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How 1 Spokane dog trainer teaches you to speak ‘dog’

    They turn to face each other and in that moment, there is only him and her.

    His ears relax, knowing she is the one he can count on for his everything.

    A smile spreads softly across her face, as she knows her heart is open to give him his everything.

    And that’s what she wants for her clients, too.

    This is the life of a Spokane dog trainer.

    Spokane dog trainer Stephanie Niles with her boxer Bam

    Into the world of a Spokane dog trainer

    Bam has degenerative myelopathy, the same disease that claimed our friend Maggie a couple months ago.

    The love Stephanie Niles has for her Bam is so sweet and pure.

    Magic Moment!

    And learning about DM and how to maintain his quality of life has led her down new paths with her business, Pawsitive Connection.

    The Spokane dog trainer just announced this week that she is building her own hydrotherapy center at her Mead facility. It’s the culmination of learning, sitting thoughtfully with Bam, and dreaming.

    Stephanie is no stranger to realizing her dreams.

    In another lifetime, she was an elementary teacher. She married into the military, though, and an overseas posting took her away from schools.

    She needed something to do and decided to start running marathons. She wanted company on her runs and adopted a shelter dog.

    Her next step was to hire a dog trainer.

    That’s when she had her a-ha moment.

    “The method  they were using was so similar to me teaching five-year-olds,” she says, “and I thought, ‘Oh, I didn’t know I could do this; instead, I’ll do this, I’ll train dogs.

    A new dream was born. She started her own dog training business.

    “I thought this is phenomenal,” Stephanie says, with her infectious, warm smile. “Working with rescue dogs and finding them homes, it’s so satisfying. And helping people keep their dogs in the homes because they’re less frustrated with them, it just feeds my soul.”

    boxer with degenerative myelopathy in a wheelchair

    Learning to communicate

    There’s nothing in a dog’s DNA that tells her, “I should go to my owner when I’m called.”

    Dogs tend to follow smells.

    That’s why they like to dig into the trash bin. There’s something delicious in there and it’s usually at the bottom, so everything gets pulled out.

    “And we become very frustrated with them,” Stephanie says with a laugh. “Because that’s not what we do in the human world. So it’s really important for me to teach people how to communicate with their dogs. And set realistic expectations.”

    Aside from putting a lid on the garbage can or crating your dog, Stephanie says, humans can learn techniques that help a dog be more successful.

    Bam the boxer

    “I don’t just want people to keep their dog in the home,” she says. “I want them to enjoy their dog, I want the dog to be a part of the family.

    “Dogs bring a lot of joy. They help us destress. If we can give them the proper tools, they can have a therapeutic nature for us. They live in the moment and think, ‘I don’t care that you had a bad day, I’m just happy to see you. Do you want me to lay on you?’

    “They can distract you in lovely, lovely ways to get you in your moment.”

    Teaching the humans

    This Spokane dog trainer brings her teaching background into her work with humans.

    She never forced her students into doing anything, like lining up outside the classroom door.

    She taught them how to do it.

    “I know adults like quick and fast results,” Stephanie muses. “But there’s no learning involved in that and I really want people to learn the why. When you learn the why, you’re more likely to bond with your dog and keep that dog in your home forever because your bond becomes so strong.”

    Stephanie uses positive reinforcement, based on current science and animal behavior studies. She bases her protocols on learning from such leading experts as Ken Ramirez, a 40-plus-year veteran of training animals of many species.

    His work on getting elephants to freely offer their feet for health care is well-renowned and, Stephanie says, quite amazing.

    “He put no hands on the elephants,” she explains. “It was totally force free. No intimidation, you can leave at any time you want to I’m not going to force you to stay here. It was a totally safe place for these elephants to be.”

    Dogs are the same. When they feel safe, they will give us the behaviors we want from them.

    Stephanie the Spokane dog trainer with her foster puppy

    “It’s the same with all animals,” Stephanie says. “I can train my goats to do anything. Yeah, my chickens will come running when I call them because I reinforce their behavior.”

    Then the Spokane dog trainer can ask for more and more different behaviors.

    The method has worked with lions in care, learning to give their paws for blood draws.

    “You could tranquilize him, and then try to take a blood draw,” Stephanie says. “But why not have him offer it? You say, ‘Here, have some chunks of meat and the lion says, ‘Thank you, thank you.’ Isn’t that so much more calm and compassionate and loving?”

    Taking it online

    Like many of us, this Spokane dog trainer feeds off the energy of being around other dog lovers.

    The COVID-19 pandemic presented challenges that forced her to take another look at how she operates her business. While she’s able to do in-person training now, she shifted to Zoom classes to remain accessible to her dog training clients and others who needed her skillset.

    And she created a video series, called Boredom Buster and starring Bam, to give humans tools to entertain their dogs while everyone was stuck at home.

    “I saw a lot of dogs getting antsy with their people at home,” Stephanie says. “I thought, ‘This is what I’m doing with my own babies to keep their mental health and keep them happy, but why am I not recording it so you can do it with your dog?'”

    A more intense course is on its way, starring BBB, aka Baby Boy Blake. A pitty-boxer mix found in a hoarding situation on the West Side, BBB is Stephanie’s most recent foster dog and pet project — ugh … sorry for that pun — and filming it.

    Pitbull mix puppy running

    “I wasn’t looking to raise a puppy but I realized most of the dogs I foster are pretty much around two years old,” she explains. “That’s a good time to send your dog to the shelter.

    “So many of those issues could have been avoided if the babies got what they needed at the time that they needed it right. So I wanted to get this information out.”

    She’s socializing him around other dogs, teaching him not to be scared of boom noises like fireworks and thunder, and leaving him alone at times to eliminate any separation anxiety.

    And when BBB is ready to be placed with a loving forever family, she’ll be confident he’ll have a foundation of behaviors to keep him out of a shelter.

    “If I can just give you this (video) course,” Stephanie says, “wherever you are, to get you and your baby on the right path, so you don’t have these problems later. It means Blake’s not going to end up in a shelter, he’s not going to have those bad behaviors. The right training reduces the chances of these puppies ending up in shelters.”

    Pitbull mix puppy sitting with human

    In-person, though, is really the way she’d rather be training.

    “I can sense changes in body language so easily when you’re in front of me,” Stephanie says. “And I can see that you might be having a hard time, human or dog and help you find the path to success.”

    No doubt with that smile that goes right to her eyes, too.

    If you want to connect with Stephanie, you can find her at:

    Pawsitive Connection website



    Dogs. Adventure. Outdoors. These words set Angela's heart afire. Angela Schneider, an award-winning writer and dog photographer, documents the story of you and your dog and the adventures you take together. Your portraits will be a statement piece in your home, art that will make your friends and family beg to hear its story.

    12 thoughts on “How 1 Spokane dog trainer teaches you to speak ‘dog’”

    1. I trained with Stephanie when she lived in Wichita, KS. I met her while I was training with another trainer. She is awesome and we miss her in Kansas! Stephanie is amazing!!

    2. Stephanie is absolutely amazing!

      She is without a doubt one of the most energetic, passionate, driven and caring person I have ever met!

    3. Yes! Stephanie is an amazing teacher and wonderful human. We love working with and our Vizsla Blue has learned so much!

    4. As a dog trainer, it does my heart good to read about another science-based trainer and the great work they’re doing. The comment about the 2-yr old mark is so true unfortunately. If people would only put in a bit of time BEFORE that mark, they’d have a well-behaved dog for a lifetime. Gorgeous images too!

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