Taking delight in what she does

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Whether sparked by weariness from high-volume barking, a bloody run-in with a Doberman’s teeth, or even one too many viewings of the movie Cujo, plenty of humans have the ire to regard their nearest man’s-best-friend as a “bad dog!” Sylvia Gottschalk, owner of the Bloomingdale-based training and grooming facility Delightful Dogs, sees such thinking as barking up the wrong tree.

“Most behaviour problems are fear-based,” said Gottschalk. “There’s lack of training, lack of socialization, whatever, but let’s say 97 per cent of all dog bites are fear-based.”

She continued, “People often say, ‘How can I stop my dog from barking?’ I say, ‘Why is your dog barking?’ ‘Well, what does it matter, how can I stop it?’ I tell them, ‘Barking is actually an outcome of another behaviour.’ Dogs will bark because they’re trying to get your attention, are afraid, are territorial, alert, attention-getting … I have to know what is going on.”

At Delightful Dogs, Gottschalk’s training classes centre on teaching dogs good behaviour through friendly connections, including hand signals, voice commands, and rewards. Her small classes, arranged by appointment only, are designed to discourage physical punishment.

“My big theory with dogs is, if they don’t know what’s expected of them, it’s up to you to teach them,” said Gottschalk. “But unfortunately, there’s still a lot of old-school thinking and old-school training.

“Unfortunately, we live in a society where everyone wants a quick fix, and I try to explain that quick fixes always come with a risk. For example: I could get you into a chair by shoving you in there. Got you sittin’ there pretty quick, but look at the result: you have no respect for me, you don’t trust me.”

Shaking up old-school paradigms has been one of Gottschalk’s key motivations since she began teaching classes in 1999.

“I went to classes with my dogs, and I didn’t feel right about what they were doing in those classes,” she remembered. “They were using more of the older techniques of training – punishment-based. I kept looking for better ways.”

For the first few years, Gottschalk balanced her canine counselling with a day-job as an accountant, and as her training career grew more successful, she embraced it full-time. “Having a business background has definitely helped me in my own business, but something was always missing,” she remembered. “I felt like I was going to work, sitting at a desk, and then I would go home and my heart would skip a beat just walking through the door to see my dogs.”

While Gottschalk leased facilities in Kitchener, she spent seven years searching for a permanent site that would be centrally-located, but also not stuck in an industrial zone. After much searching and bylaw wrangling, her new location at 792 Sawmill Rd. was built from the ground up in a whirlwind few months between September and December. Classes began January 8. “It still hasn’t quite sunk in yet,” she laughed.

In addition to the classes, Delightful Dogs offers a grooming service (also by appointment only), and a retail section. More than anything, she hopes the business will provide a learning tool to help those facing the challenges of pet ownership. An unfortunate reality is that Woolwich is a popular rural area for frustrated owners to abandon their dogs. While many of us flirt with the idea of a four-legged friend to keep us company while jogging, Rocky-style, how many of us are ready for the reality of tending to another member of the household?

“When owners call me up and ask me all kinds of questions about the program, I have to interrupt and say, ‘I’m so proud of you. You’re doing the research,’” said Gottschalk. “I had a client, his dog wasn’t even born yet – he was already researching breeders, vets, trainers.

“I wish more people would. It’s not a fad, it’s not a disposable piece of furniture – it’s a lifelong commitment.

“People say to me, What’s more important – breeding, training or environment? I go, ‘All of them.’ Because if you screw up one, you can screw up the other two. You can have a dog in a wonderful home with all kinds of training, but if it comes from poor breeding, you’re limited.”

Will Sloan
Will Sloan was a photo-journalist with The Observer. Currently Will is Writer at Ryerson University. Will Sloan has a bachelor’s degree in cinema studies from the University of Toronto and a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University. He has been an editor, intern, reporter, film critic, humorist, and columnist, and has written for NPR, The Grid, Exclaim, Toronto Standard, Thought Catalog, Sharp, Hazlitt, and Waterloo’s dearly departed Echo Weekly. He once met Dolph Lundgren.