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Training Dogs, but Mostly Their Owners

Francine Coughlin (COM’04) teaches with rewards, not punishment

It’s controlled chaos inside Bark n’ Roll Canine Care. A dozen dogs of various sizes and breeds run laps around a room, weaving around pieces of agility apparatus, a tunnel, and buckets of tennis balls. Marty the border collie has had enough, and lies down to relax.

Overseeing the action is Bark N’ Roll owner Francine Coughlin (COM’04), who has more certifications than might seem necessary to train dogs. She is an Animal Behavior College–certified dog trainer, an International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants–certified behavior consultant, an American Kennel Club–certified canine good citizen, and a S.T.A.R. puppy evaluator.

The North Reading, Mass., business offers structured day care (“similar to a kids’ day care,” Coughlin says), pet-sitting, and training, which she is especially passionate about. She estimates that she has trained hundreds of dogs since 2008—she sends them home with report-card like evaluations and they follow a weekly curriculum, working on tasks like coming when called and walking politely on a leash. “Educating the general public is my mission,” she says.

During day care hours, Coughlin and members of her team will pull dogs aside for special one-on-one training. Today they’re working with Jamison, a gawky black lab puppy. “He’s a dog genius,” she says. She stands back, as dogs don’t like to be loomed over by humans, she says, whips a clicker out of her pocket, and tells Jamison to sit. When he does, she clicks (this means “yes”) and gives him a treat. “He’s highly food-motivated,” she says.

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  • Bark N’ Roll owner Francine Coughlin (COM’04), who has more certifications than might seem necessary to train dogs. She is an Animal Behavior College–certified dog trainer, an International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants–certified behavior consultant, an American Kennel Club–certified canine good citizen, and a S.T.A.R. puppy evaluator.

  • Keeping everyone on schedule.

  • The name "Bark n’ Roll" was inspired by Coughlin's love of rock music.

  • Outdoor play time

  • Bark n’ Roll's operations manager Sarah Castine

  • The North Reading, Mass., business offers structured day care, pet-sitting, and training, which Coughlin is especially passionate about.

  • “I never forget a dog’s face,” Coughlin says. “I walk past them on the street and can’t help but say hi.”

In the gallery above, dogs and puppies frolic at Bark n’ Roll Canine Care.

She is a big believer in positive reinforcement and reward-based training, which contradicts what “dog whisperer” Cesar Millan advocates on TV. “What you can get a dog to do through positive reinforcement training is amazing,” says Coughlin, who works with many rescues and with dogs that often get a bad rap, like the pit bull breeds (she has three rescue pups at home). “You do not need prong collars or punishment,” she says. “And don’t expect a dog to be like a Disney character all the time. They’re not.”

After Coughlin graduated from the College of Communication in 2004, she moved to Hollywood and spent five years working as an assistant on the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels and Sex and the City and occasionally volunteering in local animal shelters. The idea of working in animal behavior came to her when she saw a trainer on the Pirates of the Caribbean set teach a monkey to light a firecracker with a remote. She moved back home to Massachusetts in 2010 and started Bark n’ Roll (a name inspired by her love of rock music), which has now grown to a staff of 24 and offers more than a dozen classes a week.

Coughlin has some advice for people who are thinking about changing careers. “Reinventing yourself is OK,” she says. “I got a communications degree at BU and I’m still using it. I’m just communicating with a different species.”

Jason Kimball can be reached at jk16@bu.edu.

7 Comments

7 Comments on Training Dogs, but Mostly Their Owners

  • puji on 10.24.2017 at 12:06 pm

    wow…i’ll try this with my dogs, thanks for sharing this article

  • Lenna Warner on 10.25.2017 at 9:34 am

    She was inspired by”a trainer on the Pirates of the Caribbean set teach a monkey to light a firecracker with a remote.”

    Training a terrified monkey to do something unnatural inspired this woman? WOW. Animals naturally fear fire and they don’t belong in movies where they often have to perform dangerous unnatural acts(like lighting fire crackers)innumerable times under hot lights.

    This woman’s sense of compassion for animals seems wanting.

    • cydney on 10.25.2017 at 3:21 pm

      The paragraph prior reads “She is a big believer in positive reinforcement and reward-based training, which contradicts what “dog whisperer” Cesar Millan advocates on TV. “What you can get a dog to do through positive reinforcement training is amazing,” says Coughlin, who works with many rescues and with dogs that often get a bad rap, like the pit bull breeds (she has three rescue pups at home). “You do not need prong collars or punishment,” she says.”

      While questionable Hollywood animal treatment may have contributed to her curiosity about animal behavior, it doesn’t mean she supports that treatment.

    • Kay Font on 10.26.2017 at 2:54 pm

      Please don’t make assumptions about what is going on in a situation if you weren’t there. We don’t know what the monkey was feeling. Based on the note about Positive Reinforcement training, Francine distinguishes her training style to using rewards to motivate dogs. Balanced trainers use a combination of rewards and punishment for training. There is a debate in the training world about what the right approach is for training dogs.

  • Theresa on 10.27.2017 at 2:36 pm

    Francine is like family to me. Her compassion for animals will never be in question. She has always advocated for ALL breeds and their mixtures, goes beyond what most would even consider to rescue dogs from abusive and neglectful situations and would never condone the torture of an animal or the cruel treatment of an animal mentally or physically.
    Her comment reflects her curiosity about the incredible intelligence of all creatures and our ability to communicate with them in ways we never dreamed possible. Her comment does not at all speak to it being ethical or humane to distress a monkey on a movie set, as that was not her decision to make or her choice. Being amazed at a non-human animal’s cognitive abilities does not make a person questionable in their compassion for animals.

    It is so unfortunate that the person commenting above chose that aspect of the article to pull apart in an effort to trash Francine and what she stands for, and a person who doesn’t know Francine who speaks so ill of her intentions should be taken as such.

    We are all in this country fortunate enough to be entitled to express our opinion freely, but rather than scan sites that promote positive perspectives on dog training and animal treatment looking for ways to harshly judge and slam them, your time might be better spent in noting the POSITIVE messages that are throughout this article and video.

    As a positive reinforcement trainer myself and humane educator for decades, what I love about this type of training is that it pays detailed attention to dogs as individuals with each having incredible facets to their personalities that allow us to work with them and learn from them in order to find out what motivates them to learn from us and to feel happy and safe expressing themselves socially with other dogs, people, and ever-changing environments. There is never coercion, or force, involved and never punishment. Inappropriate social behaviors are ignored and positive appropriate social manners are encouraged by rewarding them. There is never need for ‘balanced’ approaches to training. Any approach that uses positive punishment as a means of usin fear to coerce complicity is torture, plain and simple.

    Francine is an amazing woman, friend, and trainer who has affected so much positive change in the dogs and people she meets, in her community, and communities around the country, including Puerto Rico.

    The negative comment above will only inspire her to educate people more on not allowing those who try to bring you down as a business owner, trainer, and compassionate person to feel empowered by their condescending words.

    There is no room left in the world for more hate toward people who are doing so much good.

  • Francine Coughlin on 10.27.2017 at 6:47 pm

    Thanks, everyone for trying to explain. I don’t feel an explanation is necessary for my motivations to work with and help animals and their humans as well as the ethics of my work. I do want to make a correction as I was misquoted. The monkey was training using a clicker, not a remote. And there was no “balanced approach” that I observed. All positive reinforcement. The monkey’s trainer is an amazing human, working with many species for many years. He would never put an animal in harm’s way for a stunt. Fire was not involved. Just the action was trained. I was an observer at the time and am grateful to have been influenced and inspired by his work and am proud of all my canine and human clients and all the progress they have made to bridge the communication gap between our species. Peace, Love & Bark n’ Roll.

  • Ragil on 04.28.2018 at 2:01 am

    I laugh when read “And don’t expect a dog to be like a Disney character all the time. They’re not.”

    Yes it’s true, but at least dogs can understand basic commands like silence or sitting

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