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Classes can keep pets out of the doghouse

LAND O'LAKES — Gatsby, a Jack Russell and well-known escape artist, lives the high life on a golf course in the Tampa Bay area.

"He runs around 18 holes before returning home," said his owner. "We get letters."

Bobo, a black and white dog, is a practiced food thief. He lives for the late-night kitchen caper.

"He'll steal pizza off the counter," said his owner.

Truth be told, neither hound has admitted to having a problem. But their owners have.

On a recent evening, dog training guru Angelica Steinker was holding forth with a motley pack of counter surfers, late-night barkers, escape artists and their haggard human friends.

"Tell us about yourself and your dog," she said. "Tell us what you need and we'll work on that."

"He's still a puppy," said Grant Johnson, referring his dog, Taz, a big yellow lab. "If we drop the leash accidentally, he's gone. He'll look back with a smile on his face."

"She has helped herself to doughnuts, an entire stick of butter and a whole loaf of bread," said another help-seeking pup owner.

Steinker's organization, Courteous Canine, emphasizes changing behaviors by rewarding pets for small improvements and keeping the training positive. The first step is knowing what reward each pup likes best.

For many on this early summer night, a dog treat did the trick.

"Yes!" Steinker said theatrically, offering a treat to a black and white collie.

"If every time you heard the word 'yes' a dollar fell from the sky, you'd pay attention," she said. "Now we have a magic cookie word."

Some of the commands were for owners.

"Never leave food on the counter!" she said.

"Dogs have survived off our trash for 10,000 years. They are very good scavengers."

Call her a dog psychologist if you will, or a stand-up comedian with a weird penchant for Milk-Bones. Steinker's audience eats out of her hand, quite literally.

Take her instructions for canine escapes.

"Escape artists should never be allowed to escape and have fun without their owners again," Steinker said. "The more they do it, the more fun they have, the more difficult it will be to retrain them."

"You've got to be more interesting than a squirrel," she added. "Anyone confident they are more fun than a squirrel?"

Steinker turned to Taz and his co-owner, Xavier Johnson.

"All right, young man, I have high expectations for you being fun," she said.

Taz bolted toward his human, snatched a treat and took off.

"That was a drive-by," she said. She demonstrated how to grab hold of the collar before distributing the treat.

There was advice for catching runaway dogs — zigzag toward them — and putting people back in charge. It's not easy, but owners need to be tough. If a dog jumps up, owners should turn and walk away.

"You're the cookie," Steinker told the obedient owners, as their dogs waited for the next adventure. "They want your attention."

>>If you Go

Good dog!

Obedience classes are taught by Courteous Canine and run Thursday evenings at the Land O'Lakes Recreation Complex Dog Park. For information, call (813) 929-1220.

Classes can keep pets out of the doghouse 08/17/08 [Last modified: Sunday, August 17, 2008 9:06pm]
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