Meet Winnie and her two poodles, Maverick (black, 5 years old) and Joker (white, 22 months old) who live in Nashville, TN. Winnie trains and competes with her two dogs in a variety of dog sports including agility, FastCAT, disc, dock diving, scent work, and rally-o which keeps her very busy! Winnie and her husband are avid outdoor enthusiasts so when she's not trialing she is biking, swimming, or hiking!
Winnie's full time profession is dog training. She recently started her own small training business called the Empowered Canine and she offers lessons as well as boarding & training in a home-based setting. Winnie got a job right out of college working for a massive engineering company. She felt unfulfilled at her corporate job so she dipped her toe into the dog sport world when she adopted maverick and was hooked!
What she thought would just be a “fun little hobby” quickly became a lifestyle and allowed her to find her passion. During the pandemic her hours at her engineering job got cut way back so she took a second job working as a part time trainer at a kennel in town. Winnie then got laid off in May 2021 and took it as a sign - so she dove in and built her business to help owners and their dogs live their best lives together.
N-Gage: How did you become interested in becoming a dog trainer?
Winnie: Hah! The short answer to this is I adopted Maverick in 2017 and was in WAYYYYYY over my head. I couldn’t find the resources I needed to help him from the trainers I paid, so I researched and I learned and I worked my butt off and I cried a lot wondering why the universe gave me this dog. When I actually started to make progress with him was when I stopped focusing on obedience and commands and started focusing on our relationship and his mindset. We made so much progress from learning how to play and engage each other. My life with Maverick started to look a little different than my friends with their dogs or my childhood dog - and I realized that’s OK!
Maverick is a very difficult dog. We adopted him when he was 2 years old. He had a slew of behavioral issues including severe dog reactivity (to the point where he was a threat to himself and others) as well as reactive to cars/bikes/kids, and was resource guarded. He was overstimulated by everything and had zero training (like did not even know “sit”). Additionally he has a permanent medical condition called Addison’s Disease and a neurological condition called Canine Dysfunctional Behavior Disorder (which is what Autism is called in dogs). Growing up I trained all of our childhood dogs and they were wonderful, well-adjusted, neutral, stable, socialized dogs, so I touted myself as being a “good trainer” and figured I could fix Maverick no problem. Hah! This dog has taught me about life, love, patience, passion, empathy, and hard work - Maverick has taught me more than I EVER could teach him.
So all of this so say that the reason why I became a trainer was to help the human end of the leash who might be struggling, embarrassed, overwhelmed or frustrated with their dog. There are two ends of the leash and teaching them how to fulfill each other’s needs allows the owner and the dog to start living their best life together.
NG: Have you always loved poodles? What makes them so great for sports?
W: I have had poodles for my whole life - 3 throughout my childhood and the 2 that I own now. Their versatility, athleticism, intelligence and biddable nature makes them excel in a variety of sports. They are eager to please, sensitive, and wickedly smart (sometimes too smart) which makes them fun to work. Poodles were bred to be a multipurpose gun dog and water retriever which means a lot of those versatile breed traits can excel at a variety of sports including field trials, hunt tests, dock diving, agility, coursing, disc, tracking, obedience and so many others.
I find that with the breed you get a good balance of drive with brains. They aren’t quite as prone to overstimulation as other high drive breeds, but poodles are notorious over thinkers. They are so intelligent and eager to please that the second they understand the process they will be a step ahead of you whether you want them to be or not, hah! They also are a very internally motivated breed, so success hinges on the process making sense to *them*. They will not blindly follow you just to get a reward or because you ask them to.
I always recommend poodles to individuals or families looking for a non-shedding active companion. They come in 3 sizes and you can groom them however you want - heck you can change their hairstyle every 8 weeks if you wanted!
NG: What does the every day routine look like for you and the dogs?
W: We wake up at 5am, and Maverick and Joker come out of their crates and do biiiiiiigggggggg stttttttretchhhhhhh (FYI if you don’t say “ohhh big stretchhhh” every time your dog stretches then you go to jail - lol). Joker comes out of his crate like he was shot from a rocket every. single. day. Meanwhile Maverick takes his time and stretches every single muscle in his body until he realizes that he gets to eat, then he too acts like he was shot from a rocket. They go out to potty and typically maverick fake pees bc he knows he can come in and eat quicker while Joker goes and terrorizes the rabbits in our yard. While they are eating I go and potty the board and train (BnT) dogs. Then my husband and I take Maverick and Joker on a long walk - sometimes this is more structure and training and other times more just free roam sniffy time. After that I go and do structured walks with my BnTs. Then mid morning-ish Joker and I go jogging together and then my dogs go pass out in their crates or under a sunny window for the bulk of the day while I work BnT dogs and do invoices/emails/make content, etc. In the afternoons we will either do some agility or disc or scent work training, or go on an off leash adventure, or go swimming or biking, or some days we have agility class. So that covers their afternoon enrichment. I typically feed them around 4pm (sometimes we do enrichment dinners or hand feeding and other times just plain old dinner in a bowl). Then they sleep while I work BnT dogs again until the evening when my husband gets home. Then we make dinner while watching either Schitts Creek, The Office, or Modern Family. Each day varies a little but they all seem to follow that general framework.
NG: What are Maverick and Joker's favorite N-GAGE toys?
W: The BUMPERS! Oh my gosh, words cannot describe how much they love the Bumpers. They are the perfect size for just about every activity - and you can’t beat the squeak!
NG: What's your favorite sport to do with your dogs? One that you like to participate in the most?
W: Agility is definitely what we do most because it’s year round and both dogs enjoy it. I like it because it’s dynamic and hard! I also really enjoy scent work with Maverick, but we haven't trialed yet because Nashville has one trial a year and it fills in 20 minutes! I think they most enjoy fastcat because there is zero training, it's all instinct and prey drive.
NG: How do your dogs differ athletically?
W: Joker is all legs and speed. He’s not an endurance dog and lacks Intensity. He is super agile and can turn on a dime. He gets bored easily so training sessions are very short and involve a lot of personal play. Structurally though, he has good rear angulation but very straight in the front, so he generates a lot of power and speed. But, his front end can’t put it all to use because he is so straight in the shoulder. Basically he has a lot of torque but not a lot of horsepower.
Maverick is more of an Endurance Dog. He can click along at a slower pace for miles. High level of intensity but not a lot of ground speed. What he lacks in ground speed he makes up in tight turns.
Structurally though, he has fair rear and front angulation, so whatever power he produces is more efficiently accepted by his front end. Dogs generate their power from their rear end, but 60% of their weight distribution is in the front.
NG: Do you "train" the owners of dogs? Is there follow up at home?
W: Yes! The profession should really be called “People Training”. The dog’s training is only as good as the owner’s understanding and implementation of it. My board and train program includes:
- *X* weeks of training
- A 2 hour exit lesson on the day the dog is picked up where we go through what goals have been met, what needs more work, how to play with the dog, Q&A, markers and timing, and all of the commands over to owner
- 2 in home follow up lessons sometime within the two months after the completion of BnT. This is the time when we address what is going well and where we need to troubleshoot
NG: Where should someone begin with agility training?
W: Here's a good way to start:
- Assess your dog’s age, weight, fitness level, and training foundations
- Google around to see if there is a training club in your town that offers classes or venues that offer classes or private sessions
- Use Instagram! Search your city and dog agility and try to connect with local people about where and who they started with
- Flatwork, flatwork, flatwork. Don’t force speed early - speed follows confidence
- Work with a trainer that understands and supports your personal goals and training style
NG: What do the letters after their names mean?
W: They are called Titles! Basically the dog was tested at some sport at some level and passed the criteria. It has nothing to do with winning v losing or what place they came in. Here's the rundown:
- Maverick’s are:
- ACT2 (agility course test) 2/2 q’s
- NAJ (novice agility jumper) 3/3 q’s
- NA (novice agility) 3/3 q’s
- TKA (trick dog advances) Knows 30+ tricks
- TKI (trick dog intermediate) Knows 20 tricks
- TKN (trick dog novice) Knows 10 tricks
- BCAT (lowest level fastcat) 150 points
- Working towards:
- OAJ (open agility jumper) ⅔ q’s
- OA (open agility) ⅔ q’s
- DCAT (mid level fastcat) 194/500 points
- DN (dock novice) ⅖ qualifying
- Joker's are:
- BCAT (lowest level fastcat) 150 points
- CCC (canine good citizen)
- Working towards:
- NAJ (novice agility jumper) 1/3 q’s
- NA (novice agility) 1/3 q’s
- NF (novice F.A.S.T.) 1/3 q’s
- DN (dock novice) 4/5 qualifying <10ft
- DJ (dock junior) ⅖ qualifying 10-15
- DS (Dock Senior) ⅕ qualifying jumps 15-20ft
- DCAT (mid level fastcat) 202/500 points
- DDB (disc dog bronze) bronze level at 3 games
Please reach out to Winnie on her Instagram @poodlesdoingthings to keep up to date with Winnie, Maverick and Joker!