Can you imagine your dog soaring through the air to catch a flying frisbee, or expertly racing through tunnels and hoops at top speed? Chrissy Joy can. As a top-ranked dog trainer, she’s a pro at identifying dogs’ potential—and helping them reach it.
At BFF Pet Services in Brandywine, Maryland, Chrissy helps dogs learn new skills—everything from basics like sit and stay to the impressive feats that have earned her own dogs countless awards and titles. For her, dog training isn’t just about teaching a pup to perform a task. It’s about building the relationship between a pet and their person—with both partners reaping the benefits along the way.
“First and foremost, you and your dog will have a closer bond because there’s a lot of body language communication that needs to happen in order for you both to be successful,” she explains.
That stronger connection leads to increased confidence, trust and fulfillment for pets and their people. This transformative quality to dog training is something Chrissy’s clients say they have experienced firsthand.
“The bond that you develop from working with your dog is just amazing,” says Jane Pomponio, who worked with Chrissy to train her dog Marley. “I can’t even describe the impact that it makes on the dog and the person. I can only say it has changed Marley’s and my life.”
Chrissy has spent a lifetime fostering relationships with pets. As a kid, she built her own DIY obstacles and trained the family dog, a Beagle named Angie, to navigate them. Her first jobs were in pet supply stores—anything to get closer to animals, she says.
But she didn’t fully understand the potential of dog training for both pets and people until 2014, when she adopted her dog Beasley, a 9-week-old mixed-breed puppy. (Chrissy’s best guess on his breed is some combination of Collie, Shepherd and Ibizan.) At the time, she was floundering in unfulfilling and low-paying jobs, and struggling with feelings of anxiety, agoraphobia and depression that had followed her since childhood.
“I couldn't function,” she says, recalling how her fears of public places and social situations left her isolated and prone to panic attacks. “My anxiety and depression were taking the best of me.”
But when she saw Beasley’s picture while browsing pet listings, something clicked. To this day, Chrissy says she doesn’t know exactly why she felt a connection to this particular pup.
She just instinctively knew that she had found a companion, and rushed to Homeward Bound Animal Rescue in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, to bring him home.
“The dog chose me,” she says.
She never would have guessed that the 9-week-old puppy with airplane-wing ears would totally change her life.
“It was like flipping a switch,” she recalls. “As soon as that puppy came into my life, I had something I was responsible for. I could devote my energy into making the puppy’s life the best it could be. I had a reason to get up in the morning.”
With Beasley by her side, Chrissy’s anxiety and depression began to lift. She found herself looking forward to each new day and the fulfillment of spending time with her pup. Soon, she was doing things that she’d have been too anxious to attempt prior to adopting Beasley, like taking him to group obedience classes with other dog parents. “It was huge for my mental health to take these independent strides and do things on my own,” she says. “Beasley became my partner for all of that.”
Beasley also led Chrissy to her life’s work: training pets so that they can live their own best lives. She took Beasley to BFF Pet Services for his first obedience classes in 2015. Staff members, impressed with her ability to handle Beasley, suggested that she become a dog trainer, providing a new way to work with animals that she hadn’t anticipated.
She started training the next year, under the guidance of BFF owners and trainers Christina and Jack McCauley.
“It’s not just a pretty place,” Chrissy says of the peaceful, farm-like setting with plenty of room for dogs to run and play. “I feel so deeply rooted there. It feels like family.”
Today, Chrissy’s goal is to help her clients experience the same transformative power of bonding with their dogs that changed her life for the better—and she’s succeeding. Take Jane and Marley, for instance. Jane first came to BFF Pet Services as a recent retiree who had adopted Marley even though she was still grieving the unexpected loss of her first dog. “I was a little bit lost,” she recalls. “I was battling depression, but I wanted to do the best I could for Marley.”
Jane was just looking for basic obedience lessons to help Marley, who was skittish in unfamiliar situations, gain more confidence. With Chrissy’s help, she achieved that—and so much more. Marley progressed through basic and advanced obedience and started trick training, ultimately earning the title of Trick Dog Champion. (To become a Trick Dog Champion, pups must demonstrate skills in nine behavior areas like coordination and scent on command, without being leashed or lured by their parent or trainer.)
“What Chrissy helped me with was communication with my dog,” Jane says. One of the first commands Chrissy taught them was look, in which a dog simply looks at their person when asked. “Just that basic command really helped Marley and me develop a bond. She learned, ‘OK, if I’m in an unfamiliar situation and my mom says “look,” I can look at her—she’s got my back.’”
Now, Jane says, both she and Marley are happier and more self-assured. “I take her anywhere I can take my dog, and we have fun together. Restaurants, the beach, wherever—she’s with me and she’s loving life,” she says. “Marley loves people, loves the water, chases balls and doesn’t worry much about her surroundings anymore. She’s just having fun and loving life.”
Working with Marley also gave Jane a sense of purpose and the conviction to work toward a new goal: becoming a certified dog trainer in her own right. “We both gained confidence together,” she says.
Ericka Staufenberger also credits Chrissy’s training with changing her life. Like Chrissy, she struggled with anxiety before adopting her Golden Retriever, Charlie. And like Chrissy, Ericka found that her symptoms abated through obedience training with her dog.
We came for basic obedience training, and found a bigger world opened up.
Along the way, both Ericka and Chrissy realized that Charlie’s calming presence could help others in need, too. “She’s that really special dog who relates to people,” Ericka explains. Realizing this, Chrissy suggested that Ericka start training Charlie to work as a registered therapy dog.
“It’s nothing I’d ever thought of doing,” Ericka admits—but today, she and Charlie regularly visit schools and nursing homes, brightening peoples’ days.
“Seeing the joy that others get from my dog does a lot more for me than we do for them,” Ericka says. “We came for basic obedience training, and found a bigger world opened up.”
Beasley, the dog who started it all, has reaped plenty of benefits of training, too. With Chrissy’s care and attention, this rescue pup has landed roles on the silver screen thanks to his training. You might have seen him in the title role of “Agent Toby Barks,” a 2020 family comedy film about a dog moonlighting as a secret agent. (Actor Jon Lovitz provided Beasley’s voice in the movie.) Chrissy’s other dogs, Whidbey and Darby, are each trick title-holders and stars of commercials and other Hollywood projects as well.
But while fame and awards are perks of the job, Chrissy says, the biggest payoff of dog training is knowing that you’re making a real difference—both for dogs and their people.
“It’s not just learning sit, or stay, or heel. It’s causing a ripple effect that’s changing the dog’s life, the person’s life, and maybe everything they do from there.”
Chrissy Joy’s Top Training Tips
Find the Right Motivation
Some dogs will learn just about anything to earn a treat; others are driven to succeed by the promise of a super-fun toy or extra playtime with you. Even verbal praise and belly-scratches can be motivating rewards for your pup, Chrissy says.
So during training, watch how your dog responds when you reward them with a wide variety of things, and make note of the things they enjoy the most—then use those things as motivation when you’re tackling an especially difficult skill.
Find the Right Equipment
Every dog is unique, and the gear that works for one might not work for another. The same goes for you, too—finding the easiest equipment for you to work with will ensure you keep your focus on your dog rather than struggling with your treat pouch or leash. Make sure you have these essentials as you train your dog:
Use Positive Reinforcement
Positive reinforcement training is essentially rewarding your dog’s good behavior to teach them new lessons and skills. The key is right there in the name: It’s all about keeping training positive, and never punishing your pup.
This training philosophy encourages your dog to volunteer their good behavior, and keeps training sessions fun for both of you. So remember to stay upbeat and encouraging during each training session, and if you're looking for a dog trainer, find one who practices positive reinforcement with their clients, too.
- Basic Dog Training Commands: Come
- How to Train a Dog Not to Bark
- Happiness Expert Gretchen Rubin Confirms What We Already Suspected: Dogs Make You Happier
- These Photographers Are Helping Thousands of Shelter Animals Find Homes
- Everything You Need to Know About Having Separation Anxiety from Leaving Your Pets