Obedience school for people and dogs

Dog Star Obedience has its rewards

POLK COUNTY -- For trainers Kimber Stutzman and Sarah Beaird of Dog Star Obedience, working with our four-legged friends is only part of the equation.

"We believe training starts right at puppy-hood," says Stutzman.

"We like to start at about three or four months. We use positive rewards, food rewards and rewards of playtime. Each dog reacts differently, and you have to find out how they react. The overall goal is to make the best family pet, the best dog to live with.

"We're going to train the people as well as we train the dog. People need to learn how to train their dog. We don't just want to take the dog and train it ourselves. If they take the dog and go home and don't have that training, don't know the commands, it'll all fail. You have to take what you learn in class and apply it at home."

Beaird has learned a great deal in her more than 20 years of training dogs. She has worked with a selection of well-known trainers and has adopted a little something from all of them.

"I learned through the years that not all people are the same and not all dogs are the same," Beaird said.

"Why use the same method for all of them?"

Stutzman and Beaird have been operating Dog Star Obedience for about three years. Classes are held weekly on Mondays in Building C at the Polk County Fairgrounds.

There's a beginners class from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. and an intermediate/advanced session from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. The cost for an eight-week course is $75.

The preferred method of training at Dog Star is motivational, a tactic Beaird adopted from trainers Deb and Gary Platt. But if that doesn't work, there are other options.

"Usually in class Kim and I walk around and watch what each person is doing," Beaird said.

"We really try to facilitate the communication between dog and owner. We try to understand where the dog is coming from and explain it to the owner.

"We're not asking for the dog to be perfect -- just to be well-behaved and understand what I'm asking.

"There's a lot of positive reinforcement. We try to work with success rather than failure. When I was growing up, the traditional method was correcting the dog into doing something. We go more by catching the dog doing something right, and then praising him for doing right.

"Sometimes you do have to do a correction. You do it, get past it and move on. The dog learns more that way, and it's more fun, frankly."

Some breeds are more difficult to train than others. But other dogs simply have picked up a deceivingly bad rap over time because of the way they're handled and trained. Both Stutzman and Beaird, for example, both bristle at the mere mention the phrase "pit bull."

"We try to not buy into stereotypes," Stutzman said.

"Pit bull really is a slang term for three or four different kinds of terriers. We had a terrier come through our last class who was extremely timid and shy and afraid of kids. They can be absolutely beautiful and obedient dogs."

Some of the most smartest dogs can be difficult to handle because they -- unlike most people -- don't make very good couch potatoes.

"Hounds are more difficult to train, but they train really well for food," Beaird said.

"Labs, even though a lot of times are willing to please, can be thickheaded and are less consistent.

"There are breeds that are incredibly intelligent and bright to pick up things -- goldens, shepherds, Australian shepherds. More often the problem is with the owner. They don't understand the dog was meant to work. They might not have given the dog a job, so he figures his job is to tear up the backyard. I like those breeds. I have a German Shepherd myself."

If you have a dog that simply refuses to mind, the folks at Dog Star Obedience are more than willing to take on the challenge. But, be warned, the problem might be yours, not the dog's.

"People will call me and say, 'Other trainers won't work with this dog,'" Beaird said.

"I say, 'Bring him to us.' We'll do it. We have different philosophies. Dogs are perfect. It's humans that are horribly flawed."

Dog Star Obedience can be reached at 503-606-9663. And, yes, that's actually 503-606-WOOF.


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