“I want to teach you something,” she explains. “Every time you do it wrong, I gently poke you in the shoulder. Doesn't hurt, right? Poke, poke, poke, poke, poke... how long would it take before you were, first, so annoyed by the poke that you were ready to smack me, and second, you so dreaded the next poke that you no longer wanted to offer any behavior?” she asks. “Me? I'd probably be grabbing your finger somewhere around the sixth poke,” she adds.
“Why choose this method when, instead, you can create a dog who is excited about offering behavior and invested in doing it ‘right’ to earn a valued resource? All while creating a relationship of trust that the teacher will never do anything to intimidate or upset you?” she asks.
Born in Marlborough, Mass., Leah lives in central Florida, where she has, for almost a decade, operated Dog Willing Positive Training Solutions in Oviedo. Leah is a mentor trainer for Animal Behavior College and Canine Trainers Academy, and has recently participated in continuing education as a student of the Academy for Dog Trainers. Her specialties are family pet issues, socialization and early puppy development.
Leah was an early online crusader against the use of choke, prong, and shock collars. A tireless advocate of modern science-based training eschewing coercion, her writings have appeared in the Orlando Dog Training and Behavior Examiner, Lacey’s Barkery, Ian Dunbar’s Dog Star Daily website, and Barks from the Guild, the online magazine for the Pet Professional Guild, of which Leah is a founding member. When the Truly Dog Friendly website was created in 2006, many force-free dog trainers joined, and were listed on its page. Leah was among them. While this was initially a powerful resource for force-free trainers, it really couldn’t compete with the larger Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT), which she felt was less dedicated to truly force-free principles.
Leah saw, early on, that what force-free trainers needed was a professional organization that represented their ethical standards. Little by little, she helped form and participate in groups that had a desire to “find a home” with a professional group that reflected force-free values. So it was with great enthusiasm that Leah became a founding member and joined the steering committee of the Pet Professional Guild, formed in 2012 by Niki Tudge in conjunction with several other trainers from around the country. Leah’s dream had been realized.
A diagnosis of terminal lung cancer in 2013 has ended Leah’s dog training activities, but, true to form, Leah has continued to act as a mentor to new trainers. And those she has mentored, many of whom have also become beloved friends, and are rallying to her aid. Whether it is an uplifting outing, a home-cooked meal, or mowing the yard, Leah is surrounded by friends whose lives she has touched and who, in turn, are dedicated to helping her live as long as possible, as worry-free as possible. One of those friends, Michele Milana, describes Leah as “one of the rare, true people in this world who practice what they preach. She's the real deal. She would drag herself to classes, feeling sick, driving a car that might or might not make it, but when the first dog came in the door, the light would come on in her eyes and energy would flow through her. She truly loved what she did.”
Niki Tudge, founder of the Pet Professional Guild, had the pleasure and privilege of meeting Leah in person for the first time in early January 2014. “I had to get this sick for you to finally visit me,” she joked – with a huge smile on her face – as Niki walked through the door.
It was a meeting attended by many of Leah’s friends and dog training family from the Central Florida Force-free Florida Group. Laughter, wisdom, and the promise of a better future for pet dogs rang out as the force-free community discussed the animal training industry and PPG’s role in it. Members were seated all around the front room of Leah’s home as a hospice worker milled about, and Leah, smiling every now and then, seemed to enjoy the banter and promises of better days ahead for trainers, owners, but most importantly, pet dogs.
“Leah hugged my shoulder, smiled, and said 'I feel dog training history being made in this room tonight,’” Tudge said.
In honor of Leah’s indomitable spirit and lifelong crusade for force-free training, The Pet Professional Guild has created a Leah Roberts Foundation and will hold an Independent Day of Celebration for Force-free Training and Pet Care in her honor each year. The Leah Roberts Foundation will actively manage and implement the ICFF day and our other PPG educational advocacy events each year. Ten percent of all the Pet Professional Guild income will be utilized by this foundation to help further our cause and spread our message
“I can’t think of a more fitting tribute to Leah Roberts that the promotion and celebration of force-free training each year for decades to come,” Tudge said.
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