The bond between a dog and its owner is one solidified by thousands of years of loyal companionship — there’s a reason folks call them “man’s best friend.”
But that precious relationship can be strained if a dog is not properly trained, and owning a pet becomes more of a chore instead of a blessing.
Of course, prospective pet owners have to be dedicated and willing to do a lot for their dog’s well-being, but a good trainer can help improve the relationship between dog and human.
Luckily, the Island has a number of talented and knowledgeable dog trainers who make it their mission to bring you and your ball of fur together in harmony.
The first trainer The Times met with was Jeremy Jones, who learned all he knows about dogs from the Dogcharmer himself, Tom Shelby.
Jones said he loves balancing his full-time carpentry job with dog training, because it gives him a break from a relatively tedious schedule. “I really like the independence of being a dog trainer. It is kind of my side gig, but it also takes a lot of time and energy,” Jones said. “I get to set my own schedule, and meet people on my own time.”
One thing Jones said he enjoys about dog training is the uncertainty, which keeps him on his toes and provides new experiences every day. “I really never know what to expect with each dog, it’s a surprise all the time,” Jones said.
Sometimes, Jones said, he has fewer than 10 clients at a time, but during the peak summer months he can have more than 20 clients.
But Jones tries to limit the amount of sessions for each dog, because he hopes to provide the owner the opportunity to train the dog on their own. “I want to give people the tools they need to be independent in training their own dogs,” Jones said. “My goal is to give the owner the knowledge they need to have control over their pets.”
Jones said part of his training involves teaching the dog obedience and good behavior, but a large part of his program is informing owners, and teaching them as well.
“You are definitely training both the dog and the owner, whether you realize it or not,” Jones said. “There’s a lot of teamwork involved with getting a dog to listen to commands.”
Jones said he started out training his own dogs, and from there he met the Dogcharmer, Tom Shelby.
Jones began apprenticing with Shelby, learning everything there is to teach about dogs and their connections with people. “Tom really took me under his wing, and gave me all the knowledge I could ask for to make this my own thing,” Jones said. After six years apprenticing, Jones struck out on his own.
“He was an incredible mentor — big shoes to fill with him,” Jones said.
Jones said his favorite thing about dog training is being able to help people grow their relationships with their pets. He told a story of a recent night of training at a client’s house, where the dog would bark for hours when the family would leave. “It can be a really difficult situation for people, because they love their dogs and want to have a good relationship with them,” Jones said. “It can get pretty emotional.”
For Jones, consistency is key when training a dog. He said a dog can have a huge vocabulary of commands, as long as that vocabulary doesn’t change throughout the process. “The words you use to train a dog don’t matter as much, but you need to use the same vocabulary, or else you will confuse them. Dogs are much smarter than we give them credit for — smarter than most humans,” Jones joked.
According to Jones, the ideal place to train a dog is where they spend most of their time, like in the home or the backyard. Jones also works with the Martha’s Vineyard Animal Shelter, and does spring and fall puppy classes.
“It’s all about allowing the owner and the dog to live in harmony together,” Jones said. “I prefer to do private lessons in people’s homes because I get to train the dog in its environment, where it will be most comfortable.”
Jones enjoys training his clients’ dogs, as well as his own, Bonzai and Reggie.
“I really understand dogs, and I think dogs understand us. It really is a match made in heaven,” Jones said.
The Times also got a chance to meet with Island dog trainer Brian Luce during one of his weekly training sessions.
Luce was training Grady, a young red Lab, alongside his owner, Ann McNamus. McNamus said she has had Grady since he was 8 weeks old.
“He has already shown so much progress; it’s pretty incredible how fast it happens, because he is such a stubborn pup,” McNamus said.
McNamus said her goal for Grady is to be able to walk him without exerting too much effort, or being pulled over and injured. “Grady is a strong dog, and I’m older. So I need to be able to take him for a walk without having him take me for a walk,” McNamus said.
With a slip collar, a remote current collar, and some doggie treats, Luce said he hopes to control Grady’s impulses, whether it’s reacting to a scent, a sound, or another animal.
“When Grady sees another dog coming, he is going to approach it, that’s just instinct,” Luce said. “What we are trying to do is control that instinct, not suppress it.”
Luce would let Grady track onto a scent path, then he would activate the remote current collar, which sends a weak electrical frequency through the collar to prompt a response. “So I’m using the collar to get his attention, then once I have his attention, I guide him back over by calling him and offering him a treat,” Luce said.
The toolbox for dog trainers, according to Luce, is vast. “Depending on the level of training of the dog, the environment, and temperament, I utilize different methods,” Luce said.
Luce said many people will buy a remote collar and expect the dog to immediately become obedient and listen to commands, but that isn’t the case. “If you go buy a remote collar from Petco and turn the frequency up all the way, you’re going to complain that your dog is afraid of everything,” Luce said. “That is the opposite of what our objective is.”
Luce said patience is everything when training a dog, and the key is to not get frustrated.
“I don’t overwhelm the dog with a lot of commands right out of the gate, and I let the dog learn at whatever pace it sets. Just like people, every dog learns at a different pace,” Luce said.
At session three, Luce said he doesn’t expect a miracle from Grady, and instead hopes for small steps forward every time they get together. He said it takes thousands of repetitions for a dog to learn a command or build a positive habit, which means many hours of inherent training and practice.
“I’m more focused on the psychology behind commands, and using instinct to inform good behavior,” Luce said.
From Airedales to American pit bulls, whether your dog needs comprehensive training or just a little push in the right direction, there are plenty of skilled dog trainers on the Island to help you out.
Here’s how to reach some of our Island dog trainers: Jeremy Jones: 508-633-0841, email@example.com; Brian Luce: 508-939-0319, firstname.lastname@example.org; Karen Ogden, Positive Rewards Dog Training: 508-693-3708, email@example.com; Marc Street, Happy Dog Training: 508-693-6027, thehappydogtraining.com; and Rise and Shine K9: 508-939-0283, firstname.lastname@example.org.