BABE #311: MENOKA DAMAREN - Founder + Trainer, MDMT Dog Training
On a mission to keep dogs in their homes and out of shelters, Menoka founded MDMT Dog Training where she provides manner-based training to lucky doggos and their humans. Through positive association and easy-to-follow techniques, she’s determined to help dog owners build genuine bonds with their pets using patience, proper communication and a whole lot of love. Our founder, Chelsea and her pup, Curry have only the best things to say about their 6-week manners training with Menoka, and can’t recommend her services enough!
Hometown: Mountainhome, Arkansas
Current city: Jacksonville, Florida
Alma mater: University of North Florida
Degree: B.S., Criminal Justice
Very first job: Dairy Queen
Hustle: Founder + Trainer, MDMT Dog Training
Babe you admire and why?
Jamee Yocum, owner of BARK on PARK and BARK on MAIN here in Jacksonville. She literally doesn’t get nervous. She puts one foot in front of the other in anything business-related, and that’s very counterintuitive to the way I think and the way the people I know think. The fact that she can have an idea—a business idea—and just get it done, is unbelievably impressive to me.
How do you spend your free time?
With my friends, family and dog. Also concerts. I love reggae, I love punk, alternative is my heart and soul. But I’ll go and see any live music: a country concert, indie, folk music—anything.
Go-to coffee order or adult beverage?
Wine; chai latte.
What would you eat for your very last meal?
Hard boiled egg with hot sauce, and a side of avocado and bread.
What’s something you want to learn or master?
If you could have coffee with anyone in the world, who would it be?
What’s your current power anthem?
“Quiet Little Voices,” by We Were Promised Jetpacks
Tell us about your hustle.
I am the founder and trainer at MDMT Dog Training, where I’m committed to teaching dogs good manners so they can be the valued family members their human companions want, and enable the committed dog owner to become the loving and fair leader their dog needs. I work seven days a week, probably four to five hours per day. It’s kind of my dream come true.
Tell us about MDMT Dog Training.
I started MDMT because I wanted to keep dogs in their homes. I’d been a shelter volunteer for years and seen dogs get turned into shelters for various fixable behavior issues. After a while I figured: why not do my part to help, while making money? I’ve always loved animals—dogs, especially. When I started volunteering, I found myself at the shelter all the time, willing to do whatever was asked. I never really had that before—that kind of ambition and dedication for something. I’ve done some ridiculously crazy and slightly dangerous things to rescue and help dogs. One day, three dangerous dogs with behavioral problems came into the shelter. I took the time to get to know them and was really patient with them. Pretty quickly, I had them out of their cages and acting well-behaved. That experience inspired me to enroll in animal behavior college, and then I hit the ground running.
What kind of role do pets play in your life?
My dog, Trip, is my family. I kind of consider a lot of my clients and their dogs my family, actually, because I’ve stayed in touch with them for years. In fact, I just saw a dog I trained as a puppy have her sixth birthday. I think dogs are my destiny. Like, the one thing I truly need in my life.
Animals can be reactive. How do you stay calm and collected while keeping your clients at peace?
Well, you have to. You have to stay in the present moment with an animal, because animals are animals. Whether they’re anxious or because it’s an aggressive behavior, if I sort of zone out or get nervous, that translates to the dog and can lead to dangerous situations. I think because dogs stay in the present moment, it forces me to stay in the present moment, too. Most days, I show up and the dogs fall right into place. When suddenly a dog won’t sit, I enjoy it, because it’s a challenge.
How have your past professional and academic experiences prepared you for the work you do today?
I have a background in Montessori teaching, which has helped me a lot—because dogs and kids are not that different; how to teach them and train them is not that different. How to explain what you’re doing—especially because my training is so manners-based—sounds so similar to how you handle a child that it makes sense in people’s heads. My criminal justice background, if nothing else, gave me such an appreciation for what I do now. I could have made more money staying in that field for sure, but I would take this any day over a stressful job I wasn’t fully behind and didn’t love. It gave me such an appreciation for what I’m doing now. My worst day as a dog trainer is still my best day compared to other jobs.
What’s been your biggest career milestone?
Training pigs! What really changed my training and made me a better trainer was the second I started training pigs. I had to do it right; I couldn’t cut corners, I had to be patient, and that was an important lesson to learn—to not always jump ahead so I could please the client, and instead do it the right way for the dog, because that will end up with the best result.
What female-specific challenges do you face in your day-to-day work?
It’s not always just the dogs I have to be mindful of when walking into people’s homes. And as a woman, I do have pepper spray on my keychain. If I ever go into a situation and I have a weird gut feeling beforehand, I have another trainer join me, which I’ve had to do a few times. As women, we’re constantly worried about our safety in these scenarios. I’m not super paranoid about it, but studying criminal justice probably didn’t help, either.
What’s your biggest strength in your role?
My personality—being authentic and making the experience fun and relatable, so people actually trust me. I will be very blunt with someone, but you can be blunt and kind. I’m not really a sugar-coater by nature. I’ll say something very honestly, whether they want to hear it or not, but I do it in a polite way; there’s no reason to be impolite. We can all be the same in our craft, but our personality is the one thing that makes us different and nobody can replicate that.
What does your approach to work-life balance look like? How do you unplug and unwind?
Wine. Wine. Wine. Yeah, it’s wine—and making time for my own dog, and my friends, and my family; the things that are important to me. If I've been gone all day doing an event, for instance, and I haven’t been around Trip all day, it will completely throw me off. I need a certain amount of time with my dog to feel normal. It’s important to me to have a balanced life. And again: wine, wine, wine.
Career and/or life advice for other babes?
Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t know what you want to do. Keep trying different things, because truly, all those little things might be leading to a destination. Also, cultivate your personality. It is truly the one thing that will set you apart from everybody else. [...] You walk into a room, and someone else can be just as pretty as you are, and just as smart as you are, and just as brave or ambitious. But nobody has your very specific summation of what makes you, you—your personality. That is the one thing that will set you head and shoulders above everyone else.