We are super stoked to bring you our new feature, “Trainer Spotlight.” Because our mission at YPBY includes putting the best information possible out there for our followers, shining the spotlight on the trainers who are getting the job done seemed like a logical, and hopefully, helpful step to take. We’ll be highlighting some of the best force-free trainers we know and asking them to share their expertise, talk about their methods and how they utilize them with clients. In doing this, we hope to help more people find their way to quality trainers who know their stuff and are making a difference in the lives of dogs and their people!

Marisa Scully is the owner of Philly Dog Training, based out of Philadelphia, Pa. Marisa has been training dogs for over 7 years and her journey includes making the crossover to using only force-free methods, dog sports and agility. She has written articles for the APDT Chronicle of the Dog, has received Philly’s best trainer awards and volunteers her time to help the dogs at Philadelphia’s animal shelters become more adoptable through an organization called Hand2Paw.

We asked Marisa to tell us a bit about her business, her methods and her philosophy.

YPBY:  Tell us a bit about your services:

MS: I primarily offer private training in my client’s homes, although we certainly progress to practicing in tons of locations outside of the home as well. I work with everything from puppies to adult dogs struggling with anxiety, aggression, you name it. My typical client is someone who is just trying to live harmoniously with their dog(s). My goal is to train both the dogs and the people, so that their relationship can improve and flourish even when I am not working with them. I have some students that fall in love with dog training and continue working with me in agility, disc, tricks, therapy work, etc. It’s fun to see clients really enjoy training and of course I love watching the dogs become geniuses, but my biggest goal is just to make sure both dog and person are happy.

YPBY:   What methods do you use?

MS: I use only force-free, humane methods. I live by clicker training (“YES” happens quite a bit as well), I use whatever reward-marker is best for the particular team. I use classical and operant conditioning (I find they go hand in hand… or hand in paw) and I use management for situations that the dog is not yet capable of handling. My goal is to make sure the dogs needs are met both physically (health, nutrition, exercise) and mentally (trust, communication, stimulation) and to keep stress levels at a minimum. When the dog is in an ideal place to learn new things and the handler understands how to read and understand their dog, I use classical conditioning and desensitization to work on overcoming negative emotional responses to certain stimuli. Some of my favorites are BAT and LAT… everything under threshold!

If I had to compare the behavior modification I practice to a kind of therapy for people, I follow the same principles as cognitive behavioral therapy.

YPBY: Why do you choose to train using force-free methods?

MS: I am a cross-over trainer, meaning I used to use force and aversives. The more I improved my skill, the less I needed force or pain, until I did not need them at all. The negative side effects of training that is stressful, painful or scary to a dog negate the work being done. Plus, if I can train a dog while being kind and gentle, and it works better, why do it any other way?

YPBY:  What sets you apart from other trainers?

MS: I think what sets me apart from other trainers is that I think about things from the inside out, instead of reciting exercises I have memorized. When I look at a dogs behavior, I think WHY is s/he doing this, how can I get him/her to want to do something else. I am also very creative when it comes to finding small enough steps that build on the particular dogs strengths to make any dog succeed and build confidence while they learn. Often I find trainers try to ask for too much or move too rapidly through a behavior before the dog fully understands. I don’t just know my stuff, I can read the dogs well enough to know when to use what, and I have the skill to apply it artfully… plus I’m really modest (wink)!

YPBY: How do you define success with a client?

MS: I can sum this up with one quick anecdote. I recently saw a client who had a 1 year old, wild and crazy adolescent rescue mutt. She was super frustrated and to her credit, had really tried to seek out answers and had been smart about her research. At the end of her first phone call asking for help she had exclaimed “I really think he’s just an A$$hole!.” We had a super productive first session and when I came back for the second session we started by going over how the week went. She told me about some successes, and some areas where she still needed help but at the end she said, “I have to tell you, there’s one thing you did that was most valuable to me, you made me love my dog again.”

Marisa’s writing and expertise has been featured in the CCDPT Chronicle and can be seen by clicking the following links:
Using Control Unleashed for Dog-Dog Aggression
Using Control Unleashed for Dog-Dog Aggression: Look at That
Foundations for Dog Sports Class

She and her training counterpart, Perry, have also had the opportunity to appear on a local TV program to show off some of their dogs tricks.

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We are so pleased to be able to shine a light on Marisa and Philly Dog Training! The dogs of Philadelphia could not ask for a more dedicated trainer working on their behalf. And, the dog owners of Philadelphia could not be putting their dogs in better hands. Much of dog training is about building relationships and trust- with both people and dogs. Marisa Scully is just as skilled at both of those things as she is at training.

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For more information about Marisa and the services Philly Dog Training offers, check out their website Philly Dog Training

Last year, Marisa’s dog, Pun, was diagnosed with cancer and she was determined to make every minute count. They took a cross-country trip, which she dubbed a “Pun-cation” and to celebrate his 6th month cancer-free, she made this super fun video, which could serve as a reminder to us all to live life to the fullest. A year later, Pun is still going strong.