I recently wrote about how my dog, Riggins, led me to my current career. Lili Chin had a similar experience. Her Boston Terrier, Boogie, inspired her to become a pet portraitist and illustrator/educator of positive reinforcement dog training.
Chin came to the U.S. from Sydney 10 years ago. Her partner and she had sold an animated kids series to Warner Bros., and they moved here to work on it. Chin began creating pet portraits as a side project, drawing people’s dogs in exchange for a donation to Boston Buddies Rescue. The Southern California group was close to her heart — she was an active fosterer and eventually adopted Boogie from them.
Chin’s fundraising efforts soon became a side business and then a full-time job. Her love for Boogie and her need to find effective dog-training methods led her to those on the cutting edge of positive reinforcement training.
“I adopted my dog Boogie from Boston Buddies; he was three or four. When I adopted him, I was told that he was put in the shelter by his previous owners because he had bit somebody. I didn’t believe it at the time because he was so sweet and the perfect dog. Then it happened. He bit someone.” The incident almost caused Chin and Boogie to be evicted from their apartment. “It was bad. It was really bad. A real life-changing experience.”
In an off-the-cuff comment, her building manager offered her a way she may be able to stay. He suggested seeking out dog trainer Cesar Millan’s advice and getting on his popular television show, The Dog Whisperer. As it turns out, Chin was a big fan of the trainer: “I thought he was God’s gift to dogs.”
She made some calls and actually got a call back from a producer. They felt Boogie’s story would be a great one for the show, but they needed footage of him being aggressive before they were able to move forward. In order to get any footage, Chin would have to make Boogie aggressive, and she did not feel comfortable doing that. “I didn’t want to put anyone’s life at risk, and I didn’t want to aggravate Boogie,” she explains.
Her unwillingness to get footage of Boogie’s problem left her without the trainer she so desperately needed. “In my naivety, I Googled and picked the first name that came up.” Boogie and Chin enrolled in a doggie boot camp. With her home or her dog on the line, it was an extremely stressful time, and she was determined to be a good student. “I did everything the trainer said.” This included having Boogie in a prong training collar 24/7, keeping him tethered to her, and using harsh jerking movements with the leash to get him to obey.
The strict training wasn’t working. In fact, Boogie was getting worse. “He [Boogie] became really shut down and was afraid of everyone.” Chin went back to the trainer with her concerns, but was told to keep going. During a training session when she was told to push Boogie on his side and force him to lie down, she knew it was too much. “All sorts of alarm bells were going off in my head. It just felt like I couldn’t continue with the program. It was just too stressful, and Boogie was upset and not getting any better.”
As it turns out, Dogster actually played a part in Chin’s journey. Not knowing what to do, she wrote to us seeking guidance. Dog behaviorist Grisha Stewart responded. She told her to ditch the prong collar and look into positive reinforcement training.
Chin did just that and realized how little she knew about dog training and the different options. “What I was being taught by my trainer was old school and out of date.” Through her research, she found trainer Sarah Owings and started doing illustrations of Boogie’s lessons on Owings’ blog. Chin says, “It was the first time any of those training methods had been represented visually.”
Seeing her work, Stewart reached out and asked if she would be interested in illustrating her new book introducing BAT (Behavior Adjustment Training), a training method that she developed for dogs who experience fear, frustration, and aggression. Chin agreed.
Chin moved on to work with the late dog behaviorist and vet Dr. Sophia Yin and was her illustrator for three years. “She [Yin] got into behavior training because a lot of dogs were being euthanized due to behavior issues.” With Chin’s drawings, Yin helped owners understand how to handle dogs and cats in a stress-free way.
Not only was Chin working with some well-known positive behavior trainers and advocates, she herself was becoming more knowledgeable and realized that what she was learning, and helping to teach with her illustrations, was information that could help so many other dog owners. “I didn’t realize this was all really common.” As she puts it, her illustrations went viral because they “touched a cord with a lot of people.”
Allowing some of her most popular teaching and learning tools to be downloaded for free from her website seemed like the obvious next step. “It’s useful information that is really important. It needs to be out there.” Chin set up a PayPal Donation button on her site for those people who wish to give money in appreciation for the work.
You also can find Chin’s work being used to teach students, prison inmates, and police officers dog body language. And she provided the illustrations for the recently released DogDecoder app, created by dog trainer Jill Breitner.
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About the author: Wendy Newell is a former VP of Sales turned Grade A Dog Sitter. After years of stress, she decided to leave the world of “always be closing” to one of tail wags and licks. Wendy’s new career keeps her busy hiking, being a dog chauffeur, picking up poo, sacrificing her bed, and other fur-filled activities. Wendy and her dog, Riggins, take their always-changing pack of pups on adventures throughout the Los Angeles area, where they live together in a cozy, happy home. You can learn more about Wendy, Riggins, and their adventures on Facebook and Instagram.