Me, Teresa Hatcher & A Couple of Friends...

Teresa Hatcher with a Golden and Weego

The World According to Teresa Hatcher...

It's a great life! I live in Newburgh, Indiana with my son Logan, Blink, a border collie, Redi! The Malinois, Brody, an all American, and Weego a Dalmatian. When I am not doing something with friends, family, or training or playing with dogs, I enjoy reading, listening to bluegrass music and learning. That sounds corny, but I have always loved to learn. It is a good life to spend so much of each day doing what I love and loving what I do!

A little about my background…

It seems my whole life has been centered on and surrounded by animals. I grew up on a farm that was worked by my grandfather and his team of draft mules. I have always rescued strays. When I was young, I didn’t always verify that the animals were strays and neighbors occasionally would arrive to retrieve their favorite dog or cat. Oddly enough, my current neighbors usually check here first when one of their dogs escapes and doesn't come home.

As I grew older, I always knew that my career would involve working with animals in some capacity. My first exotic animal experience was with a pack of grey wolves when I helped socialize a litter of 4 pups. Only 14 at the time, it seemed to me the experience of a lifetime (ok, it still seems pretty cool). By this time animal behavior intrigued me most and I looked forward to a career of studying behavior and helping captive exotics. Working at Mesker Park Zoo (in Evansville, Indiana) allowed me to start learning about operant conditioning and reward-based behavior modification. (It is very difficult to put a prong collar on a silver-back gorilla, or an e-collar on an elephant!) Every animal in a zoo’s collection must have periodic examinations.

Vaccinations, blood draws, and treating wounds were part of every day life. It is much easier on all involved if the animals are conditioned to not only tolerate, but to facilitate such procedures. After almost 20 years of volunteer and paid experience at Mesker, I accepted an offer from Toledo Zoo to specialize in non-human primates. The Toledo Zoo is a nationally ranked facility, and is widely known for their extensive behavior modification and enrichment programs. In addition to the basic training we used at Mesker, the animals at Toledo cooperated in every standard procedure by moving where/when needed, tolerating contact from caregivers, even offering a shoulder for a blood draw when shown a syringe. It is most impressive to have a silver-back gorilla race to the enclosure fence and push his shoulder against the wires simply by holding up a syringe.

Through my experience at zoos, I have worked with animals ranging from naked mole rats and scorpions, to great apes and elephants. I have worked with several species of wolves, fox, and a group of African painted dogs. The wild canids all have complex behaviors and are highly social. They respond well to clicker training and I learned a lot about motivating cooperation without ever touching the animals. I also had years to observe pack behavior and dominance hierarchies. While working for the zoos, I frequently attended training seminars and camps in addition to formal classroom instruction to learn more about learning theory and behavior modification.

My Personal Philosophy…

While working at the zoos, I started rethinking everything I had been taught about training domestic dogs. I have always had companion dogs in my household and had learned the ‘jerk and pop’ method and the 'alpha dog' theory of training. My first experience with agility was with a force trainer, and neither I nor the dog enjoyed it. As I learned the detriments of this old methods, I built my own course, started letting some friends come play agility and soon it grew into a club. I started in agility in 1990 and have won ribbons and titles with many different breeds. When I moved to Toledo, I had the chance to work with a lot of wonderful and talented dog trainers, and a few that I would not label 'wonderful' or 'talented'. From all of them, and the many training seminars I have attended and independent study, I have learned so much...and not nearly enough. Animal behavior continues to fascinate me, and I hope to continue to study and learn for many years to come.

I truly believe that the best indicator of a good instructor is not so much what that person's individual dogs have accomplished in competition (although I DO like to win!), but what their students have achieved. My students range from a 3-pound Yorkie to a 137-pound Mastiff, and all have enjoyed a marked improvement in their communication on the course and their qualification rate at trials.

My dog training experience includes tricks, conformation, obedience, tracking, carting, nose or scent work, and Schutzhund; but my passion is agility! I strongly believe in positive training, and work hard to share with my students the joy of working with an eager, thinking partner. I approach training from a behavioral viewpoint. I work hard to figure out what motivates each individual dog and then I teach the dog how to earn that reward!

In addition to training the dogs very systematically to provide a strong foundation and the necessary skills, I teach handling moves, course analysis and strategy tips to the handlers. It is a joy to watch handlers that train with me consistently find the best path for their dog and qualify, almost always placing to boot!

Dogs fascinate me and agility is a wonderful way to spend time with them and develop an awesome relationship. I am convinced that a positive reward-based training approach will maximize the potential in every team and increase their enjoyment and satisfaction - both on and off the course!

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