It’s been said, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” but don’t tell that to Nancy LaFontaine, whose local business, K-10 Dog Training, is helping solve behavioral problems in pooches and allowing owners to bond more closely with their pets.
Connecting with area pet-service organizations and offering her time as a volunteer at the Sussex County SPCA, LaFontaine has taken her knowledge and experience to new levels, coordinating group and individual classes for Fido, Spot and Rover.
“Working with dogs is something I absolutely love doing,” said LaFontaine, who just found her calling in the past few years. A graduate of the Animal Behavior College, based in California, LaFontaine now devotes her schedule to the dog training courses she offers and the SPCA. She has also been involved with the Lower Delaware Therapy Dogs of Dagsboro.
Her basic training courses for owners and their pets include beginner classes and intermediate ones, and she’s looking to add a “tricks” course in the near future. Courses run once a week for five-week sessions.
“The relationship between a dog and their owner is a very important one,” she noted. “In my courses, I use a method that combines positive reinforcement and negative punishment, which involves taking something away from the dog, like a treat, a toy or a walk. I’ve had several dogs who started disobedient or aggressive, and I’ve turned them around. My system really works.”
Her business’ name was derived as a play-on-words.
“You see ‘K-9’ everywhere you look,” she said. “I like to think of my classes as one better than all the K-9 ones you’ll find, so we’re ‘K-10.’”
Basic obedience courses focus on simple exercises, such as implementing commands like “sit-stay,” “down” and polite greetings.
“The first step is establishing a leadership role with your dog,” she said. “It’s important to have your dog feel comfortable but still understand that you’re in control.”
More advanced courses are recommended after dogs complete the basic course, or at least until the dog has exhibited to LaFontaine a sense of control and obedience.
“You need your dog to understand the basic rules first,” she said. “Once they can do that, the other steps will fall into place.”
The advanced courses focus more on leadership skills, as distractions are added into the mix to sharpen the dog’s focus. Some advanced classes are even held in parks and at beaches, where a dog’s actions off the leash can be examined.
“I really try to get the dogs to have a positive association with their owner and the commands,” said LaFontaine. “We’ve had some dogs really turn around from an aggressive behavior to become ‘happy dogs.’ Before you know it, they respond positively to commands. My methods let the dog know who’s in charge, and lets the owner take leadership. We’re not punishing or hurting the dogs.”
The next series of basic group obedience classes begins later this month. Courses for mixed ages are available on Tuesdays, running Feb. 23 through March 23, from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. or on Saturdays, from Feb. 27 until March 27, from 3 to 4 p.m. at Doggies at the Beach, located along Route 24 in Rehoboth.
Two basic courses will also be held at House Pets in Millville, one on Wednesdays, running from Feb. 24 until March 24, from 6 to 7 p.m., and another on Thursdays, Feb. 25 until March 25, also from 6 to 7 p.m. A basic obedience class for puppies only will be held on Saturdays, from Feb. 27 through March 27, from 1 to 2 p.m., at Doggies at the Beach.
All group classes cost $120 for the five weeks. Basic courses are open to six dogs per session, and seats are limited. Call House Pets in Millville in Creekside Plaza at (302) 537-7695 or Doggies at the Beach at (302) 644-8200 for availability.
“The classes work on different levels for different dogs,” noted LaFontaine. “Sometimes, you’re faced with a severe, aggressive dog, and your reinforcement has to be addressed in a different manner and at different levels.”
LaFontaine said the area has proven to be a very canine-friendly environment, as well, harboring a perfect environment for her business.
“Delaware’s a great state for dogs,” she said. “You can take them almost anywhere, for the most part. Where else can you drive up to a bank or a store and get a treat for your dog? Many places around here are dog-friendly.”
The classes not only offer a means of keeping a dog well-behaved. It helps to unite both pet and owner, she said.
“Through these classes,” LaFontaine emphasized, “you’re making a bond with your dog. They’re developing a positive association with everything you’re asking him to do, and that’s going to result in a happy dog. You get to learn a lot about each other.”
For more information about course availability, locations and times, visit www.k-10training.com. Stop into locations at House Pets in Millville and Doggies at the Beach in Rehoboth or call for class schedules.