They say desperation is the mother of invention; in the case of Albuquerque, New Mexico, couple Rick and Heather Dillender, it was the start of their careers as dog trainers.
Around eight years ago the Dillenders’ border collies were terrors, exhibiting destructive aggression around the house. Unable to find any trainers to alter the dogs’ behaviors, they decided to tackle the training on their own. They started by studying other dogs to understand how excitement and improper behaviors begin and are unintentionally reinforced.
They developed a system that encourages “calm, focused, agreeable behavior,” says Rick. “We sort of reached a point in that where we figured out how that worked and had a good system for it.”
They also trained their dogs to be service dogs to alert Rick to an oncoming epilepsy seizure or warn Heather of a pending migraine. When Kita senses an approaching migraine, she pokes Heather with her nose. When an epileptic episode is approaching, Rick’s dog Jackson becomes agitated, alerting him.
Soon others were asking the Dillenders to train their dogs for service. Because of the demand, their training techniques turned into a career in 2008. While they still rehabilitate bad behavior, most of their time is spent training household pets or shelter animals as service dogs.
There are five basic categories of disabilities: medical alert; mobility; post-traumatic stress disorder and social anxiety; hearing assistance; and assistance for caregivers of disabled people.
Rick explains that their background in behavior rehabilitation enables them to train household dogs from shelters, unlike other systems where the trainer works with the service dog from the time they are puppies. One of their proudest achievements is giving shelter dogs a second chance by offering them a structured outlet for their energy and intellect.
“Families can’t manage them,” Heather notes, “but once you give them something to do, they’re just fabulous, stellar dogs.”