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Justine Borghello, ABCSDT, CTDI, PCI-KA

ABC Certified Service Dog Trainer, Certified Trick Dog Instructor, AKC Evaluator, UKC Spot Evaluator, Animal Behavior College Training Mentor, Herm Sprenger & Prong Collar- Knowledge Assessed, K9 First Aid and CPR Certified

Member of: International Association of Canine Professionals, American Kennel Club, American Working Malinois Association, United Schutzhund Club of America, Piedmont Shutzhund Club,  North America Diving Dogs, DockDogs Worldwide, United Kennel Club, Trikos Team Dog Training, Barn Hunt Association, Greater Columbia Obedience Club, Charlotte Dog Training Club

Owner/Lead Trainer

I was born and raised in Northern California, right next to wine country, and moved to the Carolinas in 2018. For as long as I can remember, I was holding a leash and dreaming about the day I was old enough to train dogs of my own. My fascination with dogs started at just 2 years old with my dad's police K9, a Rottweiler named Shadow. I was just in awe at the amazing things Shadow could do, and above all else he saved my dad's life more than once! 

Every dog trainer will tell you about "that one dog". The dog that pushed them down the rabbit hole of dog training. Although Shadow made me want to work with dogs, Hank is the one who really pushed me to be a dog trainer. Hank was a young spry black Lab who developed some pretty serious issues with people. At 18 years old, I thought I knew enough about training to handle a dog with his issues and boy was I wrong! Although I worked with many trainers and behaviorists, Hank's issues were beyond my capabilities, and ultimately, I failed him. 

When working with other trainers and Hank, I found myself always asking why. Trainers were happy to tell me how to handle Hank, or even show me examples with their own dog, but they never explained why these behaviors were happening, or why their methods would work. After meeting with every trainer, I always left asking "why?". 

After losing Hank, I was more motivated than ever to learn about dogs and their behavior. I was going to answer my own questions so that I could make sure to never make those same mistakes with any future dogs. I read every dog article, watched every training video, and subscribed to every newsletter available. I wanted to learn about every training method and philosophy that was out there and develop my own style. I was fortunate enough to work with some amazing trainers as mentors who helped teach me the "why" of dog training and helped shape me into the trainer I am today. 

I have been fortunate enough to work with many species of animals, which has helped broaden my understanding of behavior. I have worked with dogs, cats, birds, reptiles, wildlife, and primates, but at the end of the day, I always found myself going back to dogs. Despite all the amazing species I have worked with, nothing can replace the bond between a dog and a person. In the beginning of my dog training career, I spent several years working and volunteering at local animal shelters. This is where I gained valuable experience dealing with all types of dogs and different behaviors. I then went on to spend about 10 years as a vet/animal health technician, with 6 of those being at UC Davis. Even as a technician, I still always maintained dog training on the side as a hobby.

In 2015 I finally realized that I was ready to pursue dog training as not only as a hobby, but as a career. I left my comfortable job at the University and took a job as a trainer, and eventually became the Chief of Operations,  at a non-profit organization that provided PTSD service dogs for Veterans.  This was and still is, one of the most rewarding jobs I have ever had. Unfortunately, like many non-profits, funding was limited and caused the organization to close just a few years after I started with them. 

I then went on to work for Unleash the Beast as a trainer for a few years before I relocated to the Carolinas in 2018.  I was fortunate to work with some amazing clients and dogs and learn so much! Moving here was the push I needed to finally take the leap and start my own training company. Although I miss my friends and family in CA, I love it out here and I am so excited to bring Smokey Oaks K9 to the South! 


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About SOK9: About Me
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