This month we chat with Dani Willingham who moved to Portland last year and runs Conscious Canines, a business training dogs through positive reinforcement.
You have had quite a year! Moving to Portland, getting married, buying a house, and starting a business. What has been your favorite thing or discovery about your new home city?
The food! I had only been to Portland once (for a day) before finding out we were being transferred here from LA, so I didn’t have any real knowledge or expectations of the city. I was so surprised at how incredible the food scene here is! We got really lucky that our home is only a five minute walk from Division Street. When you’re that close to some of the best restaurants around, what’s not to love? I’ve lived in a lot of world-class “foodie” cities, and Portland is by far my favorite. The beer and wine scene is pretty epic too!
You and Tyler didn’t waste any time getting to work on your house. What has been the biggest improvement you have made since you moved in?
Our home was a complete fixer-upper. When we’re finished, we will have touched every corner of that house, from the foundation up. For me, the most remarkable change so far has been the kitchen. We took down an unused chimney in the back of the house that ran from the roof, though the master bathroom, down through the kitchen, and into the basement. It was all walled off, so when it came down we gained about 70 square feet in the kitchen alone, and were able to completely reconfigure it. Now, we have this gorgeous, open kitchen with heated natural slate floors, brand new appliances in all the right places, custom cabinets that we designed (and Tyler built) for tons of storage… and we’ve done it all completely by ourselves, so it’s really gratifying. It went from being an outdated and cramped space to my dream kitchen! It’s still a work-in-progress, but I’m so happy with the way it’s turning out!
I understand you have had quite the range of jobs. From modeling around the world now to dog training. Tell us about your newest business endeavor and how you landed here.
We moved from Los Angeles, where I was a full-time actress, to Portland completely unexpectedly in May 2015 (with only 6-weeks notice)! I wasn’t planning on any kind of a career change, and had been in the entertainment industry for over a decade. After we got here, I did a total re-evaluation of what I wanted my next chapter in life to look like. I grew up on a farm, and have always owned, trained, and loved dogs. So, when I was here without a job, I started dog sitting and created my own business, Conscious Canines. You can check us out on Instagram at @consciouscanines to see lots of cute pups!
I was quickly able to become full-time as a canine care professional, and I provide training-based care services to a full roster of regular clients. It’s so much fun! Even though I love what I’m doing, I knew pretty quickly that I wanted to transition into professional training, so that’s what I’m working towards now. Our own dog, Lincoln, is a rescue who is diagnosed with PTSD, and I’d tried so many different methods to help him thrive through his fear and reactivity. I found positive reinforcement training to be the only style that worked for him, and absolutely fell in love with it. It’s a training method that is based on communication and compassion, and doesn’t use force, correction, or pain-causing tools like prong or shock collars to “control” dogs. So, that’s how I decided on the kind of trainer I wanted to be. I applied to the Karen Pryor Academy, one of the world’s most prestigious dog training academies, and got accepted in April. So I’m currently in school, and if all goes well, will be graduating with my certification as a positive reinforcement trainer in November! I have a mentor that I’m lucky enough to shadow and learn from, so I’m working to specialize in behavior modification in tandem with my general training certification. I’ll start offering private sessions and classes within the next few months, and hope to be full-time as a trainer by early 2017!
I’m sure you have plans for more work on the house. What is coming up as the next project?
As every homeowner knows, it never truly ends! We’re getting close to “finishing” the kitchen (I use that term loosely). After that’s done we’re going to take a little break before we tackle the master bathroom, which should be the last huge indoor project for a while. That’s going to require a massive renovation, including the moving of a window, taking out part of the ceiling, building a shower, moving a bathtub, etc. So we’re going to wait a bit to start that one! Also, the outside landscaping is a massive, ongoing project. Right now our backyard is completely dirt since we removed literal tons of jackhammered sidewalk from it, and the front yard is a mess of overgrown, over-planted vegetation that we’ll eventually completely re-landscape. We’re working on that slowly but consistently, along with everything inside!
Summer is finally here. If you had an entire day to sight see around town, what are some of your must dos?
Well, it’s not exactly in Portland, but we go on day-trips out to Willamette Valley for wine tastings every chance we get! It’s just so beautiful and relaxing out there. Our favorite vineyards are White Rose, Stoller, and Archery Summit. We love Pinot Noir! In Portland itself, we love biking the Springwater Corridor, hiking Forest Park, and, of course, trying new restaurants all over town! When the weather is nice, doing anything outside makes us happy. Even yard work!