In our new "Tips from our Trainer" series, we're giving readers the chance to have one of their training questions answered by a professional. But first, we'd like to introduce you to the amazing photographer, animal lover, and trainer extroadinaire, Natalia Martinez!

By Natalia Martinez

To say I have always had a deep love and appreciation for animals is an understatement. I apparently learned to walk by holding on to the family dog! Maybe it's because I am an introvert, but I always found a kinship with animals, dogs in particular, and found it easy to lose myself in that quiet world of wordless conversations.

As a kid, I dreamed of becoming a photographer for National Geographic Magazine, and animals were my constant subjects, from coloring books to endless rolls of film.

A favorite photographer/teacher/ friend of ours Chris Orwig always said: "You as a photographer, have to photograph what you care about, it will automatically make your work better and you'll get me as a viewer, to care about it too." I loved these words, but I never really understood their value until we started photographing companion animals. Quite simply and personally, we always found joy in photographing our Labrador Retriever, Corbin; but when he got cancer, those images took on a whole different value. Corbin has beaten cancer twice, and his ever-happy and positive demeanor has taught us to never waste a frame, so to speak. After that, something shifted, and all of a sudden, I had found my calling; combining my two passions: art + animals. 

And so Photo Lab Pet Photography was born, and a couple of years later Design Lab Creative Studio; both in honor of the Black Lab that started it all.

My interest and work in canine behavior was born from that as well, almost by accident. I believe that in order to better photograph my subject, I need to understand it perfectly. So I enrolled in Trish King's Canine Behavior Academy (now known as Courses in Canine Behavior) and from the first class, I was hooked. I believe understanding and appreciating canine behavior has not only made me a better animal photographer, capable of connecting with our subjects and getting them comfortable with us and our equipment and providing a more enjoyable experience to our clients; but it has also made me a better person, learning so much about myself in the process, and finding clues to why I feel such a strong kinship with dogs and cats.

Since graduating from the Canine Behavior Academy in the Fall of 2011, I have joined the Sonoma Humane Society's Behavior and Training Department as a volunteer doing behavior evaluations for shelter dogs and assisting in behavior problem consults and training classes. I am currently working my way up to providing training classes in Spanish as part of the SHS team. We regularly photograph shelter animals as members of HeARTs Speak; have written a blog series on understanding dog behavior and have since found that I have a particular soft side and affinity for fearful dogs; having recently adopted a fearful pup named Willow, whom we had fostered and worked with for almost four months. Her progress has been nothing short of fascinating to me.

Today we are lucky to share our home with four wonderful creatures, our constant muse and inspiration in the shape of Corbin, an 8 year old black Labrador; Leeloo and RT, two very different and incredibly funny cats; and our newest pack member Willow, a bright and beautiful one-year-old German Shepherd/Australian Kelpie mix, the fearful dog that taught us how to be brave.

In short, I am a dog nerd, and proud of it. I read and watch anything I can get my hands on regarding dogs, cats, animal behavior, training and cognition; and yet I believe that we never stop learning; dogs are too complicated and fascinating a subject to presume we know everything there is to know about them, or their relationship with us. It is also my humble belief that the more we know and understand about the dogs (and cats) we share our life with, the stronger our bonds to them will be and this will make for happier dogs, and happier humans too.

I will do my best to provide advice on whatever challenge you may be facing with your dog, but I will also refer you to many other helpful resources and will always recommend you find a great dog trainer or certified behaviorist that can help you address your concerns face to face and create a solution custom to you and your dog's needs.

Below are a few links to help you find someone near you.

 Find a Trainer:

 Find a Certified Canine Behaviorist:

By Play Admin on Feb 20, 2013 at 2:41 pm 0 Comments

When adding a new four-legged family member to your home, it's important to ease your pup into the space. Slowly reward your pup with freedom throughout your house once he's earned it.

Many pet owners make the common mistake of giving their pup access to too much space, too soon. This can lead to accidents (that you might find much later in an infrequently used room... eeew) and other unwanted behaviors (chewing furniture, etc.). When you're home, start by keeping your pup leashed to you so that you can pay attention to his actions (if he needs to go potty, he starts chewing something, etc.). If you aren't able to keep a close eye on him, shut the doors to unused rooms and put up some gates to section off safe areas of your house (you can also put him a kennel if you want to crate train). Make sure that he has access to water, a place to sleep (like a soft pet bed), and some dog toys or treats to keep him occupied. Gradually reward him with access to new parts of the house once he's earned it.

By Play Admin on Jan 30, 2013 at 12:00 am 0 Comments

National Train Your Dog Month Training Tip #18: Be Realistic! Training new commands and changing old behaviors can take time and dedication. So don't get upset when your pup doesn't pick something up right away.

Changing a habit (like barking or digging) can take awhile, especially if your pup has been allowed to do it for years! But remember, with patience and consistency, it's never too late to learn new tricks!

By Play Admin on Jan 29, 2013 at 1:28 pm 0 Comments