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Putting their best paws forward

Created date

November 23rd, 2010

With their own dog park and loving owners, Greenspring s canine community enjoys as enviable a lifestyle as their owners. And since 2004, they ve had their own club the Dogs of Greenspring, or DOG for short. Always mindful of their fellow community members, the dogs even devote time to volunteering in a pet therapy program. These fuzzy friends also display behaviors that would make Miss Manners smile thanks to the skillful guidance of community member Joan MacKenzie. MacKenzie, a certified pet trainer, moved to Greenspring last summer with her Tibetan spaniel, Sandy. Before I moved to Greenspring, I was on campus visiting and made a point to spend some time at the dog park, says MacKenzie. It was there that I met Kay McCurdy, the founder of the DOG group. She mentioned that the group would love to have the aid of a dog trainer. For my part, I was glad to find a group of pet lovers. It was a perfect match.

Hitting the ground running

Within weeks of her move, McKenzie volunteered to lead a series of training sessions for the campus canines. Her approach to training the dogs is to first teach the owners how a dog learns. Emphasizing positive reinforcement, she provides the dogs with exercise, stimulation, and structure. Positive reinforcement is scientifically proven to be more effective than aversive training, and it builds much better bonds, she says. I use Tellington Touch as part of my training, a program for calming and instilling confidence in the dog. Because many of the Greenspring dogs are young and reactive, McKenzie s efforts include socialization through structured games. The dogs meet either at the campus dog park or, in the cooler months, in the crafts room. Each session is very structured, says McKenzie. Even indoors we have agility equipment we use to lead the dogs through jumping and walking exercises. I also like to use scent/nose games because I find them to be most effective in teaching socialization. McKenzie will show a dog how to find a treat she has hidden in a box. She will wrap the treat in tissue and place it in a box, and then another box, and another, ultimately creating a huge nesting of boxes that the dogs love to paw through. All of the dogs have responded so well to the training, says McCurdy, the former president of the DOG group. Joan s expertise has been a great boon for our group. Everyone enjoys the sessions so much and has a lot of fun with their pets.

Higher education

As the Greenspring dogs became models of good behavior, McKenzie evolved her sessions into enrichment lessons, building on the behaviors that had already been learned. Many of the dogs began working toward an American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen certificate. Last year, five canines received the distinction, including President of the DOG group, Janet Madden s dog Gilby. McKenzie s lessons have helped Gilby, my King Charles spaniel, immensely, she says. In fact, I believe all the dogs are healthier and happier as a result of the training. I continue to be amazed at just how much they are able to retain. Margarete Morgan s dachshund/Jack Russell terrier, Angel, has also blossomed from the training. I think the most important thing I learned was how to stimulate Angel with games that would entertain him, she says. Angel is a quieter, happier dog because of all that Joan has taught us.

Let me entertain you

With the basics of good behavior under their leashes, some of Greenspring s most ambitious pooches geared up for their first stage appearance. It became evident that many members of the community enjoy watching our dogs learn, says McKenzie. We often have people watching our lessons and laughing at the dogs antics. So we ve decided to put some real effort into teaching the dogs some tricks. Each year at Halloween, DOGS hosts a popular pet parade featuring their dogs in costume. Since McKenzie s arrival, a few of the dogs have learned tricks to perform during the parade. Building on that concept, McKenzie hopes to train at least six dogs to perform in a Canine Circus in April 2011 to raise money for Greenspring s scholarship program. It will be a lot of hard work and will require a great deal of dedication, but I believe the effort will really pay off, she says. In the meantime, McKenzie and her fellow dog owners are enjoying the winter months with their best friends. Both Sandy and I are happy with our move to Greenspring, she says. We are looking forward to many good times with our new friends.