After eight years as Good Dog’s Lead Trainer, Sam Quackenbush is stepping down from the position this Spring to focus on her growing family, including homeschooling her three beautiful boys. At yesterday’s graduation, Sam was recognized with The SO Faithful Companion Award, which is presented to a person or group that significantly helps Good Dog! advance their mission of helping children and families live better lives through service dog companionship.
We are forever grateful to Sam’s immeasurable contributions to Good Dog, past and future, as we are lucky to keep her on the team as a Senior Trainer. To share a bit more about Sam’s legacy, Bubba's former puppy raiser Nicki, interviewed Sam. We hope you enjoy the conversation with Sam and Nicki!
The people behind Good Dog! Service Canines have made the organization be what it is. I had the opportunity to interview Samantha Quackenbush, Senior Trainer and Former Lead Trainer of Good Dog! Her impact has helped the growth and expansion of Good Dog! Service Canines for years.
Samantha’s dog training journey started while at MiraCosta College in Oceanside, California, when she saw a service dog organization’s booth at a career fair. This ignited her interest in pursuing a job in dog training. After a self-study on dog training and teaching her rescue puppy, she got a job as a dog trainer at Petco. She continued learning by being mentored by other dog trainers and eventually enrolling at Bergin University of Canine Studies in Sonoma County, California to receive an associate degree in Assistance Dog Education. That was only the beginning, though.
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Nicki (Interviewer): What do you love about service dog training? What is your favorite part of doing it?
Samantha: I really enjoy the fact that the dog stays with me long term, and I get to do all the training. I don’t enjoy as much training pet dogs because that’s more of training the dog parents how to train their dog and they often times don’t follow through with the training. Obviously, the best part of training service dogs is the impact it makes on somebody’s life when they get the dog.
How did you get involved with Good Dog?
I was attending Bergin University of Canine Studies and I met Laura and Rick [Sylvester] through a Zoom call that they did during one of our classes.
How has Good Dog! changed and evolved since you started in 2013?
When I first started, it was just me and a couple other trainers that also went to Bergin with me. We just trained the dogs and handed them over. It wasn’t a big program then (although it is still not a huge program) but it’s much bigger now than when I started. After a couple years of training, I was asked to become the Lead Trainer and after that, we started an Apprentice Trainer program to get more trainers involved in the program. We grew from there. Then we started getting puppy raisers!
What responsibilities did you have in your jobs with Good Dog, first being a trainer and then Lead Trainer?
As a trainer, my responsibility was to train the dog that I had by teaching it all the Good Dog! commands, making sure that it was well-behaved in the home and had good public access manners, and making sure that the dog was well socialized. As the Lead Trainer, I trained up to two dogs at a time while managing all the trainers in the organization and overseeing the puppy raising program.
What is one of your proudest moments?
The moments I cherish the most are when our Apprentice Trainers graduate the Apprentice Trainer program and develop into great trainers themselves and are able to graduate more service dogs. I think that is pretty cool.
Saying goodbye to service dogs when they have finished their training and go home to their families is difficult. How did you navigate through that so many times?
Definitely in the beginning it was more difficult; as time went on, I got used to it. Once they get to a certain point, once they’re ready to graduate, you just feel like they are ready to move on. They are able to go and help someone else’s life. There is a purpose to it. That’s the thing you have to keep in mind. And obviously, you bond more with some dogs than you do with others.
What have you learned over the years with Good Dog?
In general, just learning how to train autism service dogs was a huge thing that I learned because that is not something specifically taught at Bergin. Learning how to work with families of the graduating dogs and learning how to teach trainers is also something I have learned.
Who was the last service dog in training you trained? How many service dogs in training have you trained (counting the ones that did not graduate)?
The last dog I worked with was Good Dog! Bubba. The last dogs that graduated was Juniper and Jelly. In total, I worked with 17 (8 service dogs, 3 facility dogs, 1 demo dog, and 5 released dogs).
What are your future plans?
My most immediate future plan is to have a baby in May and then settle into being a stay-at-home mom and homeschooling. In the fall, I will start training at least one service dog at a time again.
What advice do you have for aspiring service dog trainers?
My biggest advice would be to seek out information on dog training from different places, so don’t limit your education to one school or one place that you are learning from.
You can continue to learn dog training tips from Sam by checking out the