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A Bit About Me

Melissa Cushman and Gunther a Bouvier des Flandres puppy traveling in Europe
Melissa Cushman and Gunther traveling in Europe

I was born and raised in America but consider myself lucky to be living in Germany currently with my husband, two children and two dogs (Gunther and Freya). My passion is virtually helping owners all over the world train scent detection service dogs with a specialty of gluten detection. I also offer virtual lessons in all types of training and I offer limited in person services.

My love of dogs started early with a Bouvier des Flandres named Shadow Bear. According to my mother Shadow Bear helped me learn to walk by letting me pull up to standing using her fur and walking very slowly next to me. As a dog trainer I am slightly horrified that I was tugging on her hair to stand up but luckily, she was a very patient dog who tolerated my shenanigans. It was her wonderful temperament that ensured that in my entire life I have never lived without at least one Bouvier living with me.

My love and appreciation of dog training really started with the boy below: Charlie

Charlie a Bouvier Des Flandres laying by the pool in Florida
Charlie my sweet mess of a heart dog

I was raped at 16 and like so many others that find themselves in that type of situation I hid the fact for over a year. During that time, I suffered from severe undiagnosed PTSD. It was also during that time that Charlie joined our family as a bouncy 6-month-old that had essentially never left the home he was born in. He attached himself to me immediately, the first time I left him to go to the bathroom he dug at the door trying to get to me with a house full of people behind him. He made me feel safe and loved during a time when I was hurting and feeling very alone, unfortunately his poor breeding, poor socialization and my poor mental health was a recipe for disaster. He suffered from severe separation anxiety and reactivity with other dogs and people for most of his life.

His needs sent me into research mode and I tried to learn as much as I could about dog training with the resources I had available to me. Charlie was never a 100 percent safe dog with strangers and other dogs but he lived a long and happy life with my family and was around for the birth of both my children who adored him. I regret the effects my mental health had on him but his comfort and devotion did end up being a large part of my healing from my PTSD and anxiety.

The struggles with Charlie led me to help clients, friends and family with similar behavior issues while focusing on my career as a Veterinary Technician.

When Jezabelle arrived in our home in Germany several years later she couldn't have been more different in temperament to Charlie and she was exactly what I needed to continue my dog training journey.

Jezabelle a Bouvier Des Flandres heeling off leash while walking through the fields in Germany
Jezabelle off leash in Germany

Jezabelle was calm, stable, friendly and smart. She was eager to try anything I asked of her and learned all about agility, obedience, mushing, dog parkour (before it was an actual thing!) and she became my rock steady demo dog especially for reactive dogs.

I took a break from working at veterinary clinics and training dogs professionally for a while when I had my children and focused instead on my family and training my personal dogs for different dog sports for fun and enrichment but not competition. I was thrust back into the dog training world when my daughter was diagnosed with Celiac disease, meaning she could no longer safely eat any foods containing gluten. How did that lead me back to dog training? Well, while researching celiac disease, I found a trainer named Dawn Scheu of Willow Service Dogs Inc. who was training dogs to detect gluten in foods to ensure the foods were safe for Celiac's to eat and I was so intrigued!

At this point Lilly (pictured below) had been added to our family and was well into adulthood. I had trained her in obedience, mushing, and the basics of agility so she was already trained to the high level required of service dogs in public. So, I thought I would try to train her in gluten detection and with the aid of Dawn she was extremely successfully and kept our family safe until her unexpected passing.

Melissa Cushman with Lilly a Bouvier Des Flandres a service dog in training sitting in the grass
Melissa Cushman with Lilly

My love and passion for dog training had been renewed and I couldn't wait to dive into training a new gluten detection dog to keep our family safe (at this point 3 out of the 4 of my family required a gluten free diet!) Thankfully we had begun our search for a new puppy prior to Lilly's passing and we welcomed Gunther (picture below in Paris, France) into our home a short while later.

Gunther a Bouvier Des Flandres Gluten Detection Service Dog laying down in front of the Louvre in Paris, France
Gunther in front of the Louvre in Paris

I started training him for gluten detection right away while also starting an internship program with Dawn so that I could help others train scent related service dog tasks.

While training Gunther and doing my internship I also discovered the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy and started taking online classes for pet professionals wanting to learn more about the science behind dog training and training using force free positive methods.

Two years after Gunther came to our family Freya was added as well. She is trained in gluten detection, obedience, tricks and general sports and has earned 8 titles in the year she has been home with me.

Freya a Bouvier Des Flandres Gluten Detection Service Dog standing on a snow covered log in Stuttgart, Germany

My history with PTSD, Celiac disease and owner training a service dog make me uniquely empathetic to handlers looking to train a service dog because I personally understand the unique challenges of having a disability and training/owning a service dog.

My struggles with my personal dog Charlie helped me to understand the frustration of loving and owning a difficult dog. If you are struggling with your dog’s behavior my experience and education will help you create a happier, less frustrating life for you and your dog!

Charlie also taught me the value of setting dogs up for success in life which is why I am passionate about starting puppies off with good socialization and teaching them that training and learning is fun right from the start.

If you would like to work with me to set your dog up for success click the link below!

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