November 22, 2010

The Dog Necessities

Chris Mechalides of Tyngsborough, Mass.,
works with her rescued doberman, Charlie.
Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY -- Like their human counterparts, young dogs need discipline, consistency and a bit of practice if they’re going to fit in socially.
“It’s a drop-in class, like yoga for dogs,” said Donna Lind,
 who when not working in the office at Fortunate K-9 Dog and Owner Training School, is working one-on-one with her own German shepherd, Siren, who was developing some bad habits.
Yesterday’s drop-in middle school obedience class is meant for dogs who, like Siren,
 got the basics down but need to play well with others. Downward- facing dog was a given — the rest of their hour-long session included exercises that tested their ability to connect with and respond to their owners. 
Dogs and owners work on commands during the weekly drop-in “middle school”
obedience classes at Fortunate K-9, for dogs who are
beyond the puppy stage but still need to work on the finer points of obedience.
“She’ll be 3 in January, and we started coming because she started nipping me. By the time she was 1 she was a real brat. She wouldn’t listen, so I came to find my voice as a trainer,” said Lind. “What I’ve learned is the importance of more consistency and less cuddly cute.” 
Instructor Liz Cleaves stands in the center of the training room, like the sun to a small universe of revolving dogs who, along with their masters, are put through the paces. 
After doing several laps in regular and then double time, Cleaves has the dogs sit in place. Then, one by one, each dog must walk a serpentine route around the others, without being distracted. 
“OK Charles-No-Longer-In-Charge, your turn,” says Cleaves, which prompts a handsome Doberman pinscher and his human, Chris Mechalides of Tyngsborough, Mass., to walk the walk past his peers, including four German shepherds, another doberman, a pit bull, a sheltie and a Weimaraner mix. 
“Without the help of Fortunate K-9, Charles wouldn’t be able to do what he’s doing,” said Mechalides. She rescued the 2-year-old dog from the Lowell (Mass.) Humane Society when he was just 9 months old. 
“He’d never been inside — he was kept outside at all times, in all conditions, for protection,” said Mechalides. “When I got him he feared men from whatever had happened to him as a puppy. I had to be tough with him — just like you have to be sometimes with teenagers who haven’t been taught how to behave. Now, he’s a wonderful pet.” 
Kristal Tremblay of Chester said she sought out a group class for her pit bull, Jessie, a retired show dog who has earned his Canine Good Citizen award, which means a dog is a “contributing member of society,” according to the American Kennel Club. 
While the 10-item checklist of tasks needed to be earn your dog citizenship award is rigorous, it is a particularly proud achievement for a pit bull owner, given the bad rap pit bulls generally get from the general public, said Tremblay. 
“Most people don’t understand that they were bred to fight other dogs, but not people. Back then, if they did bite a human, they were shot. 
What’s changed is that people want tough dogs, they want them to be intimidating to people, and they’re bred to be that way,” said Tremblay. 
During a short break in the action, Tremblay’s pit bull finds a comfortable spot to recline on the mat, next to two German shepherds and a doberman. For a bunch of adolescent dogs, they are civilized — paying little attention to the newbie, a 9-month-old Sheltie named Riley who at about 12 pounds weighs about a tenth of what the shepherds weigh. 
“He’s still a typical puppy — he was pulling me around and nipping at my heels, but he’s doing great on his first day of class,” said Riley’s owner, Andrea Schneebaum of Derry. 
Jackie Ouellette of Salem said her German shepherd, Zach, was a loveable puppy but became aggressive after being hit by a car at about 8 months of age. 
“He has really come around,” said Ouellette, an experienced dog trainer herself, who said the classes reinforced for her the importance of being in control. 
“Last week there was a small, aggressive dog who came to class and under other circumstances, Zach would not have behaved himself. 
But because of his training, he just sat there like he was supposed to and didn’t go after the dog,” said Ouellette. 
Joanne Collins of Hampstead said her 9-month-old German shepherd, Ryker, is as well behaved as a full-sized dog with a puppy brain can be. 
“I’ve had shepherds before, but this is the first time I’ve been to a training class. I just wanted to make sure he would listen to me, so I would be able to get him out of a bad situation if needed,” said Collins. “The way I look at it, if a dog doesn’t behave it’s not the dog’s fault; it’s the owner’s fault.” 

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