Welcome! 🙂

We abide by the LIMA principle! Our methods employ the Least Intrusive Minimally Aversive possible for your dog.

First Paw Forward was established in 2010 and is operated by trainer Dana Anne Hutchins and her husband and partner Zach Wilson, who are natives of Australia and have been working with animals and wildlife for a combined thirty years. Passionate advocates for the planet, they see the special relationship people have with animals and believe understanding and communication with our pets is one of many ways to protect our precious earth.

Dana is a positive reinforcement, clicker trainer, breeder, and intuitive coach, who is passionate about raising and training puppies and adult dogs, and bringing harmony between dogs and people through enriched communication.

  • Professional Member APDT (Association of Pet Dog Trainers)
  • Member MAAPPPT (Mid-Atlantic Association of Professional Positive Pet Trainers)
  • C.A.T.C.H. Mentor Trainer
  • AKC CGC & STAR Puppy Evaluator
  • Veterinary Assistant – P.A.W.S. Pet Acupuncture & Wellness
  • SPCA volunteer and member of the training and behavior “Green Team”
  • Volunteer professional trainer/behavior consultant for SEVA GRREAT (Golden Retriever rescue of SE Virginia)
  • Organizer of the “Meetup.com” group “Holistic Dog Training & Outdoor Walks”
  • Red Cross Pet First Aid Training Certification
  • Professional hobby breeder at Frantone Golden Retrievers
  • Usui Reiki Master
  • Karuna Reiki Practitioner II

Dana’s Original Dog Story:

When I brought home my first Golden Retriever puppy nine years ago as a beloved pet companion, little did I know I would end up with a titled Champion in Conformation, nor that I would have the privilege and honor of calling myself a breeder with all the responsibilities that title entails, as well as raising and training six more pups through adolescence (not to mention the fosters!). But with that experience and responsibility came a passion for understanding and continuous learning of canine behavior and puppy training, for the benefit of my own dogs, and even more so for every person or family that has ever cherished their relationship with a canine family member.  To understand further, let’s turn the clock back a few years…

Meet Hula:

Hula is a sweet and happy girl who grins and wags her little butt with glee throughout the day – except for the times when she’s afraid of the world.  🙁  At 8 weeks old, Hula was a normal puppy with a solid temperament raised in an optimum environment, but she ultimately grew up with a littermate to whom she bonded too closely. She never received the critical socialization and puppy training she needed as a youngster on her own, without her sister. When the two girls were separated close to one year old, the outcome was devastating to the shyer of the two siblings. Suddenly my sweet, happy Hula had become reactive to certain other dogs. I didn’t understand how this had happened to my once carefree puppy, but I was determined to learn everything I could.  How could I make her “normal” again?

Around the same time, Hula’s littermates and other siblings were growing up in the world, and I was hearing things from their owners like: their puppy “Failed” puppy training school; That the dog did well but only within an intimidating environment where the instructor “scared” them and used techniques that didn’t give any of us the warm and fuzzies.

So what to do? My own Hula needed “healing,” and some of the puppies I had bred weren’t receiving the education they needed to help them become the well-socialized, confident and well-mannered pups that all ‘grandparents’ want.  I heard the advice from self-described dog psychologists on certain popular reality TV shows, but in their world, my penchant for cuddling with my dogs in bed on a Saturday morning was part of the “problem” – instead I was to ignore them and take them for a walk instead? SIGH….

So I followed my gut about the use of gentle, positive reinforcement training methods, and I went in search of science-based data. I went to the best of the best: Idols like Jean Donaldson, Patricia McConnell, Kathy Sdao, Ian Dunbar & Karen Prior. I learned everything I could from books & publications, live and recorded seminars, and dog behavior classes. And I began training shelter dogs at the local SPCA as a member of the training and behavior team.

In 2009, after working eight years in management and human resources for a global, Fortune 500 company, the downturned economy gave me the opportunity to take the first paw forward and turn my education, experience and passion into a full-time job.

Though Hula came a long way since I first starting applying my newfound knowledge to improving her quality of life, very sadly, she passed away at age three due to brain disease. But Hula will always inspire me to learn more about dogs every single day. I now understand how she perceived the world and how she communicated, and I was her coach – teaching, guiding & supporting her through life. Hula, as well as my other dogs, and *all* of the dogs I work with, will always have something to teach ME.

Even though I have been talking to animals all my life, it was my husband Zach, a wildlife biologist and lifelong animal intuitive, who encouraged me to offer Animal Communication to my list of services. That was a natural compliment to Reiki, which I started practicing in 2010. I wish to share this gift with other dog owners to help them understand how to balance their dogs’ lives and bring harmony to life.

My continuing education includes attendance at seminars & clinics throughout the year hosted by trainers and behaviorists leading the industry in cutting-edge, science-based, positive reinforcement training; my personal library is continuously stocked with the latest in training and behavior books and video; and I regularly network with peers and mentors in fruitful exchanges. Today, I enjoy spending every opportunity with my dogs in play and adventures, and we live a not always perfect, but mostly peaceful, well-mannered and joyful life – and my dogs still get to cuddle with me in the morning. 🙂 When not teaching private students, you can often find me playing over at the Dude Ranch Pet Resort in Glen Allen, VA, where I teach agility, puppy, adult foundation, senior classes, advanced skills, and other dog sports.

Dana Hutchins

Dana Hutchins w/Francey






Dog Training Richmond VA



Our Policy of Activism and Contribution

We support organizations active in protecting the planet and her resources. Our involvement in local and international humanitarian, environmental and arts organizations is at the core of our beliefs. We give 10% of our proceeds to these organizations that are in alignment with our values. Organizations include Sierra ClubGreenpeaceWorld Wildlife FundSurfrider FoundationInternational Ocean Institute, and The Wilderness Society.