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Miami County Megastars -- DD Awareness Month 2018

Becca Mason

“I love working with a lot of different people, whether they have disabilities or not.” Those were Becca Mason’s exact words as she shared her experience as a dog trainer and why she decided to pursue her certification over a year ago.

Growing up, Becca struggled in school due to her being on the autism spectrum. But instead of viewing her autism as a challenge, Becca allows it to guide her teaching strategies as she educates the community about service animals. Acting as a one-woman show, along with her 115-pound Newfoundland puppy, Frannie, Becca has channeled her love of dogs and realized her dream of one day becoming a certified dog trainer.

For many people, dog training can be confusing with its various technical terms and teaching methods. The use of complicated terminology can easily bog people down and prevent them from learning as much as they would if things were explained in a way that they better understand. Much of this complex jargon can unfortunately be a part of the developmental disabilities world as well. For anyone familiar with the DD circle, it’s not uncommon to see what seems to be an infinite list of acronyms covering anything from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) to an Individualized Service Plan (ISP).   Becca acknowledges this overlap between the two fields and utilizes her experience with both to mold her teaching methods.

An experienced service dog owner herself, as well as being on the spectrum, she tries to avoid using technical terms in her training sessions with clients. Though some may view this task as a hindrance, Becca enjoys figuring out new ways to reach people and help them understand the service dog training world. “I really enjoy explaining things to people so they understand. I really needed that growing up.”

Without simplified teaching methods like Becca’s, a person’s view of a dog can easily be clouded by misconceptions and subsequently prevent the person from successfully connecting with the animal. Through her dog training business, Becca hopes to dispel these misunderstandings and educate dog owners on the benefits of having a properly trained service dog. In each training session, and in general whenever the subject about service animals arises, Becca emphasizes, “Every breed of dog can be trained, but not every dog can be a service dog.”

That’s why she pursued her certification through an online source, Animal Behavior College (ABC), out of Santa Clarita, California, with the help of Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities (OOD). Even though there are several local animal training classes she could’ve taken, Becca chose ABC because of its usability and the fact that she was able to utilize accessible technology like read-aloud course material. This type of software helped Becca tremendously when it came to accessing the curriculum and absorbing it in a way that suited her personality and learning style.

When classes started, Becca admits, “I knew nothing other than it was common for people to use violence when training their dogs.” So, she started slow, learning the language of the trade, and then proceeding to more complicated material. For over a year, Becca progressed, and sometimes struggled, through her classes. “It was frustrating at first, but I’m happy where I’m at now,” Becca says. With her family and Riverside as her main support system, coupled with the adaptive technology ABC provided, Becca obtained her certification on December 19, 2017 and started her dog training service, Patient Paws Dog Training, LLC.

Now that she’s officially certified, Becca has high hopes for herself, Frannie, and their business. Not only does she want to educate others about service dogs and help those in need successfully train their dogs, Becca also wants to introduce a few new teaching methods that she believes better suit both the dog and the owner.

In particular, she’d like to change people’s perception of the word, “No,” when it comes to training their dogs. One of the most common go-to strategies for many dog owners is to automatically utter, “No,” whenever their dog is misbehaving. According to Becca though, this word is like a curse word to dogs and should be used sparingly. Instead, she says you should block the dog from reaching whatever is causing their misbehavior and direct them away from the situation. To do so, you should walk beside the dog without touching them. By using this method in place of the word, “no,” Becca says you divert the dog’s attention away from the agitating object while also calmly demonstrating your authority.

Another conventional training method Becca hopes to replace is the idea that every dog can be taken out of its natural environment and be successfully trained. Becca explains that because most of a dog’s misbehavior occurs within its home, taking it out of that situation can oftentimes prevent the “bad” behavior from showing itself. With this understanding in mind, Becca begins her training session in the dog’s natural environment rather than having them come to her.

Being on the autism spectrum, Becca relates to this style of teaching and easily sees herself in each dog she trains because of it. “I love to explain things through a dog’s perspective. I really like that style of teaching because of my autism. I really see myself in a dog’s perspective.” This similarity is one of the very reasons Becca fell in love with dogs in the first place and wanted to help others love them as well. For Becca, all animals are amazing creatures, but dogs have a deeper connection with people, especially kids.

Growing up, the special connections Becca had with all her service dogs, particularly Frannie and her predecessor, Quinn, were instrumental in making her into the woman she is today. That is why Becca wants to introduce service dogs to as many local kids as she can while they’re still going through such a pivotal time in their lives. One day, Becca would love to bring Frannie to local schools and after-school programs and teach kids about service dogs. By doing so, Becca hopes to use her dog training business as a way to expose kids and teens to a world they can join during and after graduation.

Outside of running her own business, Becca also volunteers at the Miami County Animal Shelter rehabbing troubled dogs. For Becca, these dogs often just need a way to burn off their pent-up energy, so she has invented new ways to help them do so. One of her latest creations involves a toy tied to a PVC pipe with a long rope. She will swing the toy around and allow the dog to chase it as she does so. The dog soon wears tired and the aggressive behavior usually subsides. Once the dog has been properly retrained in its home, Becca will then slowly introduce it to other environments.

And as if running her own business and volunteering at the animal shelter wasn’t already enough to keep her busy, Becca is also considering taking classes at Edison State Community College. By taking these classes, Becca hopes to one day help abused animals by enforcing current laws and creating new legislation.

As of right now though, Becca is happy operating her dog training service and doing what she loves. “Life is a roller coaster definitely, you have your low points. But then you have these moments, like getting my certification. I thought I’d never live to see that. I’m still here though, and I’m doing what I love.”

For more about Becca’s dog training services, including private obedience and rehabilitation classes, she can be contacted at BeccaMasonABCDT@gmail.com or (937) 938-0050.


*The first three photos from above were taken by professional photographer, Laura Parker, and provided by Becca Mason. The two graduation pictures from above were taken and provided by Becca Mason.