Welcome to the second installment of our ‘Women and Working Dogs’ series, exploring the stories behind our female dog trainers at Highland Canine. Our trainers work with canines for a number of purposes, providing fully trained service dogs, police dogs and conservation detection dogs for individuals and organizations across the United States.
In the first article of the series, we spoke to Brandi Wallwork, our Director of Service Dog Programs. If you missed it, catch up with the article here.
This article focuses on Shana Parsnow, Manager of Working Dog Operations. Shana trains dogs for detection, trailing and patrol purposes, in addition to working with new and experienced K9 handlers and teaching our specialist handler courses.
We asked Shana about the journey that led her to Highland, and the challenges and rewards she experiences in her current role.
For over a decade, Highland Canine’s working dog division has provided quality working dogs to meet the demands of law enforcement departments across the country. These Police K9s are rigorously trained, and their handlers receive high-quality education to match.
At the forefront of Highland Canine’s police and military working dog efforts is Shana Parsnow. As Manager of Working Dog Operations, Shana is heavily involved in all aspects of the working dog division – from the day-to-day training of these incredible K9s, to planning and delivering K9 handler courses which provide the effective education necessary to ensure K9 teams consistently achieve results in the field.
On the road to her current role at Highland, Shana had stints working in different areas of the pet industry, prior to enrolling in the Master Dog Trainer program at the School of Dog Trainers. However, to tell the complete story of her life with dogs, the best place to start is with 11-year-old Shana, and a purchase made using her Dad’s credit card.
“My parents were really never big dog people because they worked and traveled so much. My first dog was actually a papillon – but after she passed unexpectedly, 11-year-old me thought it would be a good idea to take my Dad’s credit card, go online, and buy myself a new one.
$2000 later, we still have Miss Cami, and that dog literally hates me. I got my karma on that one.”
As is typical with many children, Shana’s love for animals started at an early age, and only continued to grow through her childhood.
“Growing up, I always loved animals – as most little girls do. I was that kid who would bring home every stray I found, even when my dad repeatedly told me no. We still have one of those stray cats he told me I couldn’t keep when I was about 13!”
A growing interest in canine behavior
With an ingrained interest in animals from an early age, Shana began working with them during a stint at PetSmart. It was around this time that she realized she not only had an interest in dogs themselves – she also became aware of the complexities of canine behavior.
“I only worked at PetSmart for a short period of time, but I would always go watch the training classes and became very interested in dog behavior.”
Following on from her time at PetSmart, Shana took on roles in different businesses in the pet industry. This exposure to different environments led her to gain new perspectives and understanding on dogs.
“I went to work at a dog bar/boarding facility which I enjoyed a ton! I also ended up getting a kennel job at Cabarrus Animal Hospital. I learned a ton working there, a lot about dogs and their owners, but I knew that that atmosphere just wasn’t for me long term.”
With a level of confidence that she wanted to focus on a career working with dogs – but unsure of what exactly that would involve – a shopping trip with her Mom would give Shana a clear and exciting new direction.
“My Mom and I were shopping one day at the mall and we came across a group of people with service dogs. At this time I was fascinated with the dog training aspect, so my Mom asked what kind of program they were in, and that’s when they told us about Highland.
To hear that they had a School for Dog Trainers, and it was only an hour from my house, it was pretty perfect. Honestly college wasn’t my thing – but this one I was willing to give a chance!”
Education at the School for Dog Trainers
With a fantastic opportunity to learn about all facets of dog training in the Master Dog Trainer program at the School for Dog Trainers, Shana made the most of her education.
The program allowed Shana to discover more about canine behavior, learn how to train dogs for service animal tasks, as well as understanding the role of working dogs and how these phenomenal animals are trained to help K9 handlers in some of the most demanding situations imaginable.
“My time during the School for Dog Trainers really taught me a lot, not just about dogs – but about people and honestly, life!”
After graduation - working at Highland Canine
Upon graduation from the School for Dog Trainers, Shana began working for Highland Canine as a dog trainer – leading to her current role as Manager of Working Dog Operations.
“My transition into my current role as Manager of Working Dog Ops hasn’t been the easiest, but I have gained so much knowledge and experience, and that to me is priceless. I also believe that I am a much stronger person because of it.
Being a young woman in my position can be difficult at times, but honestly, most of the people I encounter on a day to day basis are usually respectful towards me.”
Shana’s role at Highland places her at the forefront of working dog operations – as well as training police and military dogs, she plays a crucial role in developing, leading and delivering the organization’s Police K9 handler courses.
“During handler schools I’m usually out in the field, teaching handlers how to do everything from basic obedience to patrol functions. I help run scenario training and get new teams ready for the street.
When there isn’t a handler school, I’m either writing bids and talking to departments/clients, or training the next batch of dogs to prepare for the next handler school. I also help teach some of the working dog functions to the current students at the School for Dog Trainers.”
“The best job in the world”
Whilst there is no doubt that Shana’s role is challenging, she can also take a step back and appreciate the importance of her work – and ultimately, how rewarding it is.
“Sometimes I find myself getting caught up in the day by day motions, forgetting what the job of being a trainer is really about. These dogs aren’t just someone’s house pet, or a family companion (which are great too) – these dogs save lives.
These dogs could be put in a situation one day where they make the difference of whether or not their handler goes home to their family. Working with dogs that help take harmful substances, and people with bad intentions off the streets, is the best job in the world if you ask me.
To work with a dog for months, pair it with a handler, and watch them be successful is the most rewarding feeling I’ve ever experienced. My biggest career goal is to help make the K9 teams that I get the pleasure of working with the best and strongest they can be.”
Shana’s final words of advice apply not just to K9 handlers or dog trainers, but to any one of us who may often contemplate the benefits or satisfaction of our daily work.
“My best advice is to do a job you love – life is way better when you enjoy what you do!”