Open lines of canine communication

Imagine you’ve worked a long, but fulfilling day. You come home to unwind and you’re greeted by your best bud. You can tell he’s just as happy to see you as you are him, and you’re eager to share stories from your day. But no matter how good your pal’s day was he always says it was the same — rough. Or rather, “ruff.”

Dogs are widely known as “man’s best friend,” but even best friends sometimes have communication problems.

That may sound funny, especially to some older pet owners who remember a time when a pet was just an animal who happened to live with you. Today, pets are more often considered another member of the family. However, while treating our pets like our own children might bring us closer, it also has its downfalls.

That’s where proper training — for the dog and its owner — comes in. Dog Face LLC is a dog training and behavior consulting company operating in the Greater Madison area that will soon be expanding its class offerings.

Dog Face currently offers classes and private lessons with a number of partner organizations in the area, including The Dog Hut in McFarland, Camp K9 on Madison’s east side, Ruffin’ It Resort on Madison’s west side, and Canine Sports Zone in Middleton. Class offerings range from beginner training sessions for puppies and “teen” dogs, to more advanced training, a rally course, tracking course, therapy dog training, a joint dog-owner exercise class, and more.

Beginning in June, Dog Face will also start offering classes in downtown Madison through Dog Haus University. Classes at the new site include Puppy Kindergarten, Teenager Puppies, and Dog Training I.

“We see this expansion as an opportunity to reach more pet owners in the community to help them have the best lives possible with their furry friends,” says Giene Keyes, owner and founder of Dog Face. “We will offer the same classes that we offer at our other locations, but these will be a bit tailored toward the energy of the neighborhood and focus a little more on social manners and etiquette.”

‘People coaches’

Much has changed in people’s lifestyles with their dogs in the past 20 to 30 years, notes Keyes. “When I was a kid we had a great little border collie mix named Solo. She would run around the neighborhood with the kids, playing outside for most of the daytime hours. There were no dog training classes, no dog training books, but for the most part, we all had really good dogs.

“Today our lives are much different,” she continues. “We work crazy hours and many dogs are left to sleep for a good part of the day, which I consider recharging time. They do not have the luxuries of being truly social at a young age, and are treated like human children. My dogs are completely spoiled, don’t get me wrong, but when you put many of these variables together it’s a recipe for creating behavior issues in a dog. On the flip side, our dogs are much more a part of our lives as family members now. They are our companions, we spend more time with them, we snuggle with them, they go on vacations with us — or receive the best care when we are away — and we feed them the best food possible.”

According to Keyes, Dog Face’s classes help owners learn how to communicate with and train their dogs. Private lessons offer the opportunity to have a deeper understanding of how their individual dog learns, and how they as owners or guardians can help their dog be the best dog it can be.

A rally training course offered by Dog Face.

While it might just seem like the training is for the dogs, it’s really about creating a benefit for dog owners.

“Our business impacts the people we work with just as much, if not more than, the training of their dogs,” Keyes notes. “We’re often referred to as ‘people coaches’ rather than ‘dog trainers.’ It’s our job to teach people how to communicate with their dogs, not necessarily the other way around. I think that if a person acquires a dog the main reason is for companionship. They want a friend, someone to go on walks with and spend time with, to take care of, and have fun with. So, if there is a huge communication gap between you and your best buddy, your relationship is going go fail. We are like the relationship counselors for you and your pup.”

Keyes acknowledges the old relationship trope, “Happy wife, happy life,” is applicable to dogs and their owners, too.

“Yes, happy dog equals happy owner,” she says. “If your dog is happy and loves going on walks, so do you. If your dog is stressed out and barks at everything when you go on a walk, it will snowball and you won’t want to take your dog on walks anymore because it’s not enjoyable. If your dog can’t go on walks he’ll have all of this pent up energy and will most likely start to do unwanted behaviors in the house — barking out the window, chewing things up, etcetera.

“I love the quote from Maya Angelou, ‘Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.’ Most owners I meet love their dogs, but don’t understand the way dogs learn, explains Keyes. “This can cause frustration on both ends. Just like kids, dogs learn differently, at a different pace, and in many different ways. Once we can learn about their dog and explain how their dog thinks, the communication between owner and dog becomes clear. When there is clear communication, the frustration goes away and it’s pretty amazing and rewarding to see the bonds strengthen.”



Beyond the bark

Keyes began operating a dog daycare in 2004, when most people didn’t even know what a dog daycare was. She used to have to explain to people why it was beneficial to take their dog to daycare. It was only more recently that she decided to do what she really enjoyed — helping people with their pets.

Giene Keyes says pigs can be trained in much the same way as dogs.

“For the past 20 years my passion has been to help people understand their dogs,” Keyes says. “Just like any dog lover, I couldn’t imagine my life without my beloved canines. I see many well-meaning owners who are inadvertently creating stress or anxiety in their dogs, and I want to do my part to help. It started with me wanting to help the dogs, but turned out to be an opportunity to help the owners — and shelter staff and rescue volunteers, and vet clinic techs.

“I feel that our mission is two-fold. If we help owners understand their dogs — how they think and comprehend — both of their lives will be more enjoyable. If their lives together are harmonious, there will be less dogs ending up at shelters.”

Keyes’ work with animals isn’t just limited to dogs. She personally owns dogs, cats, chickens, and pigs, and before training dogs she actually trained horses.

“My friends say that I ‘downsized,’” she jokes.

Keyes admits having chickens or pigs as actual pets and not just livestock may sound odd to a person who has never spent time with a pig or a chicken, but she argues they are pretty amazing animals. “If you’re a dog lover, think about how much you love your dog — it’s not so unbelievable that you can have a bond just like that with a chicken or a pig.”

Keyes notes there are some similarities between training dogs and training pigs and chickens. There are certainly a few differences, too.

“Since many breeds of dogs have been bred throughout the years to want to work with and ‘please’ humans, I think that we have a different mentality when training our dogs,” she explains. “Sometimes all our dog needs from us is a scratch and a ‘Good boy!’ Pigs also enjoy verbal and physical praise. If you’ve ever scratched the belly of a pig, or rubbed its nose or massaged its ears, you know that pigs love physical attention. They are often compared to dogs in their level of intelligence. However, they are highly food motivated. If you have good treat, watch out — your pig will do whatever it can do to get it!”

Chickens are a little different, she explains, but she still uses the same teaching methods of shaping, luring, and operant conditioning for chickens as she does for dogs or pigs.

“If you pet a chicken and tell it ‘Good chicken!’ you probably won’t get the same positive response as you would with a dog or even a pig,” Keyes says. “But don’t let that dissuade you from training a chicken — they are highly intelligent! Susan Troller at Cluck the Chicken Store (in Belleville) equates their bird brains to computer chips. They may be small but they contain everything a chicken needs to know.

“I can honestly say that most chickens I meet can learn and retain information faster than most dogs,” continues Keyes. “It’s true! However, the way we train them may be a contributor. All of the ‘good dog’ and petting may just be for us humans when it comes to training. If we took all of that away and were a bit more mechanical, like we are with chickens, our dogs might actually learn faster.”

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