May 16, 2011Vol. 41, Issue 6

Finding Her ‘Big Wow’

After finishing her PhD in 1996 and beginning her professional dog training in 1997, her passion gave her the energy to excel in both. “When I first moved here, I thought I’d take a break from training for awhile,” says Richardson, pictured at left with two of her dogs, Rhodie and Lenny. “But I couldn’t stay away from dog training for long.”

In 2002, Richardson opened Canine Connection in Chico, a training facility that uses positive reinforcement and a deeper understanding of animal behavior, setting it apart from many other dog training businesses. “No one in Chico had this same approach to training at the time,” she says. Canine Connection first teaches people how to understand their dogs, a psychological understanding that the humans then use to train their animals. (Below, Richardson demonstrates her training techniques during a group teaching session.)

Dog training and teaching college students may seem like two completely different fields, but Richardson finds a lot of overlap. “The laws of learning apply, regardless of species,” she says. Teaching and training both involve knowledge of motivation, and Richardson has developed an understanding of learning theory from both careers.

This overlap is what allowed Richardson to create Human-Animal Interactions, a course unique to CSU, Chico that focused on learning how to use animals as a tool for wellness. The class centered on the physical, psychological, and social benefits of animals to humans.

Richardson shares a deep understanding of animals after many years of working with them. Dogs in particular can be used for wellness, as Richardson knows firsthand. She formed a group in Chico called Pets with Purpose. This pet therapy group goes to local rehab facilities and hospitals to cheer patients up by bringing a dog for them to interact with.

Although Human-Animal Interactions isn't currently being offered, other classes Richardson teaches in special events and community recreation management allow her bring forth this same passion. Her background has helped her understand effective ways of learning, and Richardson’s business has provided her with real-life experiences to bring into the classes she teaches. “Having my business adds a whole new layer to my teaching to be able to share real-life experiences with my students,” she says. “When I talk about event planning, it’s not just abstract. I give them examples of the event I planned the week before.”

photo of Richardson surrounded by dogsRichardson thinks of her academic field as the “icing on the cake,” saying, “Recreation and parks management provides the specialness in people’s lives—and animals are one form of that specialness.” Many forms of leisure for people include their dogs—walking with them, taking them to dog parks, socializing with other dog lovers—and Richardson loves the field she teaches in because of this.

“I have learned the importance of service to something that you love," she says. "You have to love what you do.”

Richardson also mentions the importance of mentoring, and how a mentor of hers helped her figure out what she wanted to do in her career. The mentoring she received inspires her to mentor others, she notes. She gives the example of a student who came up to her after a lecture saying she wanted some event-planning experience. “I allowed her to plan a party at Canine Connection, and now she can use that experience on her résumé,” she says. “It’s neat to give opportunities to people.”

Just as she mentors her staff to get them certified in dog training, Richardson mentors her students to find what she calls their “big wow!”

—Cassandra Jones, intern, Public Affairs and Publications