Interview with Heather O’Neill, CPDT on Animal Training

I know everyone has questions about training their pets, as I do.  So I thought I would sit down with a professional and find out about pet training and what kind of person gets into this profession in the first place.

SG: What got you interested in Dog Training in the first place?

Heather: In 2000, I actually went to the Exotic Animal Training Program at Moorpark College to give me more insight into exotic animal behavior. So I would be better at observing animals in the wild, when out in the field shooting pictures. While at EATM I fell in love with the training aspect of behavior and animals.

SG: How long have you been Pet Training?

Heather: I trained exotic animals from 2000- 2002 and then went into domestic training in 2002 after graduating.

SG: What is your background?

Heather: I started working at VMSG – Ventura Medical Surgical Group, which is a Veterinary Clinic in 1998. Then I entered the EATM Program, where I received certificates in Animal care and handling, animal education and animal training and behavior modification. I also received the Trainer’s Choice Award at the Animal Behavior and Management Alliance conference in 2002 at the San Diego Zoo for training I did with a Bengal Tiger. I have since then also taken and passed the Certified Professional Dog Trainers exam and started my own business in 2004 training and giving care to domestic pets ever since.

Bengal Tiger

SG: Are there certain animals that you like to train more than others?

Heather: My first love was the tiger, but I have come to enjoy training all of them. In school the African Serval had to be my favorite to leash train and start to bring him out into public, which led to him being a top performer in educational shows.  Macaws have to be the most difficult to train one in particular who was unsocial zed and would attach to one particular person which was not me. I love training dogs that are eager to work and want to participate in the training process. These are the dogs that make us look good!!!

African Serval


SG: What do you find the most difficult part of Dog Training?

Heather: The most difficult part of being a dog trainer has nothing to do with the dogs of course. It is most often to get the owners past their old habits with their dogs or their beliefs about their dog’s behavior. These are usually the first things that need to be changed in order to move forward and help them and the dog with their particular situation.

SG: What is the most rewarding part?

Heather: Seeing the light bulb go on in the dogs heads when they get it and having the owners tell me that I have taught them more about their own behavior and life in addition to their dogs.

SG: What treats work best while training a dog?

Heather: I have found that natural balance dog food rolls work almost universally for all dogs. Of course for a more difficult behaviors or dogs that are not as food motivated special treats would be in order…leftovers anyone???

SG: Tell us a story of your most memorable experience while training someone’s dog.

Heather: Wow this is a tough one… I will give you a couple. One demonstrated how tone of voice is important and to not overuse. And this was actually not during a training session but while exercising a client’s dog. The dog had a long history of aggression towards other animals and was a female chow mix 3years old (Lucy). While out on our regular biweekly run we came across another client with a small terrier mix (Dudley) as we were saying hello in passing. Lucy pulled out of her gentle leader and was heading straight for (Dudley). I knew what would happen if she got him, and it would have probably no doubt in my mind ended his life. I used my deepest toughest voice and simply said “Lucy NOOOOOO!!!” Since she had never heard me use this tone with her before she literally turned on a dime 3-4 feet from him, tail tucked head down and slowly came back to me in a curved approach and sat to my left side slightly behind me and did not move. Watching my every move and waiting for my next communication.

Another one is of a friend’s dog I had just met that day. A 3-year-old Boston Terrier (Truffle). He was so eager and in tune to my body language that I taught him to “Play Dead” (I use the verbal cue” bang” ) and the visual Cue of my hand pointed like a gun. He rolls over on his side and then with all four paws in the air lays there. We did this in 3, yes I said 3 repetitions 1 2 3 and he still does it to this day almost a year later. If all dogs could learn that fast heck if humans could learn that fast amazing….

If you would like more information on Heather O’Neill and her services you can go to her web site.


2 responses to “Interview with Heather O’Neill, CPDT on Animal Training

  1. Wow. Sounds like Heather is a well-trained trainer. I wish all trainers were as well trained. She clearly cares enough to go the extra mile to find the extra knowledge and training to become a better trainer. Thanks for the info.

    • Sherri,

      Thanks so much for your comment. Heather is a real go getter! I have needed her services more than once. Now that I look back it even wasn’t that big of an issue. She made it seem so easy!

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