- The Washington Times - Friday, February 28, 2003

David Appell is a personal trainer for the four-legged crowd. Mr. Appell teaches dogs to obey their owners. But unlike trainers who work out of a kennel or an obedience school, he meets his clients on their own turf.
He is not unlike the personal trainers some people hire to whip themselves into shape. The only real difference, Mr. Appell said, is that animals are easier to train than people.
"Dogs are not born vicious, they are made vicious. It's quite easy for dogs to be mellow and to have good attitudes," Mr. Appell said.
His business is called Fetcha Pet Taxi Service and K-9 Training. He started it about two years ago when he was laid off from a job at a corporate collection agency.
Originally, Mr. Appell figured he would spend most of his time transporting pets to veterinarian appointments for clients too busy to do it themselves. As it turned out, the taxi service only represents 15 percent of his business.
The rest of the time, Mr. Appell teaches dog obedience. He loves the gig.
"It's the best job in the world. I get to play with dogs all day. Who wouldn't love that?"
On a snowy Wednesday in late February, Mr. Appell his head covered by a brown fedora that can't contain his long ponytail arrives at the doorstep of his first appointment of the day, an upper Northwest Washington woman with two dogs.
Mr. Appell has been training the animals a doberman named Ella and a beagle named Winnie once a week for five months.
By now, these dogs know the basics: sit, stay and come. But often Mr. Appell's clients keep him coming back each week because they are busy and don't have a lot of time to spend with their pets.
Mr. Appell begins his session with Ella and Winnie by attaching their collars to a leash and walking them onto quiet Oliver Street NW, which on this day is covered with a thick layer of powdery snow.
A neighbor sweeping the flakes off his driveway greets Mr. Appell as he walks the animals up the street.
"Boy, neither rain nor snow can keep you from your appointed rounds," the man says.
Mr. Appell tells the dogs to sit, and they promptly place their bottoms on the cold asphalt. He turns his back and begins to walk away. The dogs start to follow, but Mr. Appell turns around.
"Ah ah ah. Now stay. You know that," he says. He waves his hand over the dogs' upturned noses. They sit again.
Mr. Appell walks several feet away and then turns to face the dogs, which remain seated on the street. He uses the red, white and blue cell phone attached to his belt to time the dogs. After three minutes, he calls the animals over and rewards them with one of the treats he keeps in his fanny pack.
"Three minutes to a dog is like 45 minutes to a person," Mr. Appell says.
The goal of dog training is to use treats to reward the animals, but to eventually wean them off the biscuits so that good behavior comes naturally, he says.
Mr. Appell never barks orders at the animals. Dogs don't understand English, but they do understand the tone of a human's voice, he says.
He uses a high voice when he asks the dogs to come and a low voice when he tells them to stay.
Mr. Appell did not have dogs growing up. His love for the animals came later.
Today he has six dogs of his own. His expertise comes from studying the American Kennel Club's guidelines for training, and reading many books on the subject. He also studied at the Canine Training Association in Beltsville.
Starting his own business was daunting, but Mr. Appell broke even after just three months.
"We're sort of blowing the doors off Enron, huh?" he says.
Each half-hour training session with Mr. Appell costs about $25. By the time he has fully trained an animal, he says his typical client has spent about $400, or about $1,000 less than typical at an obedience school.
"My service is cost-effective because I don't have any overhead. It's just me," he says.
Mr. Appell plans to expand into the Baltimore and Richmond areas within six months.
His other goal is to eventually offer free dog training at shelters in the District and Montgomery and Prince George's counties. He plans to seek a grant to fund that project.
"We want to train as many dogs as possible so they don't end up in shelters. But if an animal is in a shelter and people see they have been professionally trained, hopefully they will adopt them and give them a good home," he says.
After spending a half-hour with Ella and Winnie, Mr. Appell returns them to their owner.
He then walks to the house on the corner, where he begins a session with Austin, a golden retriever he has been working with for about one month.
The rest of his day will be spent training dogs in Alexandria, Rockville and College Park.
Mr. Appell looks forward to the end of his work day.
"That's when I get to go home and play with my own dogs," he says.


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