Working in Clark County: Joan Armstrong, dog trainer

By Mary Ricks, Columbian News Assistant

Published:

 

Working in Clark County, a brief profile of interesting Clark County business owners or a worker in the public, private, or nonprofit sector. Send ideas to Mary Ricks: mary.ricks@columbian.com; fax 360-735-4598; phone 360-735-4550.

Working in Clark County, a brief profile of interesting Clark County business owners or a worker in the public, private, or nonprofit sector. Send ideas to Mary Ricks: mary.ricks@columbian.com; fax 360-735-4598; phone 360-735-4550.

In early 2004, Joan Armstrong traded her software engineering job for something very different — being a dog trainer. Working with a well-known trainer for several years, Armstrong learned many skills by training chickens. “The first thing is teaching your dog that it is worthwhile to pay attention to you,” Armstrong said. “Both the person and the dog have to be engaged.”

Name: Joan Armstrong

Job/employer: Started Dog Days Dog Training in 2004.

Contact: www.dogdaysnw.com

Age: 60.

Education/professional background: I have changed careers a few times. I have a degree in software engineering and used to work at Hewlett-Packard in Vancouver.

I have always been interested in competitive obedience. It is a sport in which you and your dog compete at varying levels with specific requirements, moving through different levels. It is a very stylized sport, similar to dressage with horses. It is dancing with your dog. You are in perfect lockstep, working together with happiness and precision.

I got an Australian shepherd puppy and was immediately hooked.

While working at HP, I learned that if you want to learn how to do something new, you should find out who is the best teacher and learn from that person. Probably the best dog trainer around is Bob Bailey, who lives in Hot Springs, Ark. I attended his training camp for four or five years in a row to learn how to train animals. We learned by training chickens.

Starting my own business: I started teaching my friends and continued my day job part-time. People learned about me through word of mouth, and I finally went into the training business full-time in 2004.

What I do: I teach group classes, private lessons and some special classes at varying levels. The first thing I teach people is that their dog needs to learn that it is worthwhile to pay attention to their owner. Both the person and the dog have to be engaged. When the dog learns it is important to pay attention, it is pretty easy to teach them anything.

In competition, the dog has to learn how to sit straight in a specific place, with good posture and look up at the handler. If he sits crooked compared to handler, points will be taken off. Everyone starts with 200 points when they enter the ring and as you make errors, points come off the total. For example, with competitive heeling, the dog has to stay in a precise position on your left.

It can take years to gain all the skills. My last dog competed until he was about 10 years old.

Most rewarding part of job: Watching people’s relationship with their dogs grow and bloom.

Most challenging part of job: Teaching people how to reward their dogs. Rewarding correctly is a science. We use food, play and emotions. How well you reward your dog is important.

Personal/business philosophy: Training has to be rewarding for both people and dogs.

Residence: Battle Ground.

Best feature of my Vancouver/Clark County community: We live in the perfect area of the country. We have a nice moderate climate here. I think the rain is great and you can get outside all year around.

What would make your community a better place: Better bike lanes.

Favorite restaurant/pub/coffee shop/store: Toro Sushi in Battle Ground and Farrar’s Bistro in Felida.

Hobbies: All my hobbies are centered around dogs. My business is my hobby. I do like to cook, though.

Favorite travel destination: Bow, Wash.

Most interesting book in last 12 months: “The Paleo Solution” by Robb Wolf.

Most interesting play/movie/arts event: “Buck,” an American documentary film focusing on the life, career, and philosophy of the real-life “horse whisperer,” Buck Brannaman.

One thing you want to do this year: I hope to take a trip to Montana with my dog to the Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation.

Something you want to do within five years: Semi-retire.

One word to describe yourself: Committed.

Persons you’d most like to meet: Martina Navratilova and Hillary Clinton.