Meet the Trainer!
About me – Ann Walko
The first animal I trained was my pet goldfish. I wasn’t 10 years old and ended up teaching that fish to swim through a bubble wand hoop…using food flakes as a reward – because…how can you physically get a goldfish to swim through something?? At that point I wanted to grow up and have a career training marine mammals – i was a HUGE SeaWorld and Marineland fan (I grew up in NE Florida). Well, life happens….and those thoughts faded into the background.
I never had any other pets growing up. OK, we had some cats, but I never had the urge to train them. I was busy with school and sports…then university.
Growing up in Florida also meant an attraction to the space program…so as I started university, I also started taking flying lessons, obtaining my private pilot license in 1989 and my flight instructor certification in 1992.
More years pass, there’s more flying, businesses to run – along with a move to Maine. Then an article appears in our local newspaper – a guide dog school in NY looking for puppy raisers. At the time, I wasn’t ready – so I saved that clipping…and a few years later got hooked up with a different guide dog school and started raising puppies.
I get asked to teach the local classes. Training methods then were compulsion based, but quickly morphed into positive reinforcement/reward (food) based techniques. (yay!)
I end up working for a corporate flight department for a few years, then get my “dream job” – working at the guide dog school. Working with 6-8 week old puppies, evaluating them and temperament testing for the program, along with teaching groups and individual puppy raisers….I return to Maine and work for an aviation company, along with helping with the local puppy raiser group and work towards my professional dog trainer certification, which is completed in 2016.
My canine assistant – Willy
Willy was medically released from the guide dog program at Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Due to an eye infection during his first week of life, his left eye did not develop properly. He has only light perception in that eye. However, it doesn’t slow him down at all!
Willy plays in agility and scentwork. He passed the National Association of Canine Scent Work (NACSW) Odor Recognition Test (ORT) for the for all three odors (birch, anise, clove) when he was 10 months old.
We compete in NACSW and AKC scentwork and are just starting to dabble in AKC agility (with CPE agility on the horizon). I love how we have grown as a team and watching Willy totally enjoy these activities!
Willy is also helping out as a calm dog distraction. He’s completed all levels of the AKC Canine Good Citizen program and achieved the second highest level in the AKC Trick Dog program.