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Local dog training club helps build owner – dog bond

Savannah+competing+at+a+lure+course.+Courtesy+of+Susan+Tosto
Savannah competing at a lure course. Courtesy of Susan Tosto
Andrea Lachance holds the leash tightly coiled around her hand as Mazie, her seven-month-old black Labrador, lunges forward, barking loudly at another dog. After several sharp tugs, Lachance is out of breath but manages to pull the excited Mazie aside to calm down.

Lachance and Mazie are members of the Ithaca Dog Training Club. They’ve been attending the beginner’s class for two weeks, and Lachance’s goal for Mazie is to make her into a better behaved, and a more athletic dog.

“She does okay [in public]. She’s better than before but she likes other dogs a lot so when she comes in [to the IDTC class] she’s barking and wants to play,” Lachance said. “She’s quite athletic so we’ll see about the agility course but I want to get her through good citizen training first.”

The Ithaca Dog Training Club (IDTC) is run by a group of volunteer trainers and has courses for dogs of various obedience skills. The club offers beginner’s classes for puppies (under six months) and dogs, as well as rally, agility and canine good citizen courses. Each course runs for six weeks and meets weekly at Cornell University’s Livestock Pavilion.

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People interested in taking courses must first submit an application to become a member of the IDTC. They can enroll in classes that is appropriate to the dog’s obedience level, move up to more advanced classes, and can even apply to become an instructor.

While dog training may not seem like a sport to some, IDTC instructor Marian Szebenyi said it is a sport that requires practice, learning and bonding by both dog and the owner. She has been with the club for more than three decades, first as a beginner’s class member and now as a veteran dog instructor.

“The instructor doesn’t teach the dog,” Szebenyi said. “What we do is we teach the owners how to work with their dogs and having their dog pay attention to the owner. That carries over to whatever they want to teach them. You’ve got to have some kind of a bond.”

Many people who go through IDTC classes see varied levels of success, Szebenyi said, from having dogs that listens better to dogs that go into athletic competitions.

Susan Tosto, along with her dog Savannah, began taking classes at the club and has moved up to lure coursing, which is an advanced level competition where dogs display speed, endurance and agility by zigzagging across fields at high speeds after an artificial lure. But to get to that level, Tosto said basic training comes first.

“You go to basic training with a dog just to learn how to interact with them, which is really what basic obedience is. That’s a great place for anyone to start if they want to move on to other things, like if they want to compete in agility or in obedience. Whatever it is, the basics are important,” Tosto said.

Mike Hagin, another member of the club, compared taking his mom’s dog to classes as equivalent to going to the gym. “Every lesson comes new challenges; mental and physical for both the dog and me. We strive to go a little further and do a little better every time,” he said

He said he’s seeing his mother’s dog change with each class she attends. And he benefits, too, by honing his skills of raising a dog for when he decides to have one of his own.

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