Pets have a special place in our lives, providing companionship even when our schedules get hectic. Meet Paw Commons, a beloved haven for pets in the Southwest. They proudly define themselves as a “pet resort,” offering a wide array of services, including dog boarding, grooming, training, and daycare. Since their inception in 2001, Paw Commons has remained steadfast in their commitment to the well-being of our four-legged friends, accumulating over two decades of invaluable experience in canine care.
Leading the training department at their Phoenix location is Blake Woody, boasting an impressive 14-year track record in dog training. Blake brings a distinctive approach to dog training, firmly believing that every dog is trainable. She believes the human animal bond is inextricable from the training process and this philosophy drives her passion and informs her approach to each client she works with.
Q: Have you always wanted to be a dog trainer?
A: Growing up, everyone always asked, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ I wanted a life well lived, and I wanted the experiences with that. I’ve always loved animals and the science perspective of it. I initially wasn’t supposed to start in animal training, I actually have a degree in Music Education and Performance. During college, I was working at the Phoenix Zoo, teaching the night camp program, where kids would come spend the night at the zoo. We taught educational materials but we also handled the animals trained for education, so I fell in love doing that.
Q: Is there anyone who inspires you or has inspired you throughout your career journey?
A: My great-grandmother was one of the first female pilots in WWII. She was a trailblazer, and would take me to Airforce reunions growing up. I met these phenomenal women and even the Tuskegee Airmen–people I grew up learning about in history books. Their advice was always: ‘Go for it. Why not?’ And that made an impression on me.
Q: You mentioned your background began in music education–do you feel that’s helped in your dog training career?
A: How I got into animal training is kind of untraditional, but that’s normal for dog training. I have a lot of experience educating humans. In the dog training world, there are generally two schools of thought: someone’s either a phenomenal canine trainer—they understand animal behavior, but maybe they’re not a people person. Or they’re a phenomenal people person, where they can educate and teach, but maybe they’re not so down on technique. I used to joke that I was more of a people person, but now after the years of experience with dog training, I feel pretty comfortable with both perspectives.
Q: What do you love most about your job?
A: Pairing the intangible, this heartfelt warm fuzzy feeling, with here’s the scientific data of what dogs physiologically change in us as humans. I am a cognitive behavioral trainer. Dog training comes from human psychology: what are our triggers, what are our reinforcement schedules, all of that comes into cognitive behavioral therapy. When they stare in our eyes for more than 30 seconds, our oxytocin rises. When we pet a dog for a minute, our cortisol level and blood pressure stabilizes. Physically, dogs help us. Working on the human animal bond is what is rewarding in and of itself, it’s an intangible thing that you get to interact with and be a part of.
Q: What are the most common kinds of clients you see?
A: We see puppies most commonly. The second most common is a dog between 6 months and a year and a half to two years of age: the teenager phase. Normal problem behaviors like leash pulling and barking incessantly, that’s what we see most often. There’s not a problem that’s too big nor a problem that’s too small. From there, we see adult dogs not getting along with another dog, basic things like that. Our company also does specialty training. We do owner trained service dogs, we do therapy dog training, or prep people for that therapy dog process. People that want a service dog, people that want to learn more about that process. We offer education and training in that capacity too.
Q: Why do most people come to Paw Commons for dog training?
A: It’s like when you finally go to the car mechanic, you have no other choice, that’s where people come to see us.
Q: How do you determine when a dog is “done” being trained?
A: If could tell you when a dog is done being trained and quantify it in specific time frames or sessions, I would make millions. Dogs need repetition just like we as humans do. While there hasn’t been a time study done on canines and their proficiency, I can tell you that a dog can learn a skill very quickly in one session. However, it is the thresholds: distance, distraction, and duration, that let us know if a dog truly understands the command in any and all environments. When working with a training client we ask what their expectations are and what their goals are in the very beginning. That helps us set up a road map on how to achieve not only what does the dog need to know but also what the client would like the dog to do.
In short, Dogs can learn basic commands very quickly. Factors such as age, breed, and consistency affect how quickly or how well a dog will maintain those behaviors.
Dogs are very simple. They’re very much in the now, they’re very much in the moment. They have concepts of passive future, but they’re here.
Q: What should a new client expect when coming to Paw Commons for the first time?
A: A warm welcome, a ton of vaccine and waiver confirmation, and us getting to know them. Within our training department our first focus is that we have safety and health taken care of so we always double check our vaccines and our training waivers. We want clients to know upfront what our expectations are and also what they can expect from us. From there we get to know them and their dog. Age, breed, problem behaviors, who else is in the household, and what does their life look like to help us assess how we can best help them and their dog. We also discuss what plan of action would be appropriate for the behaviors and concerns that they have.
Q: What’s a common misconception about dog training that you’d like to dispel?
A: I wish people knew it’s about what resonates with them. Everyone has a place at the table. They see something, they’re advocating for something. I think technique and understanding technique is something that takes time and experience, and you have to be open to it. I don’t know everything, but I’m pretty confident in what I do know.
Q: What do you feel sets Paw Commons apart from other dog trainers in the area?
A: Our training staff interact together, so while you may have an experienced trainer working with you at one of our locations, if something comes up or something changes, they can ask 11 other trainers for ideas or suggestions. We believe and have a core philosophy that you can always keep learning, so the trainers are never stuck in what they’re doing. They are continually learning how to perfect their craft. We also are very transparent in how we train, how we set up expectations, even checking in with the client. This process is an open dialogue so how can we help you get from point A to point B in the simplest way. We also have a very diverse background of training staff as well as specialties. Many of our trainers have a special team in one or two types of training styles or programs, such as service dog training or sports training.
Our training staff aren’t just there to train your dog, their focus is to get to know you and help you find that relationship and integrate your dog in your day-to-day life while advocating for and supporting what your dog is saying in canine behavior and body language.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
A: We as people overcomplicate things. As humans, we overthink. Dogs are very simple. They’re very much in the now, they’re very much in the moment. They have concepts of passive future, but they’re here. We as humans generally live in passive future and struggle at being in the now. Which is why we’re such an amazing pairing and why we as humans love having dogs, because they bring us to this moment.
You can learn more about Paw Commons at pawcommons.com. Paw Commons has four locations in San Diego, CA as well Gilbert, AZ and Phoenix, AZ.