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For her, training dogs is a walk in the park

A Land O'Lakes woman helps socialize and train dogs in free Sunday sessions at Lake Park.

Published July 3, 2005

LUTZ - It was time to hush the dog.

A small white Maltese, its high-pitched shrills peppering the midmorning quiet, was about to be sprayed with Bitter Apple, a substance sometimes used to silence a dog's booming bark. Its owner, laughing but visibly a little apprehensive, poised the bottle over the canine's mouth.

"Aww," Dorlah Davis, 50, said, watching the Maltese during the Sunday morning training and socialization session in Lake Park in Lutz. "Latte over here wouldn't stop barking last week. He almost got sprayed."

On this particular morning, Latte, Davis' chocolate poodle, was better behaved. In the past, when Davis and Latte trotted around their Carrollwood neighborhood, neighbors would watch the jittery Latte and ponder, who's walking whom?

"He's learned to sit and pay attention to commands," Davis said. "And I've learned that I'm the owner and I have to be in control."

Land O'Lakes resident Helene Scott, a certified dog trainer, runs these free socialization and training seminars every Sunday for dogs such as Latte at 10 a.m at Lake Park, and regulars say they see almost instant improvements.

Scott knows each pooch by name. She can quickly identify quirks, weaknesses and bad habits. She uses a method of "command, reprimand, command" to coax each canine to learn to heel, sit and behave.

Two-year-old Zoe on this day had the opposite problem as some of her yappy classmates. The tiny Pomeranian cowered and hid behind her owner, deathly bashful of other furry friends and their human counterparts.

Her owners say Zoe has improved since attending the Sunday morning training sessions, however.

"She's more calm, and running different commands," said Wesley Chapel resident Greg Kreilein, 34, as Zoe allowed an assistant dog trainer to approach her and scratch behind her ear. "But then she goes and hides."

The dog owners also toss questions at Scott like they would a Frisbee to their pets. One on Sunday asked why dogs need to socialize.

"It's the safest way to introduce new dogs, because they are leashed," Scott answered. "We can teach them good manners, do behavior modification, and teach them that not all dogs are bad."

In the meantime, fellow dog owners swapped nail-grooming tips, traded war stories, and shared sympathy on pooch-related topics such as body space issues, shyness and a particular dog's dislike of men.

Though many of the dogs that show up weekly at Lake Park in Lutz aren't Scott's regular clients, she said she runs a thriving business that averages about 20 to 25 client appointments per week.

Scott's Land O'Lakes-based service, in business in the area since October, stretches all the way to her native New Jersey, where the original branch employs two trainers. After she was laid off, she underwent a six-week dog training education course to get the job that she says combines flexibility with her puppy love.

Now constantly surrounded by her dogs Bailey and Snowball, Scott seems to be one whose house has always been filled with the pitter-patter of a canine's padded feet. But the lifelong dog aficionado didn't even own one as a child, leaving her to walk her neighbor's pets and volunteer at animal shelters as a substitute for the missing four-legged creatures at her home.

"I loved dogs before I could talk," she said. But "I thought I could never make my passion my livelihood."

Scott, whose mantra is "We can train any dog," uses a blend of positive and negative reinforcements to live up to her promise. If a dog obeys, he or she may get a "happy voice" from Scott or some extra free time with a ball outside. If the dog doesn't, a tug on the collar or a warning in a stern tone quickly greets the canine.

And this usually means no treats. Meeting the dog on neutral territory, such as a playground, or coming to an appointment with a muzzle may also sometimes be necessary.

But through the incessant barks, the frightened puppies and even the occasional bite, Scott perseveres. She'll never turn away a dog in need of training, regardless of the problems, assistant Mandy Dahir said.

"Helene's whole philosophy is, "Bring on the challenge,' " said Dahir, a Tampa resident. "She aims for progress, not perfection."

[Last modified July 2, 2005, 09:23:03]

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