Visitor from Japan learning power of positive dog training

April 14, 2005|by JANET HEIM

With limited knowledge of English - what little she did know she learned from watching the sitcom "Friends" - Mihoko Onoue arrived in Washington County in November to learn more about her true passion, dog training.

Onoue, 36, who was raised in Japan, near Tokyo, graduated from law school at University of Japan and worked for NEC, a computer company, for years before deciding to make a career change. She hopes to start her own business as a professional dog trainer when she returns home.

"I really loved dogs but never thought of job working with them," Onoue said.

After attending dog training school in Japan, which used choke chains and negative methods for training, Onoue wanted additional training with a positive focus. She signed on with the International Internship Program, a Japanese company that sends interns to different countries in a variety of fields.


A search of the Internet led Onoue to Pat Miller's Web site and she liked what she saw. Miller was contacted about sponsoring Onoue through the internship program.

"I have great interest in her method - positive training," Onoue said.

She said that in Japan trainers work only with the dogs, while in the U.S. dog trainers teach the animal's owners how to train them.

Miller, whose husband is executive director of the Humane Society of Washington County, is a published author who has been training dogs for more than 30 years.

She is the owner of Peaceable Paws Dog & Puppy Training and Peaceable Pastures horse boarding, both on the Millers' 80-acre property in Fairplay.

Through Miller's International Academy, a weeklong training academy, she has worked with people from Singapore, Canada and the United Arab Emirates.

Miller has also had apprentices from around the country - including one she is currently working with from New York City - but Onoue is the first intern she's sponsored.

'Try many things'

As sponsor, Miller agreed to provide training for the yearlong program and assist Onoue in getting settled. Onoue, who is single, has been staying at the Millers' home and is welcome to stay there for the rest of the year, Pat Miller said, but Onoue would like the opportunity to live on her own, even though it means she would need to purchase a car.

"I want to try many things," said Onoue, including visiting Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and New York City.

Since arriving here, Onoue has helped conduct behavioral assessments, worked in various departments and volunteers as a dog trainer at the shelter. She also has observed dog training classes and has helped care for the animals at Peaceable Paws and Peaceable Pastures.

Language has been a bigger issue than either Miller or Onoue expected, but Miller said it's getting better with time.

"It's been very interesting," Miller said. "I really enjoy watching Mihoko learn new skills and improve."

Miller said Onoue was very tentative with the dogs when she first arrived, but now she's handling big dogs, including Rottweilers with ease. Onoue had reached the point where she assisted Miller with dog training classes in March, working one-on-one with owners and their dogs.

Onoue has been surprised by the number of breeds of dogs in this country. She said there aren't many breeds in Japan, where the majority of dogs are Labrador retrievers or Chihuahuas.

The lack of high-rise buildings here and the large food portions Americans eat is also a change for Onoue.

She is pleased to be working with Miller. "She's really great," Onoue said.

Miller said that even longtime trainers are always learning, but that after a yearlong internship, Onoue will be off to a good start.

"I certainly think her dog handling skills will be advanced," Miller said. "The shelter is probably the best place to get experience handling all kinds of dogs."

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