Pella Chronicle

CNHI/Southeast Iowa

August 16, 2012

IHCC dog training class changes everyone’s behavior

OTTUMWA — Two nights a week, the sounds in the Eisenhower Elementary School gymnasium change dramatically. The laughter and squeaky shoes of children are replaced with clickers, toenails on the floor and barking dogs.

The Indian Hills Community College dog training class has attracted so many students this term that it had been split in two. Everyone has questions about how to keep their dogs from jumping, what makes them anxious, why they’re chewing on everything and how to get them to walk beside them instead of pulling.

Instructor Melody Coulter has some great answers for those questions.

“It’s all about behavior modification,” she explained. “The behaviors you reward will increase, and the behaviors you ignore will decrease.”

The combination of treat reward and the clicker sound has been a powerful tool for many of the dogs in just two weeks of classes. Each owner/dog relationship is different, but the lessons learned in the dog training class are universal.

Herky is Debbie Schwering’s Neapolitan Mastiff. Schwering comes in from Centerville for class, and she says that because her 9-month-old is a show dog, there are certain issues that have to be taken care of now.

“We focused so much on little dogs and cats, because that’s what we have, that he's just a little scared of people,” she said. “Guard dogs can be focused on one person, and we can’t have that. He’s going to weigh over 150 pounds, so we need to be good before he gets very much larger.”

Herky is already bigger than his father, and he’s already stronger than Schwering. The emphasis now is on getting him used to larger dogs and people and building that human relationship.

“It’s a good experience for both of us,” Schwering said. “It’s a matter of learning how to communicate.”

Meadow, a yellow lab-mix, got her name because she was found wandering in a meadow. She was rescued by the Heartland Humane Society and adopted by Teresa Anderson, the activity director at the Bloomfield Care Center. Anderson found that 85 percent of the center’s residents had owned pets before, so she decided they could use a therapy dog. That’s where Meadow comes in.

“Some people said they didn’t want a dog around, but now they’ve completely turned around. They’re the ones who ask if she can come in and see them,” Anderson said.

Big enough to stand next to a wheelchair, Meadow is the perfect size for residents who can’t bend over or move very easily. Anderson said part of Meadow’s training is to retrieve toys and drop them in the residents’ laps, not drop them on the floor.

“I’m so happy that she’s turned out to be such a great dog,” she said. “I’m here in class to learn all I can. It’s been so rewarding.”

Aaron Vose and Katy Hanus adopted a pair of dogs and brought Wrigley to class. Vose said Wrigley doesn’t have too many problems, except for terrorizing shoes and a recently broken Xbox.

“And he pulls, that’s really the one thing,” he said. “(Katy) suggested we take the class. There’s always more stuff to learn.”

Classes like this one are giving dog owners a way to find solutions to their problems, allow the dogs to interact with other people and dogs and live a happier, more positive life together.

“People are learning that you can train dogs without being mean. It’s getting out of the punishment mode and giving attention to the behaviors you want,” Coulter said.

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