Suzanne Brean always knew that she wanted to make a living working with animals. It took many years and a variety of different paths before she found a way to make that a reality.
Brean is one of the owners of My Little Dog Training Business in Lebanon, and last week she was honored as one of the rising stars at the Women in the Pet Industry Network’s annual gala in Oaks, Pennsylvania.
She and her husband, Clark Brean, a retired teacher at Lebanon High School, attended the event, then took the time to do some sight-seeing in the area.
“I actually got my husband in a suit. For us, that’s huge,” Brean said. “It was fun. We met some great people.”
Schawna Schu, a representative of the Women in the Pet Industry Network, said Brean was honored because her work extends beyond her own business.
“What’s outstanding about Suzanne is the fact that she does a lot of mentoring to other women,” Schu said.
Brean grew up on a farm and earned a master’s degree from Oregon State in poultry developmental genetics. She wanted to attend veterinary school, but that plan didn’t work out.
Instead, she worked many different jobs over the years. She worked for Edward Jones, and had jobs with an environmental firm, a software company and the state of Oregon. She also worked for the Linn County District Attorney’s office for several years.
During this time, animals continued to play a big role in her life. She and her family raised puppies to be trained as service dogs for the blind, gaining an appreciation for how important service dogs can be.
In 2001, Brean suffered a stroke brought on by work stress and found that she needed a service dog of her own. Wyatt served at her side for several years, raising the alert when her stress level was getting too high and she was at risk of a seizure.
“It took six months for me to find the right service dog, or should I say it took six months for the first dog to select me,” Brean said. “To me, the dog needed to pick you. The bond in the service dogs was so important.”
But eventually, even with Wyatt’s assistance, the job in the DA’s office proved to be too much.
After leaving this post at the end of 2010, she created a non-profit, Dogs for Invisible Disabilities. This organization still exists and helps people train their own service dogs, therapy dogs, emotional support animals or companion animals.
Brean earned a wide range of dog training certifications and is a member of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers. She believes being properly trained is important, but she knows dog training isn’t an exact science.
“If you get three dog trainers together, the only thing you’ll get two of them to agree on is that the third one is doing it wrong,” she joked.
Truthfully, she doesn’t believe what she does is best described as dog training at all.
“Training dogs is easy. It’s training the people that is hard,” she said.
She has taught dog training courses for Linn-Benton Community College for several years and initially built up her business by driving to meet clients throughout the entire state. She had clients ranging from southern Oregon to Vancouver, Washington. But she got tired of the long days spent driving and believed there had to be a better way.
My Little Dog Training Business opened the doors at its current location, 3640 South Santiam Highway, in August. Working with partners Jan Kirk and Cloud Walker, the business offers doggie daycare, boarding, dog training, private classes and group sessions. They have plans to expand on their current property and hope to have a dog self-wash service up and running in the future.
Everything they do is based on Brean’s experience and training on what is best for dogs and their owners. The dogs get plenty of time to socialize, but there are also periods for rest and training.
“A tired dog is a happy dog,” Brean said.
Brean continues to rely on a service dog of her own. Aaron, a smooth collie, is the latest. A former show dog, Aaron helps keep an eye on her stress levels, and provides her with mobility assistance.
When it comes to basic tips for all dog owners, she stressed the importance of communication.
“A lot of it is teaching people to talk to their dog, communicate with their dog. Pay attention to the dog’s body language,” Brean said. “If what you are doing is making your dog stressed, then take a break.”