Meet our Trainers

Meet our Trainers

Susan Spinks CPDT-KA

Dog Training Program Manager

Susan Spinks is a member of the Pet Professional Guild and the Association of Professional Dog Trainers. She received her CPDT-KA from The Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers in April of 2016. She is also an AKC Canine Good Citizen evaluator. In June of 2017, she earned her Pet Dog Ambassador Instructor and Assessor designation from the Pet Professional Guild. In April of 2018, Susan graduated top of her class at the Pat Miller Canine Behavior and Training Academy Level 1.

Susan’s journey to becoming a dog trainer began when she adopted Chloe, a “vibrant” dog from the Orange County Animal Shelter. If you have a new puppy or a “vibrant” dog of your own – Susan knows what it’s like! She began training classes with Chloe the following week and hasn’t stopped training since. Her earliest dream was to be a zoologist and live among the wolves, but working with you and your pets is definitely the next best thing!

In addition to Chloe the “vibrant” pup, Susan has had a Rhodesian Ridgeback named Zoe and a boxer mix named Isobel. She also has a husband named Richard. Of the lot, Susan says that Richard is by far the best behaved. Susan and Richard have lived in Chapel Hill since 1990.

Susan is especially passionate about group classes, and she strongly believes that all clients and dogs should leave each class feeling great about their performance, potential, and future. Susan looks forward to meeting you and helping you and your dogs create a wonderful family.

Jennifer Thornburg CPDT-KA, KPA-CTP

Dog Training Program Coordinator

Jennifer Thornburg has 15 years in the dog industry from running a successful pet sitting and dog walking business to volunteering at her local municipal shelter, where she ran the playgroups and evaluated dogs for adoption. However, her heart has always been in training dogs and the people who love them.

Jennifer is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer through the CCPDT, a graduate of both CATCH Academy for Dog Trainers and the Karen Pryor Academy Dog Trainer Program, a rigorous certification program that requires continuing education and a pledge to train using force-free methods and techniques. She uses clicker training and positive reinforcement to solve problems and train dogs to a high level of reliability. She’s a Certified Fear-Free Trainer, a licensed Family Paws Parent Education presenter and a Pet First Aid/CPR Instructor. She is working towards Level 1 TAGTeach (positive reinforcement training for humans) for the purpose of learning to work more effectively with human clients. And she is great at finding analogies that the human students can understand and relate to.

Jennifer lives in Durham, NC with her wife, young daughter, enthusiastic Border Collie and slightly leaning Toy Aussie. She enjoys hiking, reading, cross stitching, playing hopscotch with her kid, beekeeping and training her own dog to pick up odd things around the house and bring them to her.

Melanie Berk CPDT-KA

Senior Dog Training Instructor

When Melanie was a child, she made up her own imaginary nonprofit called “P.A.W. (Paws Across the World), so some might say her career path has been unsurprising. Studying Psychology and the Environment at Oberlin College provided a foundation of thinking about behavior change and community-based solutions. From there she hopped over to Massachusetts (brr!) in search of a Master’s degree in Animals and Public Policy at Tufts Vet School.

Along the way she found a job at the MSPCA (a real nonprofit), her dog Seamus, and husband, Brendan, so she thinks the winters were worth it. Nevertheless, when the opportunity to move to Durham arose, she was quick to pack up Seamus, Brendan, and her horse, Nick, and migrate south, where Shiloh the mischievous beagle became the newest addition to the family.

Her lifelong passion for animal behavior and welfare translates naturally into dog training with the shelter and community in mind. Her goals for the dog training program include improving the behavioral health and enrichment of dogs both currently at Paws4ever and in the greater community, increasing successful adoptions, and building better communication & understanding between human and canine kind, so both can lead happier, fuller lives!

She has her certification in professional dog training (CPDT-KA) and is continually seeking to learn more about dogs and how to best help them, so enjoys opportunities for continuing education, such as conferences and seminars. She even takes her work home with her–she loves bringing home shelter animals for foster vacations so they can destress and get some TLC while awaiting their forever homes. She is always happy to talk about dogs, so make sure to say hello and bring your canine questions!

Cecelia Erwin

Dog Training Instructor

Cecelia has always been interested in training animals. As a teenager she was an avid competitive equestrian, and trained an ex racehorse to become a regionally competitive show jumper. At Reed College she completed a combined major in Biology and Psychology. There she got a formal education in behavioral science, working with a wide range of species on a variety of topics, from domestic dogs interacting with known and unknown humans, to examining how hard rats are willing to work to get a drink of alcohol. After graduation, she went to work as an Animal Care and Behavior Associate at the SPCA of Wake County, where she gained real experience working with hundreds of dogs, doing basic behavior training, organized play dates, and assisting in performing behavioral assessments. She is working to complete her Certified Professional Dog Trainer-Knowledge Assessed, and plans to sit the test in March 2020. She loves working with over exuberant adolescent dogs, and has developed a real love of hounds.

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