Tucson, a five-month old golden retriever, Luna, a four-month old Great Pyrenees, and their owners. Ezra Black/The Free Press

Trainer demonstrates puppy-positive reinforcement

Puppy love at the library

On June 13, animal-loving Cathy Smith-Clark demonstrated techniques in puppy positive reinforcement training to approximatley 15 spectators outside the Fernie Heritage Library.

“I just want to help people and puppies have a better union,” said Smith-Clark. “And the more training a puppy gets, the better they are.”

Smith-Clark has been involved in dog obedience training for over 30 years. She currently owns and operates Fernie Puppy School. Event organizer Anie Hepher invited her to the library and brought out its dog-training books for the occasion.

Smith-Clark does private house calls for people seeking a personal trainer for their pets. Her specialty is early puppy education, which focuses on the important first 16 weeks of a dog’s life.

She also conducts family pet training classes where the whole household learns how to interact with and guide their pet.

“We use positive enforcement with lots of treats,” she said. “When we go to work, we get a paycheck but when they go to work, they sit and get a treat and that’s their paycheck. Dogs love that deal and it works so well.”

She was aided in her library training session by Papi a five-month old Portuguese water dog, a four-month old Great Pyrenees named Luna and a five-month old golden retriever named Tucson.

Tucson, a show dog, comes from a long line of extremely well bred dogs.

“He comes from ten generations of solid champions,” said Smith-Clark who had the puppies demonstrate agility by running through tunnels, responding to commands and other tasks.

Smith-Clark emphasized that a puppy should be properly socialized within the first 16 weeks of its life.

She recommended introducing your puppy to 100 friendly people and 100 well-behaved dogs within the two first months of its life. All the encounters should be positive to allow your dog to develop an innate goodwill towards humans and dogs.

“What you don’t want is a big bad dog to come and attack your puppy,” she said. “Let’s say a big black German Shepherd comes and attacks your puppy when its three months old, it will never get over that and it will be afraid of black Shepherds for the rest of its life.”

If you do it right for the first two months, you’ll have a great dog for life, she said.

After that time, socializing the dogs becomes harder. Retraining is of course possible but it takes a lot longer.

Smith-Clark said proper training is the least an owner can do for their pet.

“I think dogs were put on this earth to be our friends and to help us,” she said. “Dogs are so forgiving of humans and we are so lucky because of that. They love us no matter what.”