Humans and dogs have been best friends forever.
However, any dog owner will tell you there are times when their fuzzy friend can drive them nuts.
A nip here, a potty accident there.
Whether it’s a cute little puppy or old Roy, training can get your canine out of the dog house.
Cathy Lee-Stephens got into dog training when her Baby Grace began exhibiting some unwanted behaviors.
“When I first got her, I had her in the bed with me, gave her the best food and water, bought her toys, I rocked her to sleep every night. She had everything in the world. In my mind, I was just the greatest dog owner in the world. A year later, she was a nightmare from hell,” laughed Lee-Stephens.
Baby Grace would run out the door, yap all the time, leave little “presents” all over the house, and you could forget about trying to walk her on a leash.
“It was horrible. I hated her, but I loved her, so I couldn’t get rid of her. I said, ‘I’m going to figure out why you don’t appreciate me you little brat. Because it’s you, not me,'” Lee-Stephens said.
So began her search for a trainer.
This was 2003 and Lee-Stephens couldn’t find a certified trainer in the area and didn’t want pet store training, so she found the Animal Behavior College (ABC) on the internet and took the course to become a trainer herself.
“Mainly my goal was to find out what Baby Grace’s problem was. I later realized it wasn’t her problem, it was mine. I took what I needed from her to make me feel good, but I didn’t give her what she needed as a dog, so she took over my house. It’s a very common problem,” Lee-Stephens explained.
The south Louisiana native works full time at a local bank, so the ABC course took her a year to complete. Once the book part was complete, the next phase required Lee-Stephens to work at an animal shelter. She chose Hope for Animals.
“Faye Adams and Ruth Chiasson have been the most awesome rescue mentors. I work with rescued dogs, rehabilitate them, try to bring them to my home to get them used to a home environment and they get adopted,” Lee-Stephens said.
After her shelter internship, Lee-Stephens worked with a mentor trainer in Baton Rouge for 21 weeks, took her final test and began teaching Canine Etiquette classes in January 2008.
Classes last a total of seven weeks and are open to dogs of all ages. Ideally, puppies should begin around 16 weeks of age but they can come in sooner if they’ve had all their major vaccinations.
Lee-Stephens’ clients enroll via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) then she lets them know when and where they’ll meet. Most classes are held Saturday mornings at South Louisiana Seed on Main Street in Houma, but private lessons are also available.
“The first class is no dogs. I have a handout I give everybody and we talk about dog psychology, leadership, and cover all the basics about dominance and aggression, stress, food, leashes, collars, whatever you could possibly think of,” Lee-Stephens said.
During Week 2, the dogs learn about socialization while their owners learn to read canine body language. Lee-Stephens learned this lesson herself while working with rescue dogs. She explained reading their body language helped her to understand the dogs and help them.
“That’s how they talk. I want the owners to learn what impacts their dog and how to handle it. That’s crucial. One of the most important things I learned through Animal Behavior College is we have to be our animals’ protector. Anytime they’re on that leash we have to protect them otherwise that’s when they become aggressive,” Lee-Stephens said.
The following weeks, the dogs continue to learn by actions, consistency, discipline and rewards. The rewards begin as treats, but evolve into positive reinforcement using the dog’s favorite toy or affection. If the reward for training isn’t something the dog values, the training won’t be as effective.
“I’m a relationship trainer. I don’t just teach commands. You can get a book that will tell you how to teach a dog to do tricks or to sit. You have to build a relationship with your dog and it starts with respect and trust. Once you earn your dog’s trust, the respect follows. If you don’t have that solid foundation, you can forget it,” Lee-Stephens said.
If there’s a failure with training it’s that the owners don’t come back to class or they don’t follow through with the training.
“There’s no quick fix with training, you have to stick with it. They may go through half the lessons, see an improvement and stop. You can’t. You have to finish the whole thing. My classes are for the life of the dog. What that means is as long as you own that dog you can come back for a refresher course,” Lee-Stephens said.
The trainer is also an American Kennel Club (AKC) evaluator. She offers the S.T.A.R. (Socialization, Training, Activity, Responsibility) Puppy Program and the Canine Good Citizen Program.
The S.T.A.R. program teaches owners the basics about housetraining, chewing and the most effective way to teach practical skills such as coming when called. The goal is to ensure each puppy is free of aggression toward people, free of aggression toward other puppies, will tolerate a collar or body harness, will tolerate hugging or holding and will allow the owner to take away a treat or toy.
The AKC Canine Good Citizen (CGC) Program is designed to recognize dogs with good manners at home and in the community. This program stresses responsible dog ownership for owners and basic training and good manners for dogs.
“A lot of apartment buildings are requesting that people with dogs have this so they know you have a well behaved dog. Some therapy dog groups require passing the CGC test as a prerequisite, and some insurance companies recommend CGC training,” Lee-Stephens said.
In CGC training, dogs are required to accept a friendly stranger, sit politely for petting, walk on a loose lead, walk through a crowd, sit, lie down and stay in place and come when called. Reactions to other dogs and distractions are also included in the test.
Dogs that complete CGC training are eligible to become therapy dogs.
“We’re working on our first therapy dog program in this area. I’m super excited about that. We’re going to go through the Delta Society to be covered under the insurance but it will be our own little group. They have a great Reading to Rover program in schools for children to read to the dogs. It’s shown to promote great progress. If anybody wants us in their schools, they can let me know,” Lee-Stephens said.
“What training boils down to is the owner needs to be the dog’s leader. Being a leader doesn’t mean submission and dominance. Being a leader means respect, trust and love. Two totally different things. People think they have to show dominance over their dogs. No. Respect, trust and love. I emphasize that more than anything.”
“The love is free but the trust and respect is earned. Dogs will always love you always! It’s the trust and respect you need to earn. My Baby Grace had a purpose in my life and I’m still living that purpose; to help others not make the mistakes I made and to enjoy their pet,” Lee-Stephens said.
Gumbo, a 7-month-old chocolate lab, was your typical “wild” puppy when classes started at Canine Etiquette LLC. Now, the graduate, belonging to Phyllis and Evan of Thibodaux, La., is a fine, well-tuned obedience machine. PHOTO COURTESY OF CANINEETIQUETTE.ORG