THUNDER BAY -- Registered Veterinary Technician Anne-Marie Mayes’s business, The Dog Classroom, got its start when she and a colleague started teaching classes for puppies almost 10 years ago. She soon wanted to expand and do more, so she became a Certified Professional Dog Trainer with the Association of Professional Dog Trainers.
Over the past few years, she has widened her class offerings, built a dedicated indoor space for the classes, added a fenced outdoor training space and hired other dog trainers to teach a multitude of courses.
Currently, there are more than three dozen classes a week, ranging from puppy play school (for puppies 8 to 14 weeks old) to agility. There are also classes for reactive (aggressive) dogs, classes specifically for loose-leash walking and recall, tricks, scent games (games involving scent detection) and sessions for small dogs.
Besides Mayes, there are six instructors teaching the classes and while it is difficult for them to upgrade their training in Thunder Bay, they travel when they can and also do online courses in order to bring new aspects of dog training to Thunder Bay.
With the business growing at a good pace, Mayes is running out of room in her training space on Hazelwood Drive. She has recently added classes at Pet Value on Dawson Road and at Lilac Grove, a dog-boarding business on Mapleward Road.
In the future, Mayes hopes to do more seminars - workshops not involving canine participation - to teach people why dogs do the things that they do, and how to deal with it. “Sometimes our expectations of dogs are not realistic,” she explains. “Another common issue people have is when babies come into the family - I get a lot of questions around that.”
Mayes does individual consultations for people struggling with their dog’s undesirable behaviour. “A lot of the people who contact me feel like they’re the only ones with that problem,” she says, but issues such as resource guarding (aggressive behaviour such as growling around toys and/or food) and reactivity (fear and aggression towards dogs or people) are fairly common. “There’s a lot of dogs out there that need help.”
There isn’t an age limit when it comes to modifying behaviours, she says. “One of the oldest dogs I had in class was about 10," she recalls. “Depending on the issue, there’s always something you can do. Of course, as dogs get older, training takes longer to kick in; needs a lot more repetition, but it’s also about tweaking the handler’s approach. I’m actually training people to train their dog,” she explains.
“A lot depends on how much the owner practices and follows the exercises. I’ve had people just want to give me their dog and say “please fix my dog” but the owners need to be part of the process, because they’re part of the problem. They need to learn how to read and understand their dog, and things will get better,” she says.
As busy as she is with The Dog Classroom, Mayes still works one or two days a week as a vet tech. “Why? I enjoy it. It just sort of keeps you going, and I bring something a little different to the table, as far as perspective goes - I have the vet tech perspective, I have the training perspective, and I have the behaviour perspective. So I joke with clients that I’m technically three people in one.”