Dog training at the Center

Barbara LawlorDog training at the Center

Koda is a four-month-old chocolate lab and German shepherd mix with a soft, brown coat, huge floppy ears and earnest eyes. He is a good boy whose owner Aaron Robillard, a sophomore at Chinook, is dedicated to making sure his puppy gets the proper training.
Vinnie is a two-and-a-half-year-old pointer and heeler mix, a rescueDog training at the Center dog who is incorrigible, barks at strangers and charges people who are afraid of him. His owner Alice Walker of Sugarloaf said she wants to give him the skills to keep his brain busy, to not be afraid of people.
The dogs and their owners met at the Nederland Community Center parking lot on Sunday, Sept. 8, where they attended a class with dog trainer Marianna Peterson of Sugarloaf, who will hold ongoing classes throughout the year. Peterson brings her animal behavior expertise to her classes, a lifetime of learning what drives man’s best friend to its unique characteristics and how to discipline those with issues.
She grew up in Rockford, Illinois, where she became a trainer of hunter and jumper horses. She had ridden lesson horses from seven to13 and then leased a horse and competed and finally owned her own.
She graduated from Southern Illinois University with a degree in zoology and animal behavior. While she was in school, she apprenticed for well-known dog trainer Behesha Doan, who is the founder and chief trainer of Extreme K-9 and a professional trainer in a wide variety of dog training disciplines. She has refined and mastered her Whole-Dog Approach to training, and serves on the Senior Advisory Team of the International Association of Canine Professionals.
Peterson said she wanted to learn a high standard of training and behavior modification working disciplines. She was with Behesha for the better part of three years and decided that she wanted to become a professional trainer. She soon learned that the hardest part of her job would be training the people she worked with.
When her husband got a job in Boulder in 2011, Peterson was fresh out of school. She worked for the Longmont Humane Society for 18 months, and became a member of the Front Range Search and Rescue Team, but then decided she wanted to start her own gig.
“I like the pace up here and the community,” she said. She told her two students that dog training requires some lifestyle changes and that one must adjust to the discipline and maintain it.
Training can be lost if it stops. Training is always and will become part of one’s relationship with the dog.
The owner of the dog becomes the leader and should be subtle, calm, confident and never aggressive. “Humans are the only creatures that follow unstable leaders,” she said. “We assume that dogs know how to be human, but it is easier for us to figure out how to be a dog.”
Peterson said that dogs will learn self-rewarding behavior, such as grabbing a bite of food left on the counter and is up to the human to educate the dog that stealing scraps is unpleasant. You do this by utilizing a spray water bottle, or booby trapping the tasty morsel. One has to be vigilant to catch the culprit in the act.
She said that two 20-minute training sessions a day is the optimum, with quiet time afterwards to give the information a chance to sink in. Dogs have a genetic drive as a pack predator, which means they have to cooperate to survive.
Our job is to provide leadership and structure. We should try not to anthropomorphize, or place human reasons on their behavior. Dogs behave as they feel; they don’t pretend.
Punishing a dog means introducing unpleasant consequences to their actions, or negative reinforcement, not yelling or striking, but by removing a consequent. Aaron and Nancy practiced holding treats in their hands in front of their dogs, but not relinquishing the treats until they made eye contact and until they were paying attention. Then the owners said ‘yes’ and offered their dogs the treats as positive reinforcement.
Peterson instructed them how to stop aggressive behavior by moving away from the dog as he barked at another dog or a person, distracting him and getting him to follow his owner. Both dogs responded to this exercise after repeated actions with treats for positive reinforcement.
Nancy Walker said that after a few sessions, Vinnie is greatly improved. Repeating an action leads to memory of it and then the desire to do it again and soon a dog will be offering it on his own. Good behavior with rewards should be done over and over and over again until the behavior is marked in the dog’s brain.
A training session with Peterson is more than teaching a dog a trick. It is the beginning of understanding and relating to each other, to a bond of communication, that often is neglected or not even sought by many dog owners. It takes work and commitment, consistency and respect, but the long-lasting results are worth the effort.
To contact Peterson and the Complete Canine family, call 303-258-3634, or 303-910-0119 or go online at

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