Teaching dog owners new tricks

Siler City transplant helps connect people, pets

Posted 2/7/20

SILER CITY — They say when one door closes, another opens.

But when Pat Sullivan stepped through the doorway newly agape after the proverbial “one door” had closed, she wasn’t the only one …

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Teaching dog owners new tricks

Siler City transplant helps connect people, pets

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SILER CITY — They say when one door closes, another opens.

But when Pat Sullivan stepped through the doorway newly agape after the proverbial “one door” had closed, she wasn’t the only one to realize a reward.

For Sullivan, the “one door” closing was the loss of her job in 2009.

“In the Big Recession,” she said, “I was laid off.”

Sullivan, a legal secretary for a law firm in her home state of Massachusetts when the economic ax fell, headed south.

“I had friends here,” said Sullivan. “And I was planning to retire here. Just not that quickly.”

She found a farmhouse — a fixer-upper in Siler City — to call home, and through a friend, Sullivan found work as a receptionist at Central Carolina Community College’s Continuing Education Department.

That opportunity would soon be the “other door.”

The Continuing Education Department, she observed on the job, offered a lot of interesting and worthwhile programs, but Richardson noticed a void.

“They had pottery and all kinds of nature things and stuff,” she said. “I asked ‘Do you ever do dog training?’ I was scoping it out.”

It was a void Sullivan — herself skilled in training dogs — could fill.

The community college had, she learned from her inquiries, previously offered a dog training course, but it had been a while since the last classes had been held. And they’d been conducted outdoors, which Sullivan knew wasn’t an ideal venue for proper instruction, particularly for an instructor like herself, in her 60s, who would be standing for long periods of time. Though she understood the college’s initial concerns over having dogs in a public building — “I don’t blame them,” she said — they eventually cleared that hurdle, in part by scheduling the classes Sullivan would eventually begin teaching on Friday afternoons, when the campus was otherwise closed.

“They said they’d give it a try,” Sullivan said, “and here we are.”

For the past six years or so, Sullivan has been teaching the class, helping dog owners in Chatham County develop better relationships with their pets.

“I teach you, as the owner, to train your dog,” Sullivan explained. “I’m not training your dog. I mean, I’ll take it and demonstrate and all that. But, really, my job is to make you your dog’s trainer so when you go home, you have the tools to continue what we did in the class.”

Sullivan’s latest classes — she instructs a “beginner” class (3 to 4:30 p.m.) and a “Canine Good Citizen Class” (4:30 to 6 p.m.), in CCCC’s Building 42 in the Multi-Purpose Room — got under way in late January. Those classes are filled and in progress, but as soon as they finish in March, Sullivan will offer another round. She teaches the classes year-round except for summer months, when CCCC is not in session.

The beginner obedience/home management class is for dogs over 5 months of age. Students learn, first, to get their dogs’ attention, as well as training them through positive reinforcement to walk on a loose leash, come when called, sit, and other things.

The Canine Good Citizens Class prepares students to take their AKC Canine Good Citizen test, which is given at the concluding class. The program is aimed at ensuring the family dog acts respectfully at home and in public.

Teaching dog obedience is practically in Sullivan’s DNA.

“We always had a dog,” she said. “My mother was a farm girl from Maine and she was great with animals. She didn’t realize how good she was, but she was very good with them.”

Encouraged by her mother to learn more about training dogs, Sullivan, in her teens, joined dog training clubs.

“That’s when I started to train, or learn how to train,” she said. “But you know, as a kid you kind of wander off and mom ends up doing it. But we learned how to do it and we learned it was necessary.”

And, she said, “it was always fun.”

That element of fun is key to the classes she teaches, too.

“It has to be fun, or you don’t want to do it,” she said. “But it’s not just fun. It means something.”

She recalled a moment, back in Massachusetts, that solidified her commitment to the discipline. It was the moment, she said, “I knew I wanted to do this.”

One of her students approached her after classes had concluded and confided that Sullivan’s instruction “had saved her dog’s life.”

It wasn’t hyperbole. The owner, prior to taking Sullivan’s classes, had an unruly pet and had contemplated giving the pet away because of it.

“The biggest reason dogs are given up, so I hear, is because of behavioral issues,” Sullivan said. Her instruction had averted this undesirable outcome.

Her CCCC classes are almost always filled.

Toni Conrad is currently enrolled, with her dog, Remi, a Rhodesian Ridgeback, in Sullivan’s Canine Good Citizen Class and highly recommends the training to other dog owners.

“It’s a wonderful class,” said Conrad. “She’s a great teacher. I think she’s more dog that human; she thinks like a dog. The class is fun.”

Sullivan, an avowed dog lover, herself currently owns — she admits in a joking whisper — six dogs. “It’s an occupational hazard,” she said. “Most of them are foundlings.”

And as much as she loves dogs (all breeds, by the way, are welcome at her classes) she loves helping people connect with their dogs for a more positive relationship for both, or as described on her business cards for The Courteous Canine, turning “your pesky pup into a courteous canine.”

“It’s relationship-building training,” she said.

When she’s not teaching the periodic classes at CCCC, she also conducts private home dog training sessions.

The results, and the reward, are the same.

“I love doing it because I love helping people and their dogs,” she said. “It’s magic. I know it’s not magic, but it feels like magic every time it happens and becomes successful. It’s just nice seeing the change.”

For more information about Sullivan’s CCCC classes, call her at 919-663-0373, or email her at courteousk9nc@gmail.com.


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Larry Hicks

Bailey took the Citizenship Class last semester. Have a couple of this still to work on. We'll be back!

Sunday, February 9