Kevin Lessard admits that sometimes its easier to correct troubled canines than his own young children.
He can relate to dogs. He understands how they think, act, and communicate. His two high-energy boys, well, thats another story.
Lessard, the owner of Bark Busters, a franchise dog-training business that serves the Spokane area and North Idaho, claims he can stop dogs from barking, biting, and other boorish behavior in just a few hours without reward treats or physical punishments such as shock collars.
One of his customers swears by his methods.
The training was great, says Kari Wilson, a manager at Hunter Veterinary Clinic, of Spokane. His techniques worked quickly. Our dogs had some issues, but they dont anymore.
Wilson and her husband, Chris, own three large dogs, including two Australian shepherds that had problems with obedience and regularly fought with each other.
We learned how to establish control over these dogs, she says. You dont have three large dogs and dont have control; its not responsible.
Lessard, a former computer network administrator for several insurance companies in Southern California, started operating his doggy-correcting business out of his home in the Spokane Valley in February, and says he has trained more than 50 dogs in the Inland Northwest since moving here from Ontario, Calif., last year.
He says business has picked up to the point that hes being called on to give about five training sessions a week. He hopes to double that before long.
Wilson appreciated that Lessard came to her homeand that she didnt have to transport her three big dogs to an obedience school.
I cant take them elsewhere for training because of their size, she says. The fact that he comes to the house is fabulous, because my dogs are like having three toddlers: each one is going in a different direction.
Lessards business is part of an international dog-training chain operated by Dingo Inc., of Greenwood Village, Colo., which has more than 150 franchise outlets around the world.
Bark Busters originated in Australia in 1989 and moved its headquarters to the Denver area in 2000.
Bark Busters franchisees typically charge between $400 and $450 to train a dog, and if a customer has more than one pooch, training each additional dog costs about $150, says Liam Crowe, a spokesman for the chain.
Lessard declines to disclose what he charges.
The price really depends on the situation, and how many dogs I am dealing with, he says, but you only pay once. If the dog is having problems (later) or has a different problem, then I will come out for no extra charge.
The majority of adult dogs can be trained successfully with only one lesson of about three hours, although puppies take about three or four lessons to train, he says.
Puppies are a different story, Lessard says. They can only go for about 20 minutes before they start to burn out and stop paying attention.
Lessard claims he can cure dogs separation anxiety, which manifests itself when owners are gone in the annoying forms of constant barking, digging, and chewing.
Dogs get stressed out, he says. Instinctively, they bark for help. Once they realize there is no danger in being alone, theyre fine.
Also, Lessard says he can train a dog to relieve itself outside of the house instead of inside, which is a common violation by puppies.
In addition, Lessard says he can change any dogs behavior, even that of extremely aggressive canines.
Dogs are similar to people in that they all have different temperaments, he says. You cant change that, but you can change their behavior. The dog may think about doing something bad, but he wont because of the training.
Training dogs can be perilous. Lessard recently was bitten by a dog shortly after arriving for a training session.
It was just a scratch, he says. I am still working with that dog.
Follow the leader
For a dog owner to be a strong leader is at the center of Bark Busters training philosophy.
Dog owners have to show their animals whos boss, Lessard says.
At their core, all dogs are pack animals, and they follow pack laws, he says. Dogs need strong leadership. If an owner doesnt give it to them, the dogs will assume that role. Problems usually dont get better, they get worse.
The first step in training a dog is to train the dogs owner, he says.
I usually spend about an hour with the dog owner and an hour with the dog, Lessard says. The owner is part of the pack, and I am not. So, the commands are most effective when they come from the leader of the pack.
Lessard doesnt get down on the ground to work with a dog.
Instead, he growls commands at misbehaving pooches. He demonstrates this training technique by standing tall and, in a loud voice, bellowing, Baaaaaaaaahhh!
It simulates a growl, which in the wild is the dogs way of letting other dogs know that hes upset, Lessard says.
Correct vocal tone and body language are keys to giving commands, Lessard says.
He says he teaches dog owners how to utter commands, while working with dogs to reinforce their training.
They think its a little silly at first, he says of his customers. Its a crash course in canine psychology. Once youre armed with the right tools, it opens up the communication between man and dog.
Wilson says that after she and her husband became their dogs leaders, they brought the big canines under their control.
Once we established that we were the boss, we dont have the fighting anymore, she says. The dogs dont have to worry about who is in charge. There is a big difference between giving a command from a recliner and standing up and giving a command.
A new career
Lessard moved his family to the Spokane area from Southern California about a year ago for a better quality of life and better opportunities.
I was tired of getting laid off every six months, he says. Southern California is a tough place to live.
He wanted to operate his own business, but wasnt sure what he wanted to do. In an online search, he came across Bark Busters Web site. He was intrigued. He scheduled a visit to the Denver area and watched a training session.
I have always liked dogs, he says. When I first heard about Bark Busters I couldnt believe that a dog could be trained in two hours, until I saw it. A lot of people cant fathom the turnaround these dogs make in such a short time.
Lessard says he paid about $35,000 in franchise fees, which covered a months worth of his own training plus marketing materials.
He markets his services at local pet shops and veterinary clinics. He also has peppered the family car with Bark Busters stickers.
To apply his new knowledge, he got a dog from a local animal shelter. His tiny pug was in pretty bad shape, he says.
Oscar was an abused dog, Lessard says. He had a problem of pooping and peeing whenever and wherever he wanted to. It didnt take long to cure him of that.
Recently, Oscar seemed friendly in the presence of a strangerperhaps more comfortable than Lessards two rambunctious little boys.
Dogs are definitely easier to train than kids, Lessard quips.
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