Teoti Anderson never stops. She’s a dog trainer, business owner, author, speaker, therapy-animal handler and podcaster. Anderson began her dog training career two decades ago, and in 2001, she started her own dog training business, Pawsitive Results, which provides training classes and private lessons for dog owners in the Columbia, South Carolina area. She has authored six books on the subject of dog training, including two published last year: The Ultimate Guide to Dog Training and Dogs 101 Dog Training. Book number seven, which will discuss how to handle problem behaviors with dogs, is scheduled for publication this fall.
Anderson began her podcast, Get Pawsitive Results, last year, and has released 19 episodes total. Topics on the podcast have ranged from a series on choosing the right dog to tips for handling your pet in case of an emergency (including a zombie attack). I managed to sneak a few minutes of Anderson’s time to talk about the latest in her long list of vocations and some of the amazing work she does through animal-assisted therapy.
Nathan Bowden: You seem incredibly prolific. You’ve had a two-decades-long career as a dog trainer, author, speaker, and many other things. How did you get into podcasting?
Teoti Anderson: It came about because of speaking at conferences and the books. I ended up in dog training, I wouldn’t say by accident, but I always loved dogs. I trained my own dogs when I was a young girl, but I never expected to end up as a professional dog trainer. I was a writer. I’m still a writer and I’ve been able to combine both passions, which is wonderful. I got a three-legged Labrador retriever as an adult and I adopted him from my veterinarian. His name was Cody and he was so sweet. I had read about animal-assisted therapy—taking pets into nursing homes and hospitals and visiting patients—and I knew that he would be a great candidate, but I didn’t know how to go about doing that. So I started taking him to classes. I found out I had an affinity for them and I started doing well with the classes. He did great. And so with the club I was taking lessons from at the time, they asked me to become an assistant, then I became an instructor and it just kind of snowballed from there. As a result, I was able to combine my passion for writing and dog training, started speaking at conferences, started getting gigs to do workshops for different rescue organizations and such, editors noticing me more and then also with podcasts, they approached me. Pet Life Radio is a wonderful organization. They have a lot of wonderful programming for pets, all sorts of pets not just dogs, on Pet Life Radio. The producer approached me and said, “Would you be interested in doing a podcast,” and I said “Sure!”
N: You mentioned that you had a writing background really even before you came into dog training. Have you found the process of podcasting, of developing topics for the podcast and then recording it, have you found that to be any more challenging than the writing?
T: I don’t think so. Not for me. My background is in broadcast journalism. I started out in radio right out of college. I wrote commercials, so I had to learn how to do sales in 30 second or 60 second increments. You have to be able to say a lot of things about how wonderful a product is or an establishment in 30 seconds or less, and that includes a phone number. So, it kind of brings me back to my radio roots. It’s been wonderful. But it is definitely different writing for broadcast than it is writing for print. You have a lot more freedom in print to just go on and on. Broadcast, you have to make your point quicker, more succinctly, get people’s attention just in a different manner. So I think that that certainly helped. I think the fact that I’m a writer certainly helps because it just helps me prepare. I like to have my notes ahead of time. I like to at least have bullet points about what I want to cover. I find that to be the best way that I know how to organize what I’m going to say.
N: I know that you often end your podcast with an invitation to contact you through Facebook or email. Do you hear back from your listeners?
T: I do.
N: What do you find sparks the most interest from the listener?
T: I think that a lot of times it’s questions about their own dogs, which is fine. There’s only so much that I can do, of course, without meeting the dog. It would not be ethical for me to make diagnoses without a complete behavioral history in certain cases. But sometimes people will contact me and just want to know “Is this particular behavior normal?” or if this particular behavior with their specific dog is an area for concern. I did a show on “When Good People Love Bad Dogs.” It was a very controversial topic and I was hesitant to approach it at first, but I felt very strongly about it and I tried to take an approach from different sides. There are a lot of really scary dogs out there that do hurt people and they’re going to continue to hurt people. It’s not always that dog’s fault, but that’s the way the dog is now. There’s such an outpouring of public support for some of these dogs. [People think] “we’ve got to adopt them and get them out,” and that’s not necessarily the best thing to do. It’s almost setting the dog up to hurt even more people and that’s what happened in those cases that I had cited. And that generated a lot of attention, most of it very pro, which was nice. I think the other one that generated the most response so far was the “Sugar Plum” episode where I said, at the end of the year, instead of focusing on all the things that went wrong, let’s focus on some of the things in the animal world that went well and let’s give kudos to people who are really fighting the good fight and helping animals and doing good things. I just got the most wonderful response, especially on the Facebook page, of people just sending in names and all these wonderful, wonderful accomplishments and efforts that people had made. They’re really heartwarming. I found that to be a really enjoyable show to do.
N: One of the things I also enjoy about the podcast is you often use examples from your own clients, clients whose dogs you’ve trained in the past, which I find very helpful. But you’re always careful not to name names, as you say. Do you ever hear from clients who may listen to your podcast and recognize themselves in the podcast?
T: I do. It’s funny, most of it was with the Christmas story that I read. It was a Christmas story that I had written, a non-fiction story that I contributed for the book, Christmas Dogs. I read that verbatim with all the names because I know all those people and it was a good story. It wasn’t bad dogs, it was all good dogs. And I heard from all my friends that I may not have heard from in months saying, “Oh I heard your Christmas story.” Those dogs are all gone now, so it was really nice to hear from them and reminisce together about our time that we shared with those particular dogs. For the most part, I have had some clients say, “You weren’t talking about me, were you?” My goal is never to put people on the spot, but I do enjoy telling the stories to give real-life examples about what people are going through. I think it helps [listeners] identify with the issues that I’m talking about.
N: So what are you looking forward to? What have you not covered on the podcast at this point that you’d like to in the future?
T: It’s so open. It’s a wonderful format for that. I think that there’s so much more to do. I’m always learning. I’d say that the minute that I think that I know it all, a good friend needs to sit me aside and tell me to get out of the business because it’s never true. The more that we learn about canine behavior, the more there is to learn. They’re doing some incredible things now at the Duke [Canine] Cognition Center. They’re learning so much more about how dogs think and how dogs process information. In general, there has been a lot more study done on rare yellow-bellied dotted pelican type animals than there has been on dogs that we bring into our living room. It was always considered beneath scientists to study the common dog, but that’s not the case anymore. And so, the more they learn, the more I’m learning and the more I want to share. I think that it’s really an exciting time to be in canine behavior because there’s all sorts of things that are coming out about dogs and their abilities to affect us. I still am involved with animal-assisted therapy with my little Papillon, and I think that there’s a lot more to be explored about the human-animal bond there. So, I don’t know, the future’s wide open. I tend to not plan too far ahead with my topics. Usually about a week before, I’m like “Wow! I need to come up with something.”
N: Is there a timeline on your podcast or is it open ended at this point? Is the fact that you are constantly learning new stuff indicative of how long your podcast could go on?
T: I think it is very open-ended. We haven’t talked about an ending. Some of the other shows on Pet Life Radio have been at it for many years, much longer than I have. So, I think that there is always something to explore. And I love getting ideas from folks. I love that because it tells me what the people want to hear. It’s very different. It’s very delayed. When I’m speaking in front of a crowd, I have that immediate feedback. I know when people are getting confused, maybe I need to elaborate. I know when people are laughing at my jokes. I know when people are nodding at me and you get that immediate feedback. But, a podcast isn’t like that at all. You’re on your own and you’re throwing it out there later for a later impact. So I love hearing from folks and finding out what they want to learn and what they want to know.
N: I did want to get back to something that you’ve mentioned a couple of times, which is your work on animal-assisted therapy. You mention that on your podcast, and I want to give you a chance to talk a little bit about that work that you do.
T: That is the reason why I got into dog training, and it really shaped who I am as a professional trainer, the animals that I’ve had. I’ve been very fortunate to have some wonderful animals that were my partners in serving different types of patients. I’ve worked with children with disabilities, I’ve worked with hospice patients, I’ve worked with patients with Alzheimer’s, I’ve worked with emergency room trauma victims. I’ve just had a wonderful career so far in serving a lot of populations with some great pets. I had two Labrador Retrievers that are both gone. I have my little Papillon, Finian, who’s still at it. Then I had a wonderful cat, who was a wonderful therapy cat. A lot of people don’t know that cats can make great therapy animals. But, I think that it always comes down to the magic that comes into a patient’s life when a dog or cat enters the room. Especially for those in facilities where they can’t have pets, like a nursing home. A lot of those folks had to give up their pets in order to go into those places, and they miss them terribly. And, while my dog is not the same as their dog, it’s still a dog and it’s just such a highlight of my day to see the joy that it brings them.
N: It sounds like you help other people with training their dogs for similar work, is that right?
T: Yes, I have regular dog training classes here in the Columbia area, the Lexington, South Carolina area. And a lot of my students come to me because they know my background and they want to do the same thing with their pets. So, I’ve had a lot of graduates go on and join the programs and serve and do the same kind of volunteer work. It is incredibly rewarding. Not every animal is suited for it. It’s not going to make every animal happy to do that, so you have to really put the animal first. When you’re doing it for yourself, that’s very selfish. You have to put the animal first and make sure that they’re not stressed and getting overly stimulated because you don’t want to risk the animal growling or snapping or biting. It should never come to that. But I do love helping people achieve that goal.
N: The last thing I want to ask is do you happen to listen to podcasts yourself?
T: I do. I don’t get as much chance to do it as I would like to, but I have some other podcasts that I listen to on Pet Life Radio. I love Oh Behave! by Arden Moore, it’s wonderful. Liz Palika’s is a great one as well. I know both of them and so I enjoy hearing them. Most other times it’s almost like a one-off thing where I hear about it or somebody posts it on Facebook, and I’ll either try to download it and listen to it in the car or you know random. I don’t have any other regular ones that I really listen to.
I’d like to thank Teoti Anderson for her time, which I know is a rare commodity given her schedule. If you’re a listener, reader or client of Anderson’s, or just enjoyed the interview, let me know in the comments.