ST MARYS â€” A typical day for a St. Marys couple can include anything from â€śsitâ€ť and â€śstayâ€ť commands to training Top Dog police officers.
â€śTop Dog University,â€ť located at 323 Aviation Way near the St. Marys Airport, was opened in 2016, but Ben and Marissa Kleinman have worked with dogs for years.
Marissa worked in vet clinics, and Ben was a dog walker, kennel supervisor and dog handler, and they were both part of a search and rescue team. Their love story even began at the National K9 Learning Center in Ohio, where Marissa and her German Shepherd, Mousse, attended the six-week training session, and Ben trained another ownerâ€™s dog.
Besides extensively training their own three personal dogs â€” Mousse, Bas and Extra â€” they offer obedience and specialty K9 training to pet owners and police departments.
During K9 police dog training, canines learn handler protection, tracking and trailing on and off of a leash and drug detection. The handler also completes extensive training.
Although most of their time is spent on obedience training, their ultimate goal is to train more police dogs, the couple says. Theyâ€™ve been receiving more interest in their specialty training programs.
â€śWe can do school or factory or jail searches with our own dogs,â€ť Ben says. â€śWe want to help the community out.â€ť
Mousse and Benâ€™s German Shepherd/Malinois mix, Bas, are both certified as police K9s. The Kleinmans use their dogs as as examples of the police K9 training programâ€™s success.
They take the dogs on tracking searches at night, and have them findPsuedo Narcotic Scents like heroin in a locker or car. They are also fully trained in â€śattackingâ€ť anyone who tries to harm their handler â€” with one simple command, they attack or stand down.
German shepherds have a lot of protective qualities, Marissa said. They are naturally energetic and intelligent, and an overall great dog for trainers.
Before the dog is accepted into an obedience program, the Kleimans conduct an evaluation, inquiring about things like house training, behavioral or aggression issues, play biting and chewing, food possession, excessive barking, etc. Itâ€™s important for owners to be honest about a dogâ€™s background, including traumatizing things they may have gone through, for the safety of the trainers and other dogs.
Pet owners can choose from several different training and boarding programs in categories like basic and advanced obedience and â€śpuppy preschool.â€ť They recommend training and socializing any dog early.
There are three, five and 10-day programs that focus on things like leash control and basic commands and manners, or 12 or 15-day training programs for behavior modification, working with dogs who have anxiety, fear, aggression or socialization issues. Pet owners can also drop dogs off for day-training sessions.
They take on an average of about seven dogs per week. Throughout the day, they will take dogs out of their kennels for 20-minute increments, teaching and socializing them in short and balanced sessions, Ben said, so the dogs can â€śprocess what theyâ€™re teaching them.â€ť
A huge part of their philosophy also includes training the owner. They are given homework assignments, and the Kleinmans follow up with private home sessions after training concludes.
â€śOn the last day, we show them everything the dog learned and coach them through it,â€ť Marissa said. â€śThese programs arenâ€™t magic â€” owners have to carry out our methods when they get home.â€ť
Instead of training with treats, the Kleinmans focus on using physical and verbal praiseas a reward. Owners will often give their dog a treat so it will stop barking or misbehaving, and it confuses the dog. Instead of having them addicted to treats, theyâ€™re addicted to affection from their owner, Ben says.
They also use collar training methods, where a slight, attention-grabbing tug of the leash is associated with the word â€śno.â€ť The collars ensure the dog is staying focused on its commands, and this is crucial when it comes to training seeing-eye or service dogs, where the owner is fully dependent on the dog for direction.
They have trained many service dogs recently, including one intended for a veteran with PTSD, who is almost done with her training, Marissa says. They work on taking them to places like malls and around loud noises, socializing them and teaching them to be calm and nonreactive.
â€śWe are shaping her to be the right dog for him,â€ť she said. â€śGetting her exactly where she needs to be is important.â€ť
For more information, visit Top Dog Universityâ€™s Facebook page or call 814-594-7994.