Training programs give dog owners a new leash on life

By Page H. Gifford

The Dog Spot at the Fork Union Community Center run by Fluvanna County Parks and Recreation has been around since 2006. It was then that Ashleigh Morris began training with Cheryl Falkenburry, the trainer and animal behaviorist and the creator of The Dog Spot. It used to be that to get your dog trained you had to go into Charlottesville but Falkenburry held classes throughout the county, mostly at Caring For Creatures until her collaboration with Parks and Recreation.

Nowadays, it is Morris who does the training and believes the best way to have a great relationship with  pets is to have them trained early and often. Clinics for beginner, intermediate, and advanced dogs in “doggie manners” were always well attended. During COVID, dog ownership increased and for some so did the commitment to training.

“Clinics are a great way to practice commands in a practical and fun way and refresh skills that haven’t been used in a bit without the commitment of multiple meetings. It’s a follow-up and can be beneficial. Dogs need to have the basic commands under their belt,” said Morris.

Now, Morris has started a lecture series, adding it to the clinics. She says the idea behind the lecture series was based upon several things. Her Beginning Obedience Class starts without dogs so that the person who is being trained can grasp the concepts without the distraction of minding their dog’s behavior.

“Even in the private sessions, we start with the human aspect of the training before moving on to work with the pups most effectively. In the classes as well as private sessions, I always try to include information about various topics and issues not always related directly to behavior. There is a lot to know to be the best person you can be for your pup or pups.”

It all begins with an understanding of the relationship between the owners and their dogs. Morris has found in her continuing education great benefits and value in the lecture format. “There is a lot to learn in the seminars and classes that are more hands-on with dogs. However, I have found that I get so much knowledge when I’m free to focus on the presenter and take copious notes to mull over at a later time.” 

For anyone who has been in a class with others, it can be a distraction when trying to focus on the trainer but the lectures give dog owners a heads up of what is expected, making the training smoother. “Just like puppies, we can be very easily distracted by the dogs,” she added. Then she wants to follow up with various topics that can help owners enhance their relationship with their dog and their dog’s quality of life.

“I’m also open to suggestions about what people would like to learn more about.”

The first lecture focuses in detail on the important aspects of dog ownership potential owners should consider before getting a dog. Morris will highlight specifics about breed, age, and where to adopt.

“I think people need to realize that being a dog parent is a big commitment if you do it right.” She cited a few of the most basic and primary things to consider, including whether you have enough time to devote to caring for a dog.

 “Hopefully your pup will be around for many years. Are you willing to commit to their lifetime of care-typically between 10 and 15 years.” Dog owners should ask themselves other questions about dog ownership. Is there enough money to pay for vet visits, quality nutrition, grooming, flea, and tick prevention, medical conditions/injuries that can pop up unexpectedly, training if needed, pet sitting or boarding when you’re away?

The importance of what to know when choosing a dog, its breed, and where to get it, is the main motivation for developing one of her other particular lectures.

“During my years of experience working with people and their dogs, so many people get a dog because they like the way it looks, their friend has one, they saw a cool one in a movie, etc. Not that these are bad reasons but there is a lot to consider when adopting a dog to share your home and life with.” She said consideration should go into finding a good match for potential owners. One of the most important things to think about is age and energy level.

“If it is a young dog, especially a working breed, it will likely require not only a lot of exercise but also mental stimulation. Often, it’s the smart kid in class who gets in trouble because they’re bored. The same can be true with dogs, especially puppies,” she said. “People with limited time and energy for exercise and training should explore options of adopting an adult dog and/or look into breeds that are more likely to be content with less physical and mental exercise.”

She said that size is also a factor.

“I’ve worked with older human students who have strong, rambunctious, young dogs and can’t physically control their dog. Once the dog knows that, it can take advantage. It’s not their fault, but it would be better for them and the dog if they chose a smaller, less active dog or a larger adult dog who may have already had some training and would be more under their verbal control.”

Then there is the decision to purchase a puppy from a breeder or adopt a dog from a rescue organization. Morris delves into this topic in detail in the lecture.

“For brevity’s sake here-for either option do your homework and make sure that it is a reputable breeder or rescue/shelter. The person or people assisting you should be able to give you at least some information about the dog you’re interested in.” For rescues, often there is less information available, but the staff and volunteers should be able to at least give you basic information and some insight about who this dog is and what their needs will be based on observation and interaction.  Also very important, do you have kids or other animals to be considered in the equation? Most rescues do testing to see if the dog does well with other dogs, cats, and sometimes children.” 

After choosing a dog, the training component is the next step. Training establishes boundaries and begins the bonding process between the owner and the dog. Morris uses three tools in training.

“First, bonding comes when training naturally establishes and enhances our relationship and leadership with our canine companions. We ask the dog to do things, and they do them and good things happened as a result. Trust is developed and built up in the training process as you and your dog work through new concepts and challenges.”

Second is establishing good habits. She believes the adage is true, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.

“If you start out developing good habits and boundaries from the beginning, there is less room for the bad habits. As the dog learns and grows in how to live in the human world, they have a much better quality of life. A well-behaved and trained dog can be included in a lot more fun stuff than if they have bad manners or are out of control.”

Dog ownership is more than owning a dog, it becomes a friend, companion, and family member.

“My dogs have always been my kids.” But Morris warns people not to anthropomorphize and put human qualities on dogs. “They’re not little furry humans. Dogs are a different species and we have to communicate with them in ways that they understand. However, we can develop deep bonds and can bring so much joy to each other. Just like with anything else in life, we tend to get out of it what we put into it,” she said. “My dogs have always been members of my family and a big part of my life. I’ve always loved my pups enough to teach them the things they need to know to live in my world as well as establish boundaries to keep them safe, and healthy and give them the best quality of life possible. They have repaid me with their love and devotion.”

I think that there have always been people who have loved their dogs and treated them well. I also think that in recent years we have learned more about dogs, their behavior, needs, and what’s best for them, and that has helped many of us to grow into better owners.” 

For more information about training, lectures, and clinics, which also has the videos and other information regarding No Place Like Home Pet Services and instruction at the Fluvanna Dog Spot. Also, visit Fluvanna County Parks and Recreation for the Dog Spot schedule.

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