Dog Training Yields Better Behavior

The News Journal
January 18, 2005
Written By: Christopher Yasiejko

Dog Training Yields Better Behavior
When dog owners despair, this specialized training employs body language and vocal tones to break bad habits and improve behavior

Loren Glenn and her husband have put their dogs through obedience school, but still the pooches dig foot-deep holes through freshly laid sod. In the Glenns' last home, they returned one day to find chunks of missing drywall. The Dobermans, Zeus and Zena, greeted them with snouts powdered in white.

For help, they called John Desiderio, local franchise owner of an animal training service called Bark Busters, which has a different take on teaching both dogs and owners. Problem behaviors are to be resolved by increasing communication between owners and pets using, in the company's words, "methods that appeal to the canine psyche."

It's a philosophy that emphasizes body language - since dogs respect size and posture, stand up when teaching commands - and vocal tones - using as gutteral a tone as possible, offer a quick "bah!" in place of "no" or the dog's name.

Home schooling for dogs

Such techniques at first seemed intimidating to Jennifer Faulkner, 22, who hired Bark Busters to help her control a dachshund mutt named Brody.

Brody's problem was more due to his bite than his bark. He has bitten people, including casual friends who have visited Faulkner's Pike Creek apartment. One friend leaned toward Faulkner to get her jacket, and Brody leapt and bit her face.

The woman wasn't hurt, but the behavior was enough to send Faulkner looking for help.

She thought about taking Brody to obedience school, she says, "but I was afraid he'd bite somebody." When Faulkner learned that Desiderio would visit her home, she decided to give it a try.

Faulkner began the session with a 20-minute interview with the owner and a brief flip-chart presentation about the company and its methods.

Brody was so anxious that instead of Desiderio observing him, as he usually does during those first 20 minutes, the dog had to be placed in a bedroom.

Still, she says, the process is working. (It is more detailed than is described here, partly because of a "correction device" Desiderio says the company considers proprietary information.) Brody hasn't been biting guests or strangers, and his barking isn't as dominant.

Franchise for animal lover

An international company, Bark Busters claims to have trained more than 200,000 dogs since 1989. The home visits can easily cost hundreds of dollars - Desiderio declined to publicize the exact figure. A written guarantee allows for limitless followup visits anywhere a franchise exists, but he says he rarely has had to teach the same dog twice.

His livelihood was born last October out of necessity and hobby. Desiderio, 53, couldn't retire after he became another victim of corporate downsizing, so he researched franchise opportunities. Bark Busters seemed the perfect option - Desiderio, of Middletown, has six children, seven parrots, four dogs and two cats.

Desiderio attended a four-week training course at the company's headquarters in Denver. He took a comprehensive written and hands-on exam. He scoured several thick manuals.

Recently, he laid out the approach to dealing with Loren Glenn's errant dogs during a visit to her home in Harbeson. At the dining room table, Desiderio asked her what issues she wanted to correct.

Desiderio took her through the flip book. They spoke of dogs' basic requirements, what to avoid while teaching commands, and how best to establish pack dominance.

But over the next two hours, the dogs were well-behaved. They barked now and then. They played a bit. Desiderio showed Glenn effective ways to keep Zena and Zeus in line when walking them together, and he showed her how to set guidelines for where they should wait when guests knock on the front door, but she'd have to enact that once they misbehaved. Bark Busters stresses clear communication in a manner that dogs understand; there is a distinct line between reprimanding and congratulating a dog.

If that changes, though, he'll return.

Reprinted with permission from The News Journal 03-29-05