Sunday, February 6, 2011

Tales of Reinvention: Joanne Lekas

Joanne Lekas is a certified professional dog trainer and the owner of Happy Dog Behavior Training.  She offers private, in home training sessions as well as group classes throughout the Greater Boston and Cape Cod area. 

On January 28 she, in partnership with Alan Grazioso launched Puppy Coach 101 a quick and easy video based dog training reference App now available through iTunes. 

Once a successful IT sales consultant, now the owner of a thriving new business, Joanne is a Reinventor. 

Sometimes we choose to reinvent ourselves and sometimes it chooses us. What was the defining moment that made you take the leap?

I knew for a while I was done with IT software sales but wasn't doing anything about it. Then I was laid off.  At that moment I didn't know what I wanted to do. Only that I wanted it to be something I loved, was good at, interesting, and flexible. The one thing I knew for sure was that it wasn't going to be another job selling software. I wanted it to be totally different,

How did you get to dog training?
People knew I loved dogs. Many suggested I become a dog walker. But that did not appeal to me. Then in a passing conversation someone suggested dog training.  I'm not sure exactly what made me but I jumped in with no master plan and no research. I was lucky to land a job as an apprentice. But it didn't click right away and I wasn't initially convinced that this was for me.

But something kept pulling me to continue.

I found this five day teacher training workshop in upstate New York. That was when  it all changed. I came back enthused and certain that I was on my path. I had a moment that week where I realized that I had always wanted to be a teacher, it had always been in the back of my mind. I just never knew what I wanted to teach. It was that workshop that got me clear. I wanted to teach dogs and their owners.

Tell me about your business.
About  75% of my business is private in home training for the new puppy, from general obedience  to specific behavior issues. The rest is group classes. Essentially what I am doing is  teaching the owners to communicate more effectively with their dogs. If the owner and their dog  have clear consistent communication  their relationship is a good one.

I like to use the analogy  that it's like teaching a dog English as a second language. When I was a kid my grandparents did not speak English. Because we couldn't communicate that well,  my relationship with them was never close. For an owner and their dog to have a good relationship there has to be clear, consistent, positive communication.

How has or hasn't your work and education experience prepared you?
My background has helped on many levels!

The kind of sales I did involved educating. I had to present to large groups and capture their attention, not unlike what I do running a puppy class. It was also a consultant sell which involved asking a lot of questions, which is exactly what I need to do when a there is a real behavioral issue with a dog. Then there is the marketing of myself and my business to the pet store owners, the veterinarians, dog groomers and boarders. This is a big referral business.  Lastly, there is the follow up which is inherent in any good sales person. It is also very helpful after a session for both the owner and the puppy.

What has been the biggest surprise concerning your reinvention?
How natural this is for me, how easily I get the behavior I want. How quickly my confidence grew. Overall how good I am with the dogs!

What has been the biggest obstacle? 
The biggest was the learning curve.  I read everything I could get my hands on, attended every workshop and seminar I could find. It's a fun business but also serious. If not done properly a dog could develop serious behavioral issues. Early on I referred out the most serious cases until I felt more confident in my knowledge. I continue to learn. Understanding what goes on inside of a dog's mind and how they think is a fascinating and on going process.

As for the business itself, I think more of a challenge than a obstacle was getting a steady stream of clients. Now that I have developed a good, solid reputation that is much easier.

What has come the easiest transitioning out of corporate life?
I'd say one of the most enjoyable parts is getting up in the morning and not having to rush out the door. Being able to set my own schedule because I am my own boss.

Any regrets?

What do you love most?
That I am making a difference with people and their dogs.  I know it might sound corny but when I get an email back from an owner telling me how much they learned and enjoyed the session and what a difference I made with their dog, that really makes my day.

What do you miss most about the Corporate world?
Back when the business was still fun there was a thrill to closing a big deal.
Plus knowing when the next check was showing up.

Do you think anyone can reinvent their life?
In theory yes.  But you need the conviction, determination and passion of your desires.  Sometimes this is part of a master plan, sometimes not, but these qualities are essential.  Then you need the means to begin.  So in practice this is not always easy.  Sometimes financial constraints and family obligations make this more than challenging.  But there is always a way to pursue your dreams on a small scale
to start.  The first step is to explore your options.  A life change can seem so daunting and unrealistic.  But with technology today you can go online and start to research and explore and this can often open the door as to where to start.

You mentioned conviction, determination and passion as necessary qualities. Can you elaborate?
Of course.  Passion is key because you have to love and want something enough to
motivate you to take the first step.  This is where a lot of people get stuck.  They don't know what they want, they just know what they don't want. This is where professional coaching can help provide guidance!

Thanks for the coaching plug!  Can you tell us what are you most proud of to date?
Besides the difference I am making with owners and dogs, it would be the launch of Puppy Coach 101, an App for iPad, iPhone and iTouch.

An App for dog training?
Yes, it's designed for the new puppy or dog owner. The App is very easy to navigate and gives the basics of dog training. While it is by no means a substitute for a professional trainer it does allow for easy, portable, reference.

How did that come to be?
Another random meeting. I was at my Yoga class in the fall of 2009 talking passionately about dog training and this guy overheard me. Alan turned out to be a filmmaker and wanted to talk to me about a project. There was talk of a TV project which then turned into this video based App.  It took almost a year to get to our January 28, 2011 launch.

What advice would you give others contemplating shaking up their lives?
Don't wait forever. It you are passionate about something find a way to pursue it even it's part time for awhile. You want to be doing something that makes you want to wake up in the morning !

Happy Dog Behavior Training serves the Greater Boston and Cape Cod area.  The Puppy Coach 101 App is available anywhere you are iTunes accessible.  

Note: In the interest of full disclosure Joanne Lekas is a member of my big fat Greek family. She is my cousin, my friend and as close to a real blood sister as I have.  And yes, we have the same first name. It's a Greek thing!    

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