Dog days offer countless rewards

February 02, 2005|by MARLO BARNHART

SMITHSBURG - As a professional dog trainer, Pat Nolan said he isn't sure which is the hardest - altering the behavior of the canines he works with or that of their owners.

"People need to realize you can correct a dog inappropriately and you can also reward a dog inappropriately," Nolan said.

Associated since 1977 with Ponderosa Kennels near Smithsburg, Nolan said most of the good things in his life have come via his association with dogs and their training.

Born in Washington, D.C., Nolan grew up traveling around the country with his parents. Before settling in Smithsburg and buying the kennel business, Nolan's father worked for United Airlines.


Always a dog lover, Nolan parlayed his passion into a profession, first working in Denver training dogs for a guard-dog company. After his military service, Nolan headed toward Smithsburg and began doing guard-dog work and obedience training in this area, too.

"I actually met my wife, Cynde, when she brought her dog to an obedience class I was teaching," Nolan said. Now 48, Nolan and his wife have been married 20 years and have three children. Nolan also has two children from a previous marriage and one grandchild.

While Ponderosa still boards pets, obedience training is what keeps Nolan busy.

"We primarily train retrievers for show and for hunting," Nolan said.

Over the years, Nolan has attended competitions up and down the East Coast and in Canada. Usually he was competing with other people's dogs in open and amateur events. In the past four years, Nolan has cut back on the competitions, mainly because the traveling was taking him away from home more than he liked.

When he is at home, Nolan spends time with his family and the dogs that make their home with the Nolans. They include a border collie, a border terrier and a Labrador retriever.

Nolan said he works as closely with the pet owner as he does with the dog, since both must be on the same page or the training is useless.

"I teach that you must redirect poor behavior, not reward it," Nolan said.

As an example, Nolan said many pet owners dealing with a dog barking when someone comes to the door need to follow a few simple rules.

"You want the dog to bark to alert you, but then you want the dog to stop barking," he said.

Instead of patting the dog on the back and saying "good boy," the pet owner should redirect the dog by commanding him to sit or lie down.

"A pat on the back tells the dog he is doing the right thing and he will likely keep on barking," Nolan said.

Most dogs enjoy interacting with people and Nolan said the majority of breeds can be taught. But much of the training involves retraining the dog to work with people.

"Off-leash control is a big part of the training we do," Nolan said.

Obedience is freeing for a dog, Nolan said, disagreeing with some schools of thought that training limits a dog.

"The trained dog has a much fuller life," Nolan said.

Much of dog training is conducted outdoors. Nolan said he has worked in ponds in Canada, flooded areas in South Carolina, bogs in New Jersey and on cold winter days in Smithsburg.

"What a great office to work in and a fine bunch of people to work with and for," Nolan said.

When he's not out stomping around with his obedience classes, Nolan is finishing work on two training books for retrievers and a training DVD through After 5 Productions in Williamsport.

Nolan also is involved with DOGTRA, a line of electronic dog collars. He attended a trade industry show in Las Vegas with his wife in late January.

The Web site has information about Nolan's training and boarding options.

Ponderosa Kennels is at 22705 Jefferson Blvd. The phone number is 301-824-2402.

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