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Published August 29 2011

It's My Job: Moorhead woman trains pets out of her home

MOORHEAD - Stevie Mathre didn’t own a dog for much of her adult life. Then, 14 years ago, she started volunteering to walk shelter dogs at the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. She took to helping the volunteer coordinator run training classes and liked it so much she kept on going.

Now, the certified dog trainer runs her own pet-training business – All Smart Pets Training – from her Moorhead home. She has four dogs – two of them rescues, two from breeders – along with three cats. She trains those, too, and one is a registered therapy pet she brings to nursing homes and schools.

The Forum sat down with Mathre to talk about her training methods. She can be reached at (701) 412-6375 or at allsmartpets@gmail.com.

Q: What’s the most important aspect of training?

A: The relationship is the most important part. You can’t train without a relationship of trust and respect. I do all my training using positive reinforcement, science-based learning theory. It’s mostly hands-off. I don’t correct or punish him (Kiernan, her smooth-coat collie) except by taking away the opportunity to train with me.

He wants to work for me. He loves to work. He’s eager to try new things, and he’s not afraid of making a mistake … And when he gets it right, he gets lots of praise and treats.

What’s the hardest thing to teach a dog?

That’s hard to say. In a certain sense, teaching any kind of scent work is difficult, but it’s difficult for us because we don’t have the kind of noses that dogs do. They have no problem at all scenting – it’s just communicating what you want them to smell.

Motion things – running, jumping, agility – it’s the communication and telling your dog where to go. It’s my responsibility to learn how to tell him where to go and be the leader. He can do it on his own – I just have to tell him where to go.

What kind of work do you do with your clients and their dogs?

If there are any behavioral issues that we’re working on that you want to stop or change, that’s mostly what I do – aggression, barking, jumping on people, being reactive to other dogs by jumping and lunging. And quite a few bite cases, where the dog has gotten over-aroused and the owner doesn’t know how to handle it.

We talk about what your expectations are and the dog’s history and how you’ve related to him in the past. And I like to try to get them (the dogs) to do things to earn some rewards so they learn that they have a modicum of control and they can do things to make us give them treats.

Say you’re working on something like jumping up on people – what kind of steps do you go through?

First, I get them totally focused on you so that they’re really looking to you for direction and instruction on what to do. I want to start with as few distractions as possible so that he’s not out of control when he’s trying to practice this.

And then we just set up situations. I want you to learn to recognize his behavior before he jumps so that you can redirect him to an incompatible behavior. You can’t sit and jump at the same time, so you tell him to sit before your dog jumps. If you can figure out the trigger – you know someone is coming over – you can teach him to go lie down on his bed and stay there.

Talk about training cats. That seems harder than training dogs.

It’s a little different. I use basically the same philosophy of rewards, because if you punish a cat and he’s mad at you, there’s not going to be much relationship there. So we go slower, use really high-value treats, lots of rewards, and very short training sessions.

It depends on your skills as a trainer, your patience, and what the cat’s physically capable of, but you can train them to do anything. You can train a cat to do agility; you can train them to come, sit down, fetch.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Marino Eccher at (701) 241-5502


To submit an idea for “It’s My Job,” email businessnews@forumcomm.com.