- The Washington Times - Monday, July 27, 2009

WOODBRIDGE, Va. (AP) | Jake is a friendly dog who likes to lick everyone, but his owner says he once lacked house manners and obedience.

Leigh Truax found the Staffordshire terrier, who is about 8 or 9 months old, wandering around her neighborhood and took him in. To get his behavior in line, Miss Truax enrolled him in an eight-week course at Veterans Memorial Regional Park in Woodbridge, just as she did with her first dog two decades ago.

“Every time I get a new dog, I just bring them here,” Miss Truax said. Jake and other dogs recently completed the obedience class, and Miss Truax, a retired dog groomer, said Jake’s behavior has improved.

At the end of the course, the dogs faced a final 10-part test to qualify for the Canine Good Citizen award. Instructors judged the dogs on their appearance and their abilities to accept strangers without jumping on them, sit politely for petting, walk calmly on a leash, ignore distractions, sit on command and other situations.

Debbie Hood, a veterinary assistant, brought her mixed-breed rescue dog, Trooper, to the $80 course.

“Training a dog is work,” Miss Hood said. “It’s not just do it once and forget it. It’s constant reinforcement.”

But in some cases, it was the owners who also got some training.

Bailey, a year-old beagle, is Keith Hasselstrom’s first dog. Mr. Hasselstrom, a software engineer, attended the class with his wife and son and said he gleaned as much as his pet.

“I learned that I’m trainable if I put the time and effort into it,” he said. “I think with a beagle it takes a little more diligence, but I have a good confidence level that he’ll eventually come around to doing the things I want him to do.”

The dogs get one second chance on one portion of the exam, but then must pass all other parts to get the award, said Linda Westerhoff, a class instructor who has been with the program since 1981. Those who successfully completed the final test received a diploma.

Miss Westerhoff said for those who didn’t make the cut, it doesn’t mean they are bad dogs. Instead, she said she likes the class because it shows how dogs treat everybody equally.

“It puts all people on an equal playing field. You don’t know whether you’ve got a millionaire or a ditch digger,” she said. “A dog will humble anybody. You don’t have to be anybody special.”

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