Living with your dog can be frustrating. From non-stop barking, chewing up your shoes to peeing all over your carpet, dog owners can be pushed to their limit and resort to loud scolding or even physical punishment.
If this sounds like you, Valerie Ann Erwin is here to help.
Erwin, a “canine/human relationship counselor” and a longtime Village of New Paltz resident and landlord, has been offering her expertise on canine and human relations for three and a half years out of her home. Now, she has her own center for her dog training and obedience services at 2 Rocky Hill Rd.
Erwin has been training dogs since the ’90s and her resume is certainly extensive.
She is certified in canine first aid and CPR, and is a professional member of the International Association of Canine Professionals (IACP). Erwin is also a member and instructor at the Canine/Human Relationship Institute in Blue Ridge, Texas, which is run by her colleague, Nelson Hodges.
As a canine/human relationship counselor, Erwin has done extensive studies on canine communication for both wild dogs and domestic dogs. She has also completed papers about the ancestral canine/human relationship.
In 2014, Erwin began dog training professionally, which is how the New Paltz Dog Training & Canine Adventures was born.
According to their website, “New Paltz Dog Training & Canine Adventures is a Benefit Corporation dedicated to providing high quality dog training programs, as well as programs beneficial to the community at large.”
It is here that Erwin offers a laundry list of services, including behavior consulting, boarding, private lessons, daycare with social school, free large field socialization classes and group lessons that primarily focus on manners, socialization and leash handling skills.
“When we understand our dogs’ nature and how they communicate, it creates magic,” Erwin said.
While teaching dogs, Erwin tends not to use verbal commands. Instead, she uses body language and tries to connect with dogs in a way that they understand.
“I think people in general, from my generation to yours, have gotten away from understanding their dogs in a really natural way. We have moved away from living in nature the way we used to. A lot less people have farms, a lot less people hunt, all the things that dogs used to fulfill for us, we have electronic devices [to do that for us],” Erwin said. “So we need to fulfill those dogs with their genetics, we can’t ignore their genetics.”
For Erwin, her dog business’ purpose is not primarily to make money, but to assist the community.
About six years ago, Erwin had a stroke. She was in the hospital for over a year, in a coma for four months and had two open heart surgeries while she was in the coma. Erwin views her survival as a gift, and in turn wants to give back to the community through the healing of canine and human relationships.
“All the things that I learned about my personal journey to survival, I want to help as many people as possible to give back to my community,” Erwin reflected.
Being a 35-year volunteer EMT and having a husband who is a Vietnam War veteran, Erwin offers discounts on all training packages for veterans, active military and emergency first responders. The New Paltz Dog Training & Canine Adventures also always keeps two boarding kennels in reserve for the free boarding of deployed military service persons’ dogs.
One critique of dog owners Erwin has made is that people often have unrealistic expectations. People are disillusioned by how much work is required to properly take care of a dog.
“One of the biggest mistakes is not understanding that dogs need a routine that is predictable. Dogs have expectations where their place is in our lives,” Erwin said. “A dog can’t be a pocketbook accessory or an anesthesia for our emotions. [You have to] make the dog’s perspective important.”
As a culture, we have shifted away from buying a pure-bred from a breeder, and have embraced adopting rescue dogs. According to Erwin, New York is one of the highest rescue dog-owned states.
“We live in a culture where it’s ‘adopt don’t shop.’ I think it’s great that people adopt rescue dogs, but those dogs come with baggage,” Erwin said.
To help unpack this baggage, Erwin states that we need to find out why that dog doesn’t understand the commands, why it is acting in a disrespectful way, why it is not connecting with its human and then rebuild that healthy relationship for the dog.
“I really want to bring the natural relationship with animals for people, and bring back the dog having a place in the world where their needs are fulfilled from a dog’s perspective, not from a human’s,” Erwin said.
A healthy, fulfilling partnership between a person and their dog is ultimately Erwin’s goal as a canine/human relationship counselor.
“When a human and dog live in partnership, it can be the best relationship you’ve ever had,” Erwin claimed. “I like doing the service and I like that I am able to provide something for my community that takes them back to the natural world and out of their phones for a while.”