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As a dog trainer, Kelli Parker said she “expects rising competition in her field,” as the pet industry catapults into a multi-billion dollar business.

According to American Pet Products, in 2014 U.S. consumers spent an estimated $58.51 billion on food, supplies, vet care, live animal purchases and pet services like training, grooming and boarding. With Americans taking in multiple pets, this number has the potential to increase over the next few years.

Parker, owner of Bully Brigade & All Training out of Fredricksberg, VA, feels the pet industry really took off after shows like The Dog Whisperer on National Geographic and Pit Bulls & Parolees on Animal Planet became a popular success.

“This industry is vibing and growing, and will continue to do so. I think Caesar Milan (“The Dog Whisperer”) really did a lot for the pet industry and showed people that dogs can be rehabilitated and trained,” Parker said. “That kind of hope allows people to feel more comfortable bringing a dog into their life and caring for a pet over time costs money and therefore adds up into a multi-billion dollar business.”

Her business, which offers a multitude of training services in addition to consultations, dog walking, and pet sitting launched in 2010. She recently made the move to partner with Just Fur Pets, a doggy day care service.

Parker has also become a dog advocate and has been instrumental in repealing the pit bull ban in Charles County, Maryland, and said the fight will continue in Prince George’s County where she is lobbying legislators to repeal all pit bull bans.

As a full-time trainer and advocate, Parker juggles up to 20 clients at a time, but still managed to chat with MadameNoire in a phone interview.

MadameNoire: How did you become so passionate about dog training?

Kelli Parker: Growing up I always wanted to be a zoologist and over time I had some of my own dogs. When I was in college I adopted my first American pit bull terrier named Sasha from a local rescue and that dog just really change my life. Now I have four adopted pit bulls.

I began volunteering and fostering various breeds of dogs from local rescues and I just found that I really had a way with them. I ended up attending the Animal Behavioral College and training has become my number one love. I love talking to people and helping them learn about their dogs and it is an amazing feeling being able to show them how to train and how to have a wonderful relationship with their pet. Someone may have so much frustration with their dog, oftentimes they are at their wits end. But showing them how to love and respect their dog but still instituting consistent discipline is just the best feeling I have ever had.

MN: What is one of the biggest problems you tackle while showing people how to train their dogs?

Parker: I think it’s the fact that people often humanize their dogs. People have to understand and remember that their dog is still an animal and they don’t understand all of the extra emotion that we as people bring to the table. So when I get a client that is fed up and they are ready to take their dog to the pound, I sit down and have a consultation with them to see what is actually going on with their dog and the relationship that they have. When they learn the training and begin to work with their dog consistently and see it working and watch their dogs have breakthroughs it just really makes me smile. I am not only there to help the dog, I am also there to relieve the client’s stress.

MN: What does the D.C. area have to offer in terms of dog services and businesses?

Parker: In the last few years, and in the D.C. area alone, dog businesses have grown exponentially. There is always something going on with dogs and I feel like there is some kind of training, grooming, or doggy day care business on every corner. But, I think success here depends more on what you want and where you want to go, meaning you have to have a direction and a focus. There are stores that offer really cutesie dog products and casual training, and there are some other places that offer training for all different breeds. It really just depends on what direction to take.

MN: What do you think is the most important aspect of your business?

Parker: Now that this field is becoming so popular and it is still unregulated, a lot of training facilities are offering low-grade service and at the end of the day you get what you pay for. I try to offer a wide range of in-depth training and I think that keeps people’s attention. You can always find a puppy class or a kindergarten class, but I have private trainings, as well as classes that take multiple dogs and owners at one time. I am giving owners information to be powerful — for all ages of dogs, as well as dogs that have a bite history and for others that are considered dangerous for the county and are on the verge of being euthanized.

MN: What has been your most recent activity in terms of changing legislation for pit bull bans?

Parker: As a  trainer my focus is on the safety of the community, and educating dog owners on their responsibilities. One way to do that was by becoming an advocate for pit bulls. Me, among many other advocates have been instrumental in repealing pit bull bans in Charles and Prince George County in Maryland and we actually were able to lead a successful campaign against the Charles County Commissioners Office. I don’t think the government was expecting the public outcry and everyone across the board from young and old advocated for this breed.

The ban continues in Prince George County but I think we will be able to repeal this ban with the support of the community. I wish people would understand that different breeds of dogs are just like different races for people. If you have a bad experience with a certain race, we should try not to judge the entire race based on that one bad experience. I feel that this is what has happened to pit bulls, and throughout history this has happened over and over again — first with German Shepherds, then with Rottweilers, and Doberman Pinchers, and now with pit bulls. A properly trained dog can be completely rehabilitated. Even look at dogs that were rescued during the controversy with Michael Vick. Those dogs were able to be saved even after their horrible treatment.

MN: Where do you see your business going in the next five years?

Parker: Well first, I hope to gain more clients, work with more dogs and of course advocate for dogs as much as I can. Right now I am training at two facilities – at Just Fur Pets and Colonial K-9. But I think I would like to eventually add my own training facility with a retail space for grooming. Being able to board and train dogs would just be a major step up for me. It would give me more time with dogs and I would be able to even take them in for five to 10 days and work with them more in depth. I would also have the space to work with owners to transfer them the information, technique, and terminology of what I have taught their dog so the owner doesn’t miss a beat. That really is my dream and it’s just a matter of time before I can put that together.

MN: In a male dominated industry, have you encountered problems as a woman – or even as a woman of color?

Parker: It’s funny you ask that because there are so many people that say to me, “I did not know that Black women train dogs.” I have also had people not hire me because they found out that I was Black and I have had people hire me because of that fact. I do not understand what color has to do with training a dog, but one thing I do know for sure. It is so important to show the kids out there that no matter what your color is you can do anything you want. They need to see that fields, including working with animals, can be diversified. Again, this is a multi-billion dollar industry and there should be no reason why anyone should feel they can’t participate in that.

MN: What would be your advice for an up and coming dog trainer?

Parker: Well I think something that was really important for me was having a mentor in this field. I am also a mentor now for other trainers as well as an American Kennel Club Evaluator. This helps me stay abreast with the latest technology and techniques that are being used in the training world.

I think another thing that helps is to keep learning. Never get complacent and never think you have learned all there is to know. Continue to get education and learn about dogs. Sometimes schools can be expensive but there are internships out there that will help you learn not only about training but also how to run a business. No one taught me the business side of things but I networked and I taught myself and I didn’t give up.

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