Maggie Tai Tucker
Maggie Tai Tucker
Photo by Maki Nibayashi

Animal trainer

Time in Japan:
One year

Where are you from?
New York City.

What brought you to Japan?
I came here to learn Japanese. My father is Japanese and my mother is American, but I grew up in the States speaking English. A few years ago I began to make a career change from journalism to dog training. I use the clicker method of training, which is still rather rare in Japan, and I thought I might be able to popularize it here.

What is a clicker?
It' a small metal box that goes "click-click" when you push the tab on it. In training we use it to mark a piece of behavior, such as the dog making eye contact or his body hitting the floor when he lies down. The dog learns quickly that the click sound is always followed by something good, whether a toy or a food treat. This is how all dolphins and most movie animals are trained. Good traditional dog trainers can do the same thing with their voice, but it is easier for beginners to be precise and neutral using a clicker. Another trainer I know says it took her nine years and four minutes to teach her Golden Retriever to shake paws. Nine years trying the traditional way and four minutes using the clicker!

How did you come to change your career?
As a child I always wanted to be a trainer. I taught our house cats tricks and also had a circus of bugs. Later I went to a serious East Coast university and became editor of the campus newspaper, which got me into journalism after I graduated. I still do some work as an editor here. But in journalism I never felt engaged the way I do when training. Before making this switch I studied with more experienced trainers and also worked at an animal shelter training several hundred dogs in all. This was a kill-free shelter, and it was really rewarding to see dogs that I had trained get adopted quickly. I am still learning more all the time, especially about teaching people. The dogs are the easy part!

What sort of classes do you teach?
Group classes are taught outdoors in the fall and spring, but I do private lessons throughout the year. Mostly we teach puppies, but we have had dogs as old as eight in class. I have one assistant but we try to keep classes small, about six dogs at a time. The method works best with a lot of individual attention.

What do you like best about Japan?
The takuhaibin and postal systems. I receive a lot of packages for my business and the efficiency and convenience still impresses me every time. I think it's unique in the world. Also, the seasons, and the way people mark them, such as putting lilac leaves in the bath on a certain day.

What was the weirdest thing you have ever seen or experienced here?
Canine meishi. I've met people who have given me a business card on behalf of their dog. They have the dog's photo, phone number, etc. printed on the front.

What's your recipe for a happy life in Japan?
Try everything at least once!

Contact Maggie at 03-5351-6829, email or see her website:

Maggie Tai Tucker spoke to Maki Nibayashi.

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