Since Jackie Ward joined The Little Black Dog Rescue Group (TLBD) as its Behavioral Director last year, she’s been a valuable resource who places training and behavioral support for our rescue dogs and foster community at the center of the organization.
As we celebrate National Train Your Dog Month (yes, that’s a real thing!), the owner of Citali Dog Training sits down with us to share more about her background, her favorite training “win” and why The Little Black Dog holds a special place in her heart.
Tell me a little bit about your background. Have you always been an animal lover?
I was an animal enthusiast since the day I was born. We had dogs, cats, birds, lizards, even a ferret. Whenever I needed to convince my parents to rescue a new animal, I’d watch hours of VHS tapes about that type of animal and then write a report. It was a successful strategy.
I eventually got the big one – a horse. For a five-year-old to ride a 1,000+-pound animal, it takes respect and perception skills that transcend words to communicate with the animal safely and effectively. It was a formative experience that shaped my ability to pick up on animals’ physical and behavioral communication.
As a teenager, I rescued a horse from auction. She was considered a failed racehorse. She would get scared, buck, run off – I was at a loss for how to train her. I started exploring natural horsemanship training (the equivalent of positive-reinforcement training in the canine world), and something clicked. It opened up this whole other universe of training. I spent the next years of my life apprenticing with a natural horsewoman, studying Equine Sciences at Colorado State and helping to professionally train “problem horses” with a humane, force-free approach.
I fell in love and moved to D.C. about 12 years ago. Logistically, it’s a little bit harder to work with horses in this area. Before I moved to Colorado, I had rescued my dog, Finnegan. Throughout this whole period, he was right beside me as my hiking partner and ranch dog who loved cruising to the stables and chasing rabbits (and later, after moving to the D.C. area, squirrels). He was charismatic and incredibly smart – I loved training him. He was always there for me, through relationships, career changes, kids, the pandemic and welcoming our Labradoodle, Betty, into the family.
When Finnegan passed from cancer, I started fostering dogs to help manage the grief. I wanted to honor the rescue community that had brought me Finn. I foster-failed with Suki a super-cool and empathetic dog who’s also extremely play-driven. I’ve propelled so much of my grief into training Suki at a high level in many forms of dog sports, like agility, tricks, scent work, and obedience; as well as working to continue helping dogs in the rescue community.
I was working with rescue groups in the area, and there was always discussion around the best training guidance fosters should be given to support their foster dogs. There was never a trainer onboard to offer knowledge-based support. With my experiences, it seemed like I was able to offer experience and scientific-based responses to the questions about training.
I’m friends with Sarah [Yuhas Schiltz, president of TLBD], and in our discussions regarding TLBD, we both agreed that training, behavior assessment and behavior modification would best serve the fosters, adopters and, ultimately, the dogs. Training is key in the success of a rescued dog's future.
I committed myself to canine behavior and training education to ensure my equine experiences transferred. As I self-educated to receive a Certification for Professional Dog Trainers, took classes with some of the best trainers in the business through the Fenzi Sport Dog Academy and gained knowledge and experience with the IAABC, CPDT, FSDA, and the APDT to advance my volunteer and professional acumen, I offered foundations classes to volunteers from The Little Black Dog. I’ve continued working with the group to ensure our dogs are able to adjust as best as possible to their rescued lives.
Roxy was my second foster dog who was adopted by my neighbor. She started to become dog-reactive, so I began coaching her to make better choices. I can now dog-sit Roxy in my multi-dog house, and she even comes over to participate in dog playgroups from time to time.
Overall, I love watching people connect with their dogs when they may have once felt defeated in their relationship. It’s such a beautiful relationship, and it’s special to curate harmony -- give people an outlet to understand their dogs and to give dogs an outlet to understand us as humans.