Meet Cory, Professional Dog Trainer and Production Manager at High Tail Hikes!

It's March "Meet the Maker" Month, so I thought we thought it would be fitting to feature Cory Abshear, our amazing Production Manager, on the blog! Cory heads up leash production here at the shop, manages our inventory, and generally keeps things running ship shape at High Tail Hikes! Cory is also a certified dog trainer and a volunteer at the East Bay SPCA. Cory is passionate about animal welfare and giving companion animals the best life possible. She is an incredibly hardworking, hilarious, and inspiring human, and the best Treat Auntie any dog could hope to have! 

Read on to learn more about her love for animals, how she’s making a difference in their lives, her favorite High Tail Hikes products, and what her plans are for the future of her professional dog training career.

Hi Cory! Thanks so much for talking with us for the blog! To start out, can you tell us a little bit about your background - where you're from, if you had dogs growing up, and your life before the dog world? 

Hi Boss Lady! Thank you so much for asking me to be a part of your blog!

I am originally from San Diego, CA but moved to the Bay Area 22 years ago to attend UC Berkeley where I earned a degree in English Literature. 

I immediately fell in love with the Bay Area and decided to never leave. Growing up, I was the kid that always brought home strays begging my mom to let me keep them. I must have been hard to say no to because many of them ended up becoming family pets. 

There were two dogs that I really considered my dog. One was an Australian Shepherd named Willie, and one was a super mutt that was the last free puppy in the cardboard box in front of K-Mart named Tugs. 

They were both very different, Willie being more reserved and concerned with herding us kids in the yard, and Tugs being a rough and tumble blockhead boy who just loved to squish a tennis ball in his mouth. 

They both taught me at a young age that dogs definitely have their own personalities and that every one of them is perfect in their own way. 

After college (and realizing that the internet had killed my dreams of being a librarian), I kind of fell into the service industry world as a bartender for the next 16 years. It was a fun and crazy ride that luckily afforded me a lot of free time during the day.

It was during that free time that I started volunteering and fundraising for various nonprofits which helped me find my way into the dog world.

Cory sits in the grass with a dog who is looking at the camera
Cory featuring one of the many dogs she's helped

 

Have you always been a dog person/animal lover? What made you decide that you wanted to get involved in the dog world? 

I have always been an animal lover. I don't remember this, but I was told that when I was very young, I had a complete breakdown at Sea World because I wanted to free the dolphin, and I was trying to find a way to break them out of their enclosure. 

With better planning, my toddler self might have come up with a better heist.

I would spend hours as a kid reading biology picture books and hanging out with our pets. I've always felt a lot more comfortable being myself around animals than I have around people, and I've always wanted to make my animal friends just as comfortable. 

I was getting burned out bartending and started trying to fill my free time with volunteering for various causes I held close to my heart. I had been lucky enough to be a mom to many different cats since moving to the Bay Area, but I missed being around dogs. 

Once I started volunteering with dogs, I knew I never wanted to do anything else. 

How did you first get involved in working with dogs?

I volunteered at a local shelter first as someone that came in once a week and cleaned kennels, made dinners, did laundry, etc. I quickly became hooked on helping and started taking on more responsibility. 

I wanted to spend as much of my free time there as possible, so I could have more time with the sweet babes waiting for their forever homes. Eventually, I became an adoption coordinator and personally helped 65 dogs find their families. 

I was lucky enough to meet a few amazing people there, including the brilliant Ali Sutch of Up 2 Snuff and the amazing Brittany Jacobsen-Turnbeaugh of Bae Dogs.

Learning from them about positive reinforcement training and how to compassionately communicate with animals changed everything for me. 

Cory works with a dog on positive reinforcement training
Cory working with a dog using positive reinforcement training

 

When/how did you decide you wanted to work with dogs professionally? What made you decide to get your training certification? 

While still at that original shelter, I learned a lot from people like Ali and Brittany about how to approach dogs as peers instead of pets.

It occurred to me what a beautiful life it would be to help people learn how to build a better relationship with their dogs through respect and empathy.

After learning so much from them and taking courses on my own, I realized how little of what that shelter was doing was actually living up to the "least intrusive minimally aversive" (LIMA) style I wanted to pursue and it broke my heart.

I (amongst others) beat my head against a wall trying to change things, but in the end, it just taught me what my boundaries are and where I wanted to stand as a dog professional. 

I wanted to help as many dogs as I could, and I wanted to do it the right way. I wanted to make sure I received proper education in force-free training methods, and that I understood the science behind everything. In order to help dogs, I needed to start from the beginning and absorb all the information I could. 

A certification seemed like a logical first step!

How did you get involved in working with High Tail Hikes? What are some of your favorite products, to use and to make? What's a product that you would like to design? 

Unsurprisingly to anyone that knows her, Ali Sutch actually opened the door for me at High Tail Hikes. 

I was looking for a more stable dog walking job with a positive-reinforcement-based company because I only had a few clients on my own then. Ali introduced us, but you let me know that you didn't really need help with walks at the moment, but down the line, you might need someone to help make leashes.

I had been drooling over the High Tail Hikes Instagram page for months and even had my own 10' Green Apple leash (a gift from Ali & Paisley), so I was definitely interested. 

It took a month or two for us to get our ducks in a row, but once you brought me into the shop, I was hooked! That rivet press and I were destined to be together. 

I am a sucker for a classic long line without frills. 

For my private walking clients, I use long lines between 15'-20' all in size small (even for the big pups!) because biothane is incedibly strong, and I want the line to be as lightweight as possible for the dog.

I love that biothane is so easy to clean and feels like butter in your hands compared to other fabrics. It is also easier to gather and give out slack with biothane than any other leash I have used, which is hugely important when doing decompression walks with the shy babies I work with!

Honestly, Liz, you have turned me into a complete leash snob, and I love it. 

We have so many great products already, it is hard to think of anything new, especially since we just released the Hands-Free Collection

I have been toying around with an idea for some kind of biothane strap/belt for treat pouches. I think it could give an added sense of security having a more sturdy material like biothane holding the ever-important bag of treats, but I don't have a specific design in mind...yet!

A cute dog sleeps on Cory's lap
Minnow rests easy in Cory's arms

 

You're busy and have a lot going on! Tell us about what your typical day/week looks like these days? 

My average week is pretty packed! I spend my Monday at the shop with you getting all the goodies made and shipped. Then Tuesday through Friday I have my private walking clients in the mornings and afternoons. After that, I either have training clients or I head back to the shop to make more leashes.

Saturdays I spend volunteering at the East Bay SPCA as a Canine Companion and Enrichment Volunteer. I get to spend my time with the pups that really need some extra love while waiting for the perfect person to find them.

I keep my Sunday open for Enrichment Walk clients and sometimes training clients as well.

Technically, I guess I don't really have a set day off, but I feel like my time at the shelter counts as my rest day. My heart is always drawn back to the dogs that haven't quite found their way yet. 

There is just something really special about getting to share a small moment with them on their journey, and hopefully making that journey a little easier for them any way that I can.

Where do you see your path unfolding in the dog world in a year or two (or five years)? 

Honestly, I still feel like I am at the start of the trail. 

I have so many more courses and classes I want to take to keep expanding on my knowledge. I want to continue to grow as a trainer, so I can continue to help dogs in the best way possible. 

It is so important to keep up to date on the latest science and techniques. Brilliant trainers and behaviorists are constantly coming up with better ways to help build better relationships between dogs and their people, and I don't want to miss a thing!

For now, I just want to keep immersing myself in the dog world as much as possible. 

Long-term goals? I would love to find a way to have a shelter of my own with a training space attached, and maybe a little leash shop in there too. But, I am thinking that would probably take a little more than five years.  

Cory is training a dog who is positioned between her legs
Cory working with one of her training clients

 

You've placed many, many dogs in forever homes. What advice would you give to someone who is looking to adopt a dog, or what is one piece of advice that you would give to someone bringing a new dog into their family? 

During the pandemic, a lot of people adopted dogs out of boredom or as a distraction, and now shelters are seeing a very high rate of pets being returned as people go back to work.

If you are looking to adopt a dog, that is so wonderful, but please know that it is a long-term commitment. 

You are bringing a sentient creature with their own feelings, hopes, and anxieties into your life. Be ready, willing, and prepared to care for them however they may need. If you have the time and love to give, it is the greatest decision you can make, but it is never one that should be taken lightly.

If you could tell every dog owner one thing, what would it be? 

Go slow and be kind to yourself as well as your dog. You are in this relationship together, so make space for your feelings as well as your dogs. 

If you treat your dog with compassion and respect, you are going to build such an amazing bond together. 

What animal companions do you have at home?

When we started this conversation, I actually had two cats I was lucky enough to live with. However, I recently lost my beloved Bonnie to cancer and have been working through that grief. Bonnie was a shining light in my life and everything seems a little dimmer without her here.

I feel very grateful that my other cat, Pepper, is healthy and here. Pepper has some anxiety issues after being a stray for the first 3 years of her life and being at the shelter for months before we brought her home. 

She hid from us for months after we adopted her, but after taking things slow and letting her go at her own pace, I am happy to say that she has become my shadow. In fact, most of the typos in this email interview are from her. You're welcome. 

I live in a rent-controlled building that does not allow dogs, so it is really hard for me to always want a dog and try to find a way to make that happen. 

One thing I will say is that in the absence of being a dog parent myself, I am able to give my whole heart to all of my clients. 

My private walking clients are all shy babies that need a little extra space or attention in their own ways. They have big feelings about this big scary man-made world, which is completely natural. 

They all fill me with such joy with what may seem like small victories, but what I know are huge wins.

I burst with pride at every treat taken from my hand and every time they greet me at the door. And I feel their sadness on days when things are hard and the world seems like too much.

In my own small way, I consider them my dogs and my best friends. I might not be lucky enough to have a canine cuddle buddy of my own, but I have a lot of nieces and nephews that I love more than I can say. 

A dog licks Cory's face while they sit in the snow
Sammy kisses for Cory

 

What do you like to do when you're not working with dogs? 

Believe it or not, I actually do have some free time! I really like reading SciFi & Fantasy novels (sometimes out loud to Pepper), going for long hikes, camping, playing Dungeons & Dragons with my friends, and taking more classes about dogs.

Where can people find you online, and what services are you offering these days? 

My logo and website are still in the works, but you can find me on Instagram at @dogtrekoakland where I post lots of dogs available for adoption! 

I’m not currently taking on any more Private Walking clients, but you can email me at dogtrekoakland@gmail.com if you’d like to learn more about my training services!

Thank you to Cory for a wonderful interview! 

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