into what a typical consultation / training session consists of? 
  • Our evaluations are basically a meet and greet.  I meet you at your home, you fill out paperwork, I observe your dog and ask you questions.  I can learn a lot in the first 5 minutes of just observing how your dog acts and how you respond to their actions.  It is important for me to understand your habits and get a good idea of what you’re doing right/wrong. After I figure out your main goals, we will have a mini lesson that gets you on the right track to completing those goals.  
  • We generally start with door manners because it is an important leadership exercise that teaches patience, permission, focus, and your release cue all in one! We do a lot of permission based training exercises which teaches your dog to wait for your permission to do things.  This helps them in many aspects of their lives as well. After that, we will work on one more thing that you need help with. Afterwards, most people sign up for a course and we get started within 5 to 7 days! Within those 5 to 7 days, I design a completely custom curriculum for your dog.  The curriculum I design, teaches your dog behaviors in a perfect order to ensure the best results. I also keep your lifestyle in mind and make sure the homework can be easily fit into your schedule.
 Oh! That doesn’t sound so bad at all. I think any potential client would find it helpful to get a “mini” training session, because they are getting to know you as much as you are getting to know them and their dog. Also, I love that each session is tailored, because no two dogs are alike, and it can be hectic to work it in with the normal family scheduling.

You can’t be a dog trainer without some furry inspiration yourself! Tell us about your dog, and how she inspires your training methods.   
  • I only have one dog (and two cats)!  My dog’s name is Harper and she is 4 years old.  She has inspired me a lot because, when I adopted her, she was highly aggressive.  She has taught me a lot about myself and what it is like to live with a dog that has extreme problem behaviors.  She isn’t the first aggressive dog that I have rehabilitated, but it is a MUCH different when you live with one. I feel like she has allowed me to relate and understand my clients a lot better.
  •  Now Harper loves all people, does agility, knows over 30 commands and behaviors, is 100% off leash reliable, and is an all-around great dog.  I can take her anywhere with me and give her off leash freedom with absolutely no worry! Well, the only worry I have is about other off leash dogs that are uncontrollable.  Anyway, she has been my inspiration, my best friend, AND my best advertisement (haha)! You can find her featured on my Facebook page pretty often!
Go Harper! Such a good girl! That’s an inspiration to me. Bodie & Zeke are not aggressive, but have reactivity problems that we work on daily! And the best way to advertise is to show the positivity of your training through your own dog. It shows that any training method you use on potential clients you’re willing to use on Harper as well.

Does she go to work with you to help reinforce training in other dogs? 
  • Harper helps me with my Board and Train dogs. She poses as a heavy distraction and helps me teach the dogs how to behave around other dogs. The reason I like using Harper as a distraction, is because I can control her. In the early stages of training, it is a lot easier to use distractions that you can control rather than taking your dog outside looking for other dogs as distraction.

 Okay! Gotcha! I’d assume it also helps you reinforce Harper’s training as well. Win, win!

Say you are talking to a potential client that is iffy about training. What kind of positive information do you give them to consider? And why shouldn’t a dog parent be embarrassed to admit their furry friend could use training? 
  • Well, it really depends on the client as an individual and what their issues are.  Usually the evaluation results speak for themselves. I will usually tell my clients things like:
    • - You will enjoy your dog more
    • - You will be able to take them more places
    • -  Your dog will be MUCH safer after learning these behaviors
    • -  We have never had anyone not get the results they wanted unless they didn’t follow any instructions.
    • - There IS hope
  •  So as you can see, it really depends on WHY the owner is iffy!
  • You should NEVER be embarrassed to admit your dog needs training.  Why? Well first off, ALL dogs need training. Secondly, as a trainer, I don’t expect you to know what you are doing (if you did, I wouldn’t have a job).  Last but not least, you aren’t alone. There are so many people out there struggling with the SAME thing you are. It is best to get help sooner than later so just admit your dog needs help and get to work!  You won’t regret it.

Can you tell us the story of a “difficult,” dog that came for training and made a 180 degree change? 
  • This is a tough question.  Most of the dogs that we train do a 180 degree change!  I would say it is the humans that can be “difficult” and not the dogs.  It is all about teaching the owners how to properly interact with their dogs and why their dogs are behaving the way that they are!  And getting owners to break their bad habits can be TOUGH! Breaking any habit is tough but we just keep working at it until the owner has replaced their old habits with new ones.  It’s usually not because the owner doesn’t understand, they are just so used to doing things a certain way. Generally the owner has to do a 180 in order for the dog to do a 180.
Wow! That’s an interesting perspective, and it makes so much sense. I think a lot of owners have a hard time understanding how to be in control properly, because like you said, we are generally relying on what we’ve seen other people do, or even grown up doing with past dogs. There’s a reason there are individuals like yourself that are trained to guide us, because your main goal is to improve the companionship between owner and dog.

Many people say, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” What is your opinion on this? 
  • This statement is a flat out lie!  Any aged dog can learn anything a young dog could learn (unless it has a physical disability).  Majority of the dogs we train are 6 years old and go all the way up to 15 (not often)! If you have an old dog that pulls on the leash, barks at people, or knows nothing at all, you can still teach him/her if you know how to do it.
Bodie & Zeke are barkers. What basic advice do you give to the paw-rents of reactive dogs?
  • I would highly recommend hiring a trainer if you have a reactive dog.  Reactivity can happen for several reasons, so it needs to be worked on according to why it is happening.  One of the main reasons dogs are reactive is because they are nervous and want to create space between themselves and the stimulus.  In their eyes, their barking generally gets the job done because what they are barking at normally disappears for whatever reason. I have learned that MOST people don’t realize their dog lacks confidence.
  • In situations like this we normally start by creating a clear line of communication without distractions, work on tons of confidence building exercises, and then we begin work outside. We start by keeping the dog right below threshold and advocate for him/her.  This teaches him/her that there is no need to bark or react and that we, their owners, can handle the situation for them. It is a very tricky process to explain in a blog post! If anyone has any questions about it, please feel free to give me a call!
It’s so interesting that you say it boils down to the dog having no or little confidence. I actually never thought about that, but it makes sense. Why: Because the dog is reacting to an uncomfortable situation in a way that will end it quickly. And like you said, most other animals and people will leave the situation if there is a barking dog. It also makes sense because I know in my case, dealing with their reactivity, it plummets my confidence. Especially when people make stereotypical comments like: “the only dog that ever bit me was a small dog.” It doesn’t help the situation, and it stresses me out, which further stresses them out! It’s cyclical!
  • If your dog is reactive to a certain noise, you can desensitize them to that noise by playing it often over your phone, YouTube or by creating the noise yourself.  When you start this process, you want to begin at a very low level that your dog hears but doesn’t react to and work your way up to a louder level. Each time your dog hears the noise, toss some treats on the ground in front of him/her.  There is an awesome app called Train Away that can really help with this process if you can’t get a trainer! It is life changing!
 Yes! We have Train Away! The option I want to try out the most is the recording option. I think that recording the actual sounds your dog hears every day is a great way to train them out of reacting. They don’t react to the pre-loaded sounds, because it is no different than hearing someone knock on a door on a T.V. show. (And my boys don’t react to T.V. noises) Although we do have quite a few pup friends that are highly reactive to T.V. sounds, so this app is really so versatile!

You also have a blog! What kind of information can be found there? And what are your plans for the blogs future?
  • I just recently started a new blog.  Right now it only has a few posts but I plan to begin posting every week.  You can expect to see dog training tips, advice, instructions and more! If you have something you want to see in my blog let me know!  
Lastly, why do you love working with dogs? 
  • I love working with dogs because I love watching their transformations and the response their owners give me.  I love showing people that they can do so much more with their dog than they ever thought they could! I love changing peoples’ lives. That’s why I love working with dogs!

I can imagine! Every day you get to help improve the relationship between a dog and its paw-rents! Plus: Dogs! Who can look at a dog, and not smile?!?

So: That was quite the lesson! And a positive one at that!

Now! It's time for important links: 

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*We appreciate anyone that spreads the word of our blog* 


  1. My favorite advice was writing down the rules! @harleyquinn.the.dane

  2. I never knew that confidence could be the reason for barking. Kylo barks his head off at everything and I never once thought it was a confidence issue. But thinking about it, it makes sense! He is scared of whatever he hears so barking is like his coping mechanism. I’ve tried many things to make him stop. I’ll definitely give some of those ideas a try!

  3. I would like to thank you for the efforts you have made in writing this article. I am hoping the same best work from you in the future as well. In fact your creative writing abilities has inspired me to start my own BlogEngine blog now. Really the blogging is spreading its wings rapidly. Your write up is a fine example of it. how to get a dog to stop barking


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