Sit. Stay. Good reader!

Sarah Richardson

PHOTO BY Rachel bush

Although Sarah Richardson has been a lifelong dog lover, she never imagined she would one day be running a dog training facility that’s so successful it’s expanded into two locations. A full-time professor at Chico State in the Department of Recreation, Hospitality and Parks Management, Richardson took on a second career when she founded Canine Connection in 2002. As a certified professional dog trainer, she instructs several classes, from puppy kindergarten to private training. When her clients had a growing need for dog daycare and boarding, she opened a second Chico location in 2010. She now operates both facilities with a staff of 16. In the last 12 years, she’s seen thousands of dogs come through her program, and currently works with about 250 a week.

What led you to this profession?

Working with dogs professionally wasn’t a decision, it was a calling. That calling was activated around ’97 when I had the opportunity to be mentored by an amazing person, a veterinarian (Kay Stephens) in Texas. She took me under her wing. I approached her because I had a dog that had some extreme fear. Kay was on the cutting edge of a new way of looking at dog training that is rooted in the science of understanding behavior. At the time, the way things had been done was punishing the behavior instead of looking at the root cause. So for three or four years I followed her around like a little duckling, and learned everything I could. She entrusted me with teaching some of her classes and that’s what allowed this calling to transform into a profession.

What are the most popular classes you offer?

The flagship classes are puppy kindergarten and obedience basics classes. Both of those classes aren’t really dog training classes, per se. They’re really about dog parenting and teaching people how to create a lifestyle with their dog. Clients are always telling me, “I’m the one who’s getting trained!”

Have you trained any dogs that are doing special things around the community?

We’ve had a number of dogs become therapy dogs at Enloe. We offer therapy dog prep class, but they need a good level of training beforehand, which they can get through our basic and intermediate prep class.

Any favorite success stories?

People with puppies find that they’re way more work than they imagined. I just saw a puppy [that I had once worked with] last Saturday. At one point the family was seriously questioning if they could keep the dog. But they continued to work with their training and did private lessons. When I saw them last week I asked them, “Are you going to keep this dog?” They started laughing and couldn’t believe they almost thought of getting rid of the dog at one point. But puppyhood does pass, and if it’s taken seriously, people can pave the way for a great relationship with their dog.

How do you have time to be a professor and run this business?

The first way is that I have a fantastic staff. The second way is because this is my other life. Most people have families and soccer with kids, and other obligations. The Canine Connection is my family. I often say that instead of having a child, I had a business. And it is like a child!