Martha’s Vineyard dog trainers are here to help

Karen Ogden works with Chester. — Photo by Gail Daman

Whether on tee shirts, mugs, or even golf balls, the image of a single black dog set against a solid background has become iconic of Martha’s Vineyard. The prevalence of this emblem demonstrates more than just the success of a marketing scheme; it is telling of the Vineyard as home to not only Islanders but also man’s best friend.

The Vineyard offers various dog-training opportunities for its many canines. Seeking puppy classes and obedience lessons? Looking for competition training and preparation? Here are two Vineyard-based centers that have achieved credibility both on the Island and beyond.

Positive Rewards Dog Training

Karen Ogden’s experience in the dog-training world began in the early 1990s when she began training one of her own golden retrievers for tracking and search-and-rescue. A business venture quickly arose from this mission, however, and 20 years later, she is held in high esteem in the dog-training world.

Her philosophy draws upon her view of successful dog training as a way of bridging the gap between dog and man, not merely as a method of fixing people’s problems with their pets.

A self-proclaimed “behavior geek,” Ms. Ogden attempts to truly understand the meaning behind dogs’ actions. She seeks to involve the dogs in behavioral modification, to keep them engaged in the process, and to get them excited about performing the actions we desire. All in all, she wants to make both owner and dog happier by improving communication between them.

To meet these goals, she uses a unique reinforcement-based method. Rather than relying on correction and punishment techniques as many other trainers do, she works to create an environment in which dogs feel comfortable and safe. With an atmosphere such as this, she says, the dogs will want to do these desired behaviors again and again, so that it becomes habit.

In training, the dogs are rewarded, usually with food, for performing. For example, in teaching a dog not to jump when others approach, Ms. Ogden rewards the dog with food whenever its feet are on the ground. Over time, this behavior becomes more and more prevalent.

For those who know psychology, it is conditioning at its finest.

The training is not a process involving only one party. As she says, “People are not only training their dogs, but also training themselves.”

This is particularly true in Ogden’s work with reactive dogs – animals that display highly aggressive behavior in the presence of others. It is by establishing a level of trust between owner and dog that reactive cases can be improved.

Ms. Ogden’s experience with Hollis, her own reactive pet, has taught her this much. The strong bond between the two now allows her to bring Hollis to the training center with her and put him in the presence of other reactive dogs. “He knows I’m not setting him up to fail,” she says.

Positive Rewards Dog Training in West Tisbury, offers group and private classes, as well as lessons beyond basic obedience, including those focused on agility and competition. For dates, rates, and registration information, visit

The Happy Dog Training

Marc Street ‘s Happy Dog Training began in 1993, but Mr. Street’s fascination with dogs began much earlier.

Always an animal lover, Mr. Street got his first dog at age 15. Puzzled over the label of violence and aggression attached to his new pit bull, he began researching dog behavior and obedience training. The area intrigued him, and he found himself thirsting for more information. In 1993, after years attending seminars and working for other trainers, he founded the Happy Dog Training, focused primarily on obedience training and behavior modification.

Nearly 20 years later, he has been featured on “Good Morning America,” appeared on a variety of news programs throughout the nation, and helped many with dog obedience problems. He points to his “no-nonsense approach” as responsible for his success.

Like Ms. Ogden, Mr. Street stresses the importance of the owner in obedience training. Dog behavior is simple, he says, but, “Put a human into the equation and it becomes very complex.” Making sure that the dog’s human counterpart has a good understanding of what he or she needs to do is as essential to successful behavior modification as training the dog.

Dog training, according to Mr. Street, is all about the owner and dog learning to interact in a way that is mutually beneficial.

What best illustrates this is the success he has found in training dogs with serious behavioral issues. By working with both dog and owner, he has helped implement a number of behavioral changes that have saved dogs on the cusp of being abandoned or euthanized. Both parties – canine and human – complete training more understanding of one another.

Mr. Street offers obedience training and behavior modification services on the Vineyard from June through September. Much of his training is done at the homes of his clients, before taking the dogs and owners on field trips. Other services include group classes and puppy kindergarten.

During the other eight months of the year, Mr. Street works out of his center in Palm Beach. There, he offers many of the same services as on the Vineyard and also runs a daycare for dogs, which promotes interaction and diminishes aggression between those of the same kind.

His work extends beyond his center. He volunteers at animal shelters, giving lessons in basic obedience so that the dogs there become more adoptable. And, he specializes in installing underground fences and similar systems that promote a healthier, more active lifestyle for dogs.

Visit or call 508-693-6027.