Dog training a 24/7 job

A pair of local dog training experts give great advice about approaching the training process, but the most important lesson of all is to form a tight bond with your pet.

Nikki Ivey has been training dogs for nearly fifteen years and she explains that teaching your pet to be obedient begins and ends at home.

"Training is a 24/7 process," Ivey said. "That being said, you need to find the training program that fits you. We want to take a realistic approach."

Ivey started off as a personal dog trainer, and once her client base grew, she began Dogspeak, a method of training that teaches owners skills of communicating with their dogs.

Today, Ivey teaches not only pet owners, but she also educates other dog professionals, providing staff training to doggie daycares and shelters. Her business offers clinics and seminars and provides group classes and consultations.

According to Ivey, the first step towards success is interacting with your dog appropriately. She says that maintaining a positive attitude is key in correcting bad behavior.

"When we become frustrated, we become inconsistent," she said. "We want to teach dogs to have confidence in themselves while also teaching them to be fearful to try new behavior."

Peg Dawson Harrington, owner of the Happy Hound, believes that strong nutrition and overall health of the animal is crucial in the training process. She recommends only human-grade ingredients in pet food with no preservatives. Her first order of business is to ensure that the dog's physical problems are addressed, and only then can she curb bad behavior.

Harrington also stresses the need to develop a strong, trusting relationship with your pet. She believes that people's expectations of their pets are skewed by society and the media.

"Reality is so much different," she said. "In training, there are no magic bullets. Dogs are very complex creatures."

To achieve that goal, Harrington teaches her four-legged clients through positive reinforcement. Her training methods are predominantly reward-based. Anything a dog desires—food, toys, playtime, etc.—can be used as a positive reinforcer.

Another key element in the training process is to provide your dog with clear boundaries. These boundaries assist in the emotional management of your pet.

"While we need to remain calm and not engage our dogs when they're acting inappropriately, it's just as important to teach your pet how to deal with frustration as well," Harrington said.

In 2001, Ivey founded the volunteer K-9 search and rescue organization TERRA (Tennessee Emergency Rescue and Recovery Association, Inc.) which specializes in finding missing persons and cadaver recovery through air-scenting and trailing in water, wilderness and urban settings throughout Middle Tennessee. For more information visit

A trainer and behavioral specialist, Harrington has studied with Pat Miller, former president of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers.  Her focus is on behavioral modification. The Happy Hound offers behavioral consults, private lessons, and on-site boarding. Phone consults are also available. For more information, visit

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