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By SHAINA STOCKTON
Healing Springs Animal Hospital offered a series of basic dog obedience classes this month, a seven-part series taught by dog trainers Dr. Heather Jenkins, a veterinarian at the clinic, and Stephanie Burnette.
Classes began with an orientation, where just the owners came to meet and discuss what would be covered in other classes.
The following week, owners brought their dogs along for the first time. Jenkins and Burnette led the class to a nearby barn, where there would be plenty of room to practice tricks.
The trainers began the lesson with a “meet and greet” by asking owners to unleash the animals. Puppies pounced about in one room while the bigger dogs were led into another.
Once everyone was comfortable, class began with the instructor teaching commands, such as following on a leash.
The instructor encouraged enthusiastic praising and treats as an incentive at every moment that the dogs obeyed. This not only encourages repetitive favorable behavior, but it also fosters trust between dog and owner.
“Each week, we have a specific goal for the class,” said Burnette. She briefly described the lesson plans outlined in the series, naming practical commands such as sit, down and stay.
Instead of fancy tricks such as “beg” or “shake paw,” Burnette and Jenkins opt for more behavioral lessons. “The concept behind our classes is to make dogs well-behaved and better family dogs,” said Burnette.
Lessons such as not pulling on a leash, not jumping on visitors and obeying commands from far away serve to strengthen the master/pet dynamic, with the owner earning respect and the dog earning precious moments with their master.
The class gives the opportunity for the dogs to socialize with each other, other people, and most importantly, their owners.
“This is a great way to allow that one-on-one time with your dog every week,” said Burnette. “With busy schedules, there’s not necessarily a guarantee that people will find time to spend with their dogs, so it’s easier have a pre-determined time set.”
Working by day as a paralegal for Lyons and Mitchell, Burnette trains in her spare time with Jenkins. The two met when they brought their own dogs to the sessions, which were then taught by a different instructor.
“We both love dogs. She has five and I have six,” Burnette said. Both care for therapy dogs through a group called Pet Partners.
They remained in the program with their pets for several years, and soon became good friends.
“When [the trainer] moved away, we decided that we didn’t want to stop having these classes available in our area,” said Burnette.
Because both had been involved with the classes for so long, Jenkins and Burnette felt comfortable in their abilities to teach. “It was a bit of a transition going from the student role to the teacher role, but we already knew the protocols,” said Burnette.
For the most part, the training sessions go very smoothly. “Our biggest problem is the ‘down’ command,” said Burnette. “’Sit’ is easy, but when it comes to 'down,' it’s considered very submissive so dogs [sometimes] don’t want to do it,” Burnette said. “We have had classes that literally took 20 minutes to get the dog in a ‘down’ position. What it comes down to, unfortunately, is that there has to be a winner, and that winner has to be you.”
Following the beginners classes are intermediate and advanced classes. In these sessions, pets are trained off of the leash and from greater distances as the trust between dog and owner slowly grows stronger.
The ultimate trick to training a dog, Burnette says, is to stay consistent. “If you did something once a week for an hour, chances are it won’t be fresh in your mind next week,” Burnette explained. “Also, a lot of people think that they can teach their dog everything they want them to know in the seven-week timeframe. That’s not going to happen.”
Outside of classes, Burnette advises owners to spent 10 to 15 minutes training their dog each day. “More, if possible,” she said.
Not only will the hard work pay off, but that time each day will help owners spend even more time with their best friend.
• For more information about programs offered through Healing Springs, call 236-5103.