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.
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 Cityand 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.”