The teaching principles she used as a lifelong educator and coach have helped Kathleen Markey become an effective trainer for dogs - and their owners.
- by Ellis Anderson
“You use many of the same methods for teaching children as you do dogs,” says Markey. “In both cases, you first need to get their focus. And you reinforce positive behavior, whether it’s been asked for or not.”
She points out that impulse control training also is important to teach to young canines and humans.
But there’s a major difference between the two as well: dogs communicate mostly through body language. Markey explains that dogs watch their owners carefully and in most cases, “know the owners better than the owners know themselves.”
But that’s not a two-way street. People often don’t notice or they misinterpret their dog’s body language. “They’re talking to us all the time, but we don’t know what they’re saying.”
For example, if you’re hugging a dog and it rolls its eyes back so that the whites are visible, that’s known as “whale eyes.” It’s a sign of anxiety, not ecstasy.
“I sometimes see a dog being forced to greet another dog or kid and it’s showing whale eyes and ears back – clear signs of stress,” Markey says. “The dog is very scared. The owner should pay attention to that.”
Reading a dog’s body language is one of the primary things Markey teaches in group classes and while working with individual dog owners. In short sessions, she can evaluate the behaviors causing issues and begin to work with the owner on retraining the dog.
Markey says that some behaviors can be addressed much better on the dog’s home turf.
“If your dog won’t stop barking when the doorbell rings, or if it’s counter surfing, I can’t train it in my yard. And we can cover a lot of ground in 35 or 45 minutes.”
The retired educator especially likes teaching children about dogs, individually and in groups. Teaching them the basics in dog behavior and care can cut back on the chances of being bitten and help make them lifelong animal advocates. The workshops and kids’ camps also stress the responsibility owners have for their pets.
In fact, Markey has written an illustrated children’s book about relating to and caring for dogs. Titled “Whoodies Dos and Don’ts of Child Safety,” it’s told from the perspective of Markey’s celebrity dog, Who Dat.
Who Dat came into Markey’s life in 2010, after the BP oil spill had left thousands of dogs unable to be cared for by their owners. Many were abandoned. Other’s were surrendered. Like a small Maltipoo.
By that time, Markey had been working with Animal Rescue New Orleans (ARNO) for five years – she’d started volunteering immediately after Hurricane Katrina. The program’s director, Charlotte Bass, had encouraged her to pursue certification in dog training. As a trainer, Markey was able to reduce the rate of adoption return, simply by helping families and their new dogs learn to cohabitate peacefully.
In 2010, Markey, who had grown up with dogs in Chicago and later always had a dog companion who’d travel with her while recruiting for college basketball teams, was in deep mourning for a long-time dog who’d passed away. She was so distraught, she began working in the cat room at the shelter, unable to be around dogs that reminded her of the loss.
Charlotte found Markey in the cat room one day and proclaimed, “I’ve got your dog!” Markey protested that she didn’t want another dog. Charlotte ignored her and brought in “a little bit of white fluff.” Markey protested again. She’d always been a big dog person. Charlotte persuaded her to take the dog home for the weekend.
“If this is a yappy dog, I’m not taking it,” said Markey.
The two-year-old bit of fluff and Markey have been inseparable for the past seven years.
The dog promptly dubbed Who Dat – “Whoodie” for short – and became part of the Saints fan costume act that Markey and a friend had started a few years before. The two teachers had used a bonus to buy Saints season’s tickets in the nosebleed section. As a gag, the two costumed as nuns from the fictional “Order of the Long-suffering Fleur de Lis.” Markey’s friend was Sister Who, while she became Sister Dat. The pair quickly became crowd favorites at every home game. Whoodie joined the act and had his own adoring fans on game day.
“There may have been a time or two when he actually watched games inside the Superdome,” says Markey, smiling.
In 2017, Markey made the move to Bay St. Louis. She’d been visiting a retired teacher friend who’d relocated and enjoyed the natural beauty and slower pace. As her retirement as an educator approached, she wanted to expand her part-time pet-sitting/dog-training service into a full-time business. BADS was born
Markey and Whoodie, can be often seen walking their guest dogs or riding on a scooter through the streets of town. The trainer’s volunteering with Friends of the Animal Shelter and she offers programs to help raise awareness about dog-human relationships.
Markey says that the most rewarding thing about working with and owning dogs is their unconditional love. She tells a story about a recent beach walk with a gigantic Great Pyranese, Buddy, who’s a regular in her daycare. The pair came on a distraught woman sitting alone on the beach. When they stopped to chat, the woman confessed she was upset after being affected by the government shut-down.
“Before you know it, Buddy put his head in her lap,” says Markey. “He made her forget her troubles for a minute and smile.
“It’s what dogs do.”