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Trainers aim to equip dogs with life skills and social savvy

ELLSWORTH — Do you have a bad dog or a really, really bad dog? Is your dog like humorist James Thurber’s Muggs in “The Dog That Bit People?” Or do you have a canine trash burglar or a hound that pulls a fast disappearing act? All will be well. Tracy Shaw and Rod Sparkowich of Coastal K9 Dog Training and Consulting Services can help you manage your dog, even if he is really, really bad.

We say ‘he’ because Shaw says the majority of Coastal K9 clients are adolescent male dogs.

But no matter the sex, Shaw and Sparkowich can help.

“We give owners the skills to manage the behaviors,” Shaw said. “The bottom line is trying to keep the dog in its home forever. They are hard to manage and people need help with that.”

Phone calls from prospective clients usually start out, “Hi, my name is so and so and I have a bad dog,” Shaw said. “Or the best one is ‘I have a really bad dog.’”

People have lots of misconceptions about dog-training, the pair said.

A common one is that dog training is just for bad dogs.

“It’s for all dogs,” Shaw said. All dogs need to develop “life skills and social savvy.”

Sparkowich said another is the belief that everyone should be able to train his or her own dog.

People see professionals for help fixing cars or houses and so it should be with dogs.

“The problem is there are so many old and outdated methods that involve an excessive amount of physical force,” Sparkowich said. Grabbing a dog by the scruff and lying on top of it to show dominance is outdated, he said. “A lot of people have used that and gotten hurt by it.”

Another misconception is that only one person in the household needs to handle dog training.

Dog management really needs to be a family effort, Shaw said. “The more the merrier. You want the dog to have consistency and everybody to be on the same page.”

The world today is becoming more dog-friendly than ever, said Shaw. So, your dog should not only know how to behave but also how to navigate social situations, much like you.

“We just go in and basically become a life coach for the dogs,” Shaw said.

Coastal K9 goes to clients’ homes for training sessions but meeting clients in public spaces and taking dogs on field trips are an important part of training.

Carol Lamb of Hampden celebrated a victory when she and her boxer Chance navigated downtown Ellsworth together.

Lamb had called Coastal K9 for help because Chance was having “some behavioral issues.”

“He occasionally bites people when they try to leave the kitchen,” Lamb said.

Lamb and her family had adopted Chance and his sister as puppies, so Lamb felt as though she must have done something wrong in training. She felt like she was a bad dog mother.

“We were beside ourselves,” Lamb said.

While searching the Internet for help, Lamb found Coastal K9, which has a home page photo of a boxer wearing a graduation cap.

“I said, ‘I want that for my dog,’” Lamb said.

Lamb said she had heard, “once a dog bites you, it’s all over. I thought that can’t be true.”

It isn’t true.

“In 10 minutes, he [Sparkowich] had solved several problems,” said Lamb. Changing the way Chance wore his collar and adjusting the way Lamb held his leash, made a big difference.

As far as biting people as they leave the kitchen, Sparkowich simply had the family remove Chance from that situation. When people are leaving, Chance goes to another room.

The Lamb Family got the best Christmas gift of all, spending the holiday with their dogs.

A dozen people, ornaments, tables of food, wrapping paper and there were no bad dogs. Chance and his boxer sister just hung out like good dogs, Lamb said.

Sparkowich “has just saved us,” said Lamb. “He has saved me, the dog and everything else. He is intuitive about dogs. He really understands how to reach them, how to modify their behavior. He really understands people, what they can do, what they can’t do.”

Shaw and Sparkowich’s love for dogs started when they were both children.

Shaw had two blind aunts who owned service dogs. Every summer trip to visit the aunts included a trip to The Seeing Eye at Morristown, N. J.

Shaw started her first business at age 8 walking an “aggressive Pekingese” for an elderly neighbor.

Sparkowich was influenced by an aunt who trained and showed Scottish terriers and West Highland terriers.

Both are passionate about dogs.

“Every day I’m amazed by their intelligence and their unconditional love, their commitment to the human in their life,” Shaw said.

The couple also train service dogs as well as provide advanced training, such as agility work for show dogs.

Coastal K9 also offers a Canine Good Citizen program, which upon completion of may help some homeowners obtain lower insurance rates.