Memorable Things I’ve Learned From Pet Seminars


Continuing education is an awesome thing. I am so grateful that my publisher sends me to a couple of places or events each year in order to expand my knowledge of canine health, training and behavior, and nutrition.

Over the past 22 years, I have visited quite a few pet food manufacturing plants, pet food company corporate headquarters, and pet food company testing laboratories. I have attended at least a dozen conferences organized by professional dog training organizations, including Karen Pryor’s ClickerExpo, the Association of Professional Dog Trainers, the Pet Professionals Guild, and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. There are gigantic pet products trade shows, SuperZoo, Global Pet, and one that doesn’t exist any more, HH Backer. In addition, I’ve attended the conferences of veterinary professionals, including the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association.

What I’ve Learned

Each time I come home from an educational opportunity like this, my bags are bursting with product literature, conference proceedings, business cards, and tons and tons of notes about things that I found to be extraordinarily interesting. But then I get back, and, after a week out of town, find myself playing catch up – with my own dogs and family, the next issue of the magazine, and so on. Some of what fascinated me a few weeks prior gets lost – at least until I have a chance to go through my notes again, or get a call from someone I exchanged business cards with, or I read another article about a topic I had just learned about, or I receive a query from a writer who would like to write about that topic for WDJ.

But in every instance, there are at least a few products or topics or presenters that were so riveting, that their memory stands out above all else that I witnessed at that educational opportunity.

Most recently, from SuperZoo, there were two products that leap into mind: a toy (which I will review in the next issue) and a particular type of dog poop picker-upper (which I am waiting to hear has gone into mass production before I promote it).

From the past few training conferences, it was speakers Chirag Patel (a London-based trainer) and Dr. Chris Pachel, a veterinary behaviorist in Portland, Oregon.

Getting Dogs Adopted Faster

And from the most recent small conference I attended, the Canine Science Symposium, held in San Francisco in April, it was a lecture by Dr. Sasha Protopopova, of Texas Tech University about how shelters can improve their marketing efforts to both get more animals adopted and to decrease the length of stay for adoptable animals (i.e., get them adopted faster!).

There were more scientific talks – and there were some really fascinating talks on topics I knew little or nothing about. But this is the one that pops into my head when I think about attending that particular event! Dr. Protopopova started out by showing how many shelters market their wards almost in the same way that unsuccessful job applicants do – by stressing that they need a job by a certain date or they are going to lose their home, and that they are unemployed through no fault of their own. These things might elicit sympathy in employers or potential dog adopters, but they are unlikely to make someone say, “Well, gosh, tell me more!”

Dr. Sasha Protopopova

She cited a number of formal studies that looked at how pets were marketed by shelters and how various things affected (or did not affect) the length of their stay. A really good photo of the animal, for example, was found to correlate with a 67% decrease in the length of stay. The most effective photos of dogs were taken outdoors (correlated with a 27% decrease in length of stay), standing, and making eye contact with the camera.

Put It All Out There?

She also studied research on human dating services, and what made ads for some people more “clickable” than others. Though it’s not a direct corollary, she suggested that some of the same characteristics of successful dating profiles could be applied to adoptable dog profiles, including, of course, several good photos: a short, humorous, memorable description, with only the dogs’ positive attributes described (detailing the dog’s limitations in his ad is similar to someone listing off-putting restrictions in their personal ad, turning off potential partners before a meeting could be arranged to see whether there is enough attraction to warrant working with those limitations).

Anyway, I see descriptions of dogs who are being promoted by various shelters, rescue groups, and fellow foster-providers every day, and I keep thinking about Dr. Protopopova’s talk. Which reminds me, I need to pass along my notes and the Powerpoint presentation of the talk to my local shelter.

What was THE most resonant thing you learned from the last seminar or conference you went to?


  1. Great report! Keep them coming
    I have rescued all my dogs with the last one at 10 y o, pointer, spaniel, blue healer and beagle mix. She is awsome. I really want to get involved with rescues and training. My passion for dogs have been with me since my early childhood
    Keep up your good works! Terri Wess

  2. I love my Whole Dog Journal.
    I find some of the best information and often how to apply it too.
    Currently, i have 2 Australian Shepherds. They are 11 years 8 months.
    They have shown me a new level of “smart dogs”.
    Whole Dog Journal helps me keep up with what is going on to better care for them
    and keep them active.

    Thank you!

  3. Great article and interesting content! I would love to hear about more conferences—maybe WDJ could publish a list of dog conferences. I’m fairly new to the professional dog scene and am always looking for ways to learn more about what others are doing in the field!

  4. Makes so much sense to accentuate the positive in an adoptable dog, wonderful take home message. So glad you have the opportunity to attend so many interesting events … and then share them with us.😄

  5. It was a picture looking of Casey straight into the camera that got me. It was like she ws looking straight into my heart. A good picture is hard to beat. Her’s was a proffessional picture.

  6. Correct , honest , “ marketing “ of a shelter dog is good….but I have also seen this “Marketing “ misused, and though maybe well intentioned, resulting in a bad match…..and heartbreak for the adopters, and often more serious consequences for the adopted dog.

  7. Like you, I love going to training seminars, conferences, and dog product trade shows. I’ve always believed that if I learn ONE great thing my time and money have been well spent. Today I really lucked out! I benefitted from your attendance at the Canine Science Symposium. I’d like to take the part of your blog on “marketing” to my local shelter to help them in matching pets with people. I think it will be useful to use the statistics as proof of the concept. I can see an ad for a middle-aged dog, “…beautiful hair, soulful eyes, kind, loves cuddling and long leisurely walks. Special skill in keeping your back or feet warm on cold nights…”

  8. Consider the Fenzi Dog Sport Academy Camp next spring. It will be the sixth one, and they are so good. In the meantime, there’s always the Academy itself, online and for professional trainers as well as any dog owner. Top notch offerings.