MATTOON -- Kayla Danford spent a recent sunny afternoon hanging out with a German shepherd puppy named "Otis" at Lytle Park in Mattoon.
What might have looked like recreation from a distance was actually a day at work for Danford, a former Mattoon resident who trains service dogs such as Otis and provides obedience training. She also offers pet grooming services through her All In One Sit 'N Done business, based at her Arthur home.
She got pointed in the direction of this canine career field at a young age. Danford said she grew up owning dogs at her family's home in Newman and she trained her first dog, a Doberman, when she was 7 years old. As an adult, Danford said she learned about training service dogs from Jodi Shepherd, a dog trainer who now owns Canine Behavior Solutions & Obedience in Louisville, Ky.
Danford said her work as a trainer often starts with helping direct clients to dog breeds with temperaments that would meet their specific needs, although she can train other breeds preferred by her clients if feasible. Danford said she starts working with the dogs when they are puppies and takes a "strategic approach" to training them alongside their owners.
"I help train the owner to help train the dog," Danford said. "That way the owner and the dog have a good connection with each other. They can read each other's body language."
Danford said her work in recent years has included training a couple of service dogs that assist owners who suffer from epileptic seizures. She is currently training a dog that can help find its owner's autistic child if the child runs off and gets lost.
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In addition, Danford said she has trained two dogs to assist veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Danford said one of these dogs can detect changes in its owner's body chemistry and form a barrier between him and other people if the veteran is nervous. She said the other dog provides comfort for a veteran who is reclusive and encouragement for him when he is away from home.
Danford said she can train dogs at her workplace in Arthur but prefers meeting with them at their new homes alongside their owners.
"I like to go to them there because the dog is in its surroundings and usually the owner is more comfortable in their own place," Danford said. The trainer said she also goes with dogs and their owners to stores and parks, such as Lytle, to help the dogs learn to follow commands in public places.
Madi Murphy of Hammond and her new service dog, Otis, recently met Danford at Lytle Park for a training session. Murphy said Danford is patient with the 13-week-old German shepherd and gives him lots of affection. She said Otis has been well behaved in public and has been learning to handle a variety of assistance tasks as a service dog.
"Kayla is a a really good trainer and she is really good with Otis," Murphy said. "She is a natural dog person."
Danford said her long-term goal is to save up enough money from her work as a dog trainer and as a groomer with All In One Sit 'N Done, which started in early summer, to start a pet boarding business. Danford said she takes joy from bringing happiness to dogs and their owners.
"I enjoy seeing their happy faces, the good vibe between the pup and the owner," Danford said.
Contact Rob Stroud at (217) 238-6861. Follow him on Twitter: @RobStroud