VACAVILLE — Helga, a 9-month-old Great Dane, is learning she’s not a chihuahua. When she stands on her hind legs, this canine is taller than her owner, Craig Larsen.
Larsen and his wife Renee are among the dog owners taking a dog obedience class offered through the Chief Solano Kennel Club and taught by Susan Sakala.
Sakala got involved when she purchased a purebred Shetland Sheepdog and searched for a dog training class but couldn’t find one to take her young pup. So she began working with the dog one-on-one.
Early training is the key, she said, adding that many dogs in shelters didn’t receive that attention. A young puppy is cute. When it’s about 6 or 7 months, it enters an adolescence phase. Just like teens who love to challenge their parents, dogs of this age like to test their human owners.
Helga started her training as puppy. She’s learned a lot, Craig Larsen said.
“We want her to pay attention and mind (us),” he said.
She is going to grow more and with small children and two small dogs at home, Helga needs to be on her best behavior, Larsen said. When she gets excited, her 120-pound body can make an impact when it hits something.
Danielle Binderup and her mom Genevieve Gallien take their three English springer spaniels to the obedience class. Snowdrop is too shy to show, Binderup said of one dog. A second, Adam, is working on his championship.
Bridges, the third dog, is named after actor-singer Jeff Bridges. He watches out for Gallien.
Binderup was hit by a drunken driver a few years ago and has had three surgeries, including two total knee replacements. The dogs have her walking again while saving her sanity, she said.
“These guys are great,” Binderup said, looking at her dogs.
Obedience is a team sport, Sakala emphasized to the dog owners. Humans have to do their part, too.
She starts with the fundamentals, such as sit and heel.
“You’ve got to master them before you can go further,” she said. “They (the dogs) have to understand them and you have to work off that. It’s pretty common sense.”
Sakala also teaches classes through the city of Vacaville. The majority of her students sign up for the class because they want their dog to be manageable, she said. Others are there because they want to show their dogs.
She likes the idea of mandatory obedience training along the lines of required spaying or neutering. Too few people seek out dog training, Sakala said. Those who do, don’t often go beyond the basic obedience class. By the time the seven-week session ends, Sakala said up to half of the class has dropped out.
Consistency is the key.
“Breeders start training when the puppies; eyes open,” she said.
Some breeds are easier to train, but she has yet to meet a dog that couldn’t be trained.
Sakala joined the Chief Solano Kennel Club in 2007.
Linda Wendorff serves as the club president. She joined before she had a dog, after meeting some club members at a function. Since then, she’s raised a handful of breeds after being mentored by charter members of the club, which was founded in 1970.
She expects to see more people interested in the classes offered by her club as the Westminster Kennel Club has opened up to mixed breeds. No mixed-breed dogs have appeared at the prestigious show in almost 138 years.
The club will stage its first agility championship next month, two days before the annual Westminister’s pageant of dogs.
For information on the Chief Solano Kennel Club, visit www.chiefsolanokennelclub.org.
Reach Amy Maginnis-Honey at 427-6957 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amaginnisdr.