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Hidden Gems: Meet Jenna Pellerito of Columbia K9 Training & Behavior

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jenna Pellerito.

Jenna, we appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us today. Where does your story begin?
Growing up, I had been drawn to animals, especially dogs. When I was 18, I landed my first ever “dream job” at a doggie daycare.

After my first day on the job, I was convinced that I was exactly where I was meant to be and I couldn’t imagine having a job without dogs ever again.

As I continued to work in kennels and daycare, I soon became interested in canine behavior and training. On a whim, I decided to drop out of community college and attend Animal Behavior College to become a certified dog trainer.

While I do not use this certification any longer as it does not align with my current values and practices, this is really where my career in training and behavior began. After 3 years of working in kennels and daycares, I graduated from Animal Behavior College with honors and started my first job as a dog trainer and behavior specialist at a local humane society.

I worked alongside a mentor, Rachel Gentz, who taught me more than I could ever put into words. Along with learning from Rachel, I continued my education and became Fear Free Certified and a Certified Dog Bite Safety Educator. At the humane society, I was responsible for performing behavior evaluations, overseeing mental and behavioral health, and proving training and enrichment for the shelter dogs.

I also instructed group training classes for adopters and the public and did in-home training for any recently adopted dogs. Along with this, I also was responsible for teaching body language and bite safety training to the staff at the humane society. After 2.5 years, I sadly had to leave the humane society as my mental health was rapidly declining due to the stress and pressure of my job. It was truly heartbreaking, but I knew it was the right choice.

After my time was up at the shelter, I briefly worked at a training facility. Here, I instructed group classes, did in-home private coaching, and, my favorite, trained and socialized puppies in a puppy daycare program that the facility ran every day.

During my time working at this facility, I was able to learn the art of coaching pet parents and their beloved dogs. After a few months of loving my new job, Covid hit, and the facility was forced to close, which left me unemployed. It was here that I took the giant leap to open my first business in my hometown, Macomb, MI.

My business was a great success and I serviced over 130 families and their dogs within my first year. While business was booming, I made the decision to close my first business in Michigan to relocate and reopen in a warmer state, which lead me to Columbia, SC. Here, I opened Columbia K9 Training & Behavior!

While I have only been here for about 8 months, so far it has been a great success. I have more business than I can take in and I am looking into hiring a few trainers to work alongside me to help keep up with the demand.

After I opened my first business, I earned another certification and became a Certified Canine Behavior Consultant(CBCC-KA) through the Certification Council of Professional Dog Trainers. While I now hold 4 separate certifications, I will always be continuing my education and striving for more!

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
Definitely not. The road leading to my career in dog training and becoming a business owner has had its ups and downs, mainly struggling with personal issues outside of my career.

To be entirely transparent, before I started working with dogs, I struggled with drug addiction. Working in a doggie daycare was my first job after I became sober over 8 years ago now. I also have always struggled with my mental health, being diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder when I was a teenager.

Having my career working with dogs, along with all the love and support I get from my own personal dogs is truly what keeps me going. I would be so lost without them.

We’ve been impressed with Columbia K9 Training & Behavior, but for folks who might not be as familiar, what can you share with them about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
My business offers in-home private coaching, virtual coaching, and day training where I do 1-on-1 training sessions with the clients’ dogs. There is also an option to do a hybrid program that combines in-home private coaching and day training. Everything is individualized and targeted towards the specific client and their dog’s needs!

While I specialize in behavior modification for dogs with behavioral issues and puppy socialization, I also help clients out by teaching their dogs basic life skills like walking on a leash or recalling (coming when called). Pretty much the only thing I do not offer is separation anxiety training as I am still working on becoming certified in that.

I train dogs with force-free, fear-free, humane, science-based methods. Force-free training primarily modifies behavior with the use of positive reinforcement.

The dog’s emotional well-being is always put as one of the top priorities when it comes to training, and I always consider their needs and welfare prior to beginning a training plan. Force-free dog training is really the new age of training. It is the most modern and updated approach when training dogs and I love that I can offer that to my clients.

For those that do not know, dog training is an unregulated field which means anyone, without any formal education, certifications, or standard training can open a business as a dog trainer. With no regulation, the industry is flooded with plenty of misinformation and uneducated trainers who tend to use outdated and damaging training methods.

Recent studies have shown that compulsion-based methods like shock and prong collars are damaging to our dogs and are linked with higher levels of stress in training. I do not believe that it is fair to subject an animal to harsh training methods, especially when there are kinder, least intrusive ways to train that work just as well, if not better.

Something that sets me apart from a large majority of the other dog trainers in Columbia is that I strive to offer only the most modern and least intrusive training methods. I am also a multi-certified professional, and in a field that requires zero certifications, I think that’s really important to note. I love dogs more than anything so I will always advocate for them and humane training methods.

Along with my certifications and modern training methods, I am also a member of The Alliance of Force-Free Animal Professionals. This alliance is a group of pet professionals like trainers, groomers, pet sitters, and vets who are utilizing force-free methods just like me.

It was great to be welcomed right into this group of like-minded individuals after I made the move from Michigan to South Carolina.

Do you have any advice for those just starting out?
The best advice I could ever give someone is to believe in themselves and be kind to themselves.

I didn’t think I had what it takes to be a successful business owner and going into it I had a lot of self-doubts. While it is tough to open a business, if it’s something you are passionate about and something you love doing, you are bound to succeed. Also, don’t forget to give yourself days off!

It’s easy to slip into working all day every day, but burnout comes quicker than you think. Don’t forget to rest when you need it.

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