It started so simply…
…with one small puppy named Sugar, that we kept after we bred our Lab, Red.
My neighbor told me, “One of the best dog trainers on the East Coast lives just 30 minutes away. You should consider training Sugar to be a hunting dog instead of just a pet. However, this trainer is old and grumpy, but she knows dog training. I can take you to meet her if you like.”
I had no idea what would come out of meeting Margot Woods, owner of Applewoods Dog Training, LLC., way back in January of 2010.
Margot was indeed old and grumpy as she was always in pain. Margot is on the right side with her canes and Kristin is on the left, one of the owners of Scott, Sugar’s littermate.
I started training 10 week-old Sugar, along with his littermates, doing the AKC S.T.A.R Puppy Program and Margot’s Puppy Program. Within 3 weeks of Margot’s puppy training, Sugar was doing better at obeying commands than Red (dam) or Crackers (granddam). I opted to take on retraining Red and Crackers using Margot’s unique and unconventional training method (no treats or toys).
A day I shall always remember clearly was the day just after Snowmeggdon (Feb 2010 in Maryland) happened. It seemed as if MD was frozen (literally) because of the ever-rising mountains of plowed snow banks.
That day, I went to Applewoods to get extra help from Margot training Sugar. Margot asked me to help her out with a young dog in as a Board’n’Train. The snow made the roads nearly impassable and Margot had no help training this young dog.
I agreed to help. I thought helping would be easy. Silly Me!
I remember Margot sort’ve telling/showing me what to do (with me holding her canes) to teach this young dog to sit. Margot instructed me to do a “Left, Right, Sit your Dog” mechanic, while heeling by holding the leash in Walking Position, stepping off on my left foot as I commanded ‘Fido, Heel’ and then coming to a Halt with my left foot – close with my right foot- as I did the “Left, Right, Sit your Dog” mechanic.
WHAT? HUH? YIPES! I was sooooo confused.
At the end of 20 frustrating minutes, with Margot continually stomping behind me in the snow yelling, “LEFT, RIGHT, Sit your DOG”, “LEFT, RIGHT, Sit your Dog”, Margot said, “Go put that dog up in a kennel, she can’t do anymore as she is exhausted.”
I looked at her in utter amazement and replied, “Never mind the dog, I am sooo confused I don’t know which foot is left anymore! I am going home.”
So, I did. I thought a lot that evening about ever going back to Margot Woods. Why would I put myself through that kind of confusion and strain and anxiety again? Why indeed? I prayed a lot that evening to determine if I was willing to return to working with Margot. Mind you, that day’s experience training the Board’n’Train dog was MUCH harder than ‘the puppy training’ I was going through with Sugar. It was tough!
Why go back to Applewoods and a grumpy woman named Margot? Because I wanted to learn how to train Sugar the way I saw Margot had her dogs trained. She had a relationship with her dogs which I had never seen before; her dogs wanted to work for her and be with her.
I wanted that kind of relationship with Sugar and I was curious.
- Could I learn how to train Sugar like Margot?
- Could I learn how to train others to train their own dogs?
- Could I learn Margot’s method and train it to other trainers?
Hum. Could I learn and teach and coach? Hum.
That moment was my ‘bend in the road that made my life worth the drive.” I made the conscious decision to go back the next day and the next day and the next day and stay, so I could learn. Within several months, Margot hired me to do her marketing and sales. I learned to safely run the daycare and boarding ‘pack’ off-leash in the yard. What a challenging education that was, running safely an ever changing, ever fluid pack of dogs.
Because I own Labs, many people would express, “Oh, you have Labs, Labs are easy to train, but what other breeds or mixes of dogs have you handled/trained?” Good question, so here is the answer.
Dog breeds I have handled/taught in the past 6+ years:
- Sporting Dogs: Labradors, Golden Retrievers, English Cocker Spaniel, German Wirehaired Pointer, German Shorthaired Pointers, Vizla, English Springer Spaniel, Welsh Springer Spaniel, Chesapeake
- Hounds: Coonhound, Dachshund, Rhodesian Ridgeback, Basset Hound, Beagle, Greyhound
- Working: Doberman Pinschers, Newfoundlands, Rottweilers, Boxers, Cane Corsos, Mastiffs (English and American), Bernese Mountain Dog, Alaskan Malamute, Samoyed, Leonberger, Siberian Husky, Great Pyrenees
- Herding: Canaan Dog, Australian Cattle Dog, Australian Shepherd, English, German Shepherd, Border Collie, Bouvier, Bearded Collie, Belgian Malinois, Corgi (Pembroke), Shetland Sheepdog, Anatolian Shepherd
- Terriers: West Highland, Norwich, Cairn, Kerry Blue, Yorkshire, Parson Russell Terrier, Border Terrier, Decker Rat Terrier, Airedale, Staffordshire
- Toys: Poodle, Brussels Griffon, Maltese, Shih-Tzu, Italian Greyhound, Havanese, Chihuahua,
- Non-Sporting: Standard Poodles, Miniature Poodles, Boston Terrier, Bulldog, Shiba Inu, Bichon Frise, Coton De Tulear, Dalmatian
In my first year at Applewoods, Margot stated,
Obedience training is ONLY as good as proof that it works in everyday real life. That ‘proof’ needs to come from a neutral 3rd party with a certain standard. That is why you enter the AKC obedience ring and title your dog. Because a titled dog demonstrates a certain level of obedience competency and is a fair assessment of your dog’s training.
SO, IF you want to become one of MY Instructors, you will title your dog, from CD thru CDX thru UD. You will also become an AKC CGC Evaluator and AKC S.T.A.R Puppy Instructor in two years. AND, if you want to be taken seriously as a dog obedience instructor, you will need to become a certified NADOI member.
I thought she was kidding, but no, she wasn’t. So, from 10 weeks old through 10 months old, Sugar and I were Margot’s Demo Team for her new obedience students, as well as learning/practicing the exercises for entering the AKC obedience ring trials. I secretly didn’t want to enter any trial. I thought it was a total waste of time. But I did want to be one of Margot’s Instructors, so I did what she told me to do.
One day, after a Novice run-thru, Margot declared, “You and Sugar are ready, go trial him and earn his CD.” Yipes, now I had to go trial him. Groan.
I was terrified as Sugar and I entered the AKC obedience ring for our first trial. Mind you, both Sugar and I were total newbies at trialing. But, by the end of our first trial, I trusted the training Margot had given me in training Sugar. Margot’s training worked, and worked very well. Sugar earned his AKC Companion Dog (CD) title in 3 trials with a 2nd place and two 1st placements two weeks before his first birthday. I called Margot, after the score (2nd place with a 191) and ribbons were handed out, to talk with her.
I remember Margot laughing and saying, “HOOK, LINE & SINKER, you are hooked on dog training forever.” LOL, she was right. I was hooked and was forever changed because of what I experienced with Sugar.
Within another two years, I earned Margot’s highest position as one of her instructors, I became Margot’s Journeyman II Instructor. By then, not only was I ‘hooked’ on the training, but ‘hooked’ on the sheer fun of learning more advanced dog training skills. Those skills earned Sugar titles, and ribbons, and stuff. It was a joy to be Margot’s Journeyman II Instructor for hundreds of students, yet I was still Margot’s student (she continued to yell at me) as I learned advanced dog training skills.
I trained student’s dogs for the AKC obedience ring and titled them. I trained the new apprentices & eager students so they could become Instructors. I learned to do Margot’s Board’n’Train program for the following dogs:
Toy Poodle, Standard Poodle, (2) Newfoundlands, Coton de Tulear, Spaniel X, Lab X, West Highland White Terrier, a German Shepherd X, and a Labrador Retriever.
“It is often the bend in the road that makes life worth the drive.”
There is not enough time or clean paper to share all I learned from Margot. Her voice rings in my head as I train my students. Margot told me, years after I had become her Journeyman II Instructor, she would watch me leave, go inside, and beat her head against the wall in despair. She said I could not walk a straight line (true), could not listen and follow instructions correctly (very true), wasn’t a ‘natural’, and my timing was ALWAYS wrong (yup, that’s true also).
The only thing I had going for me was the following:
- The driving desire to have my dog want to work for me and with me, like Margot’s dogs did with her
- My willingness to learn the mechanics in my own way and retrain my body
- My steadfastness in showing up day after day, month after month, year after year
- An inner ability to remain calm in the face of Margot’s often fiery comments (sometimes I left in tears)
- The conscious choice to find a way to communicate effectively with other students so they, too, could succeed
- The belief that I was in the right place, at the right time, doing exactly what I was supposed to do
My last Applewoods day was the evening of my 59th birthday, Sept 29, 2014. After nearly 5 years working for Margot training dogs for 60+ hours per week, it was time to go.
I started my business, Dog Obedience 1st & The Mannerly Puppy in October of 2014.
To expand my own learning, I invested in formally learning The Koehler Method of Dog Training, with Tony Ancheta, head of Koehler Dog Training. Despite a few challenges, like breaking my leg during Week 6 of the first Instructor Course, I persevered by instructing the owners of the dog I had been training, an English Springer Spaniel, on the mechanics of the remaining 4 weeks, via iPad, videos I created (on crutches and knee scooter) and a lot of conversations. Just as I got the ok to drive, it was time to do the Koehler Open Instructor Course with that same Springer and with a Samoyed named Ghost. I finished that up and next did the Koehler Tracking Course with Sugar. At the same time we got a new Lab puppy, named Pree. The last Koehler Instructor Course is Utility which I am doing with Pree, now 18 months old.
Fulfilling Margot and Tony’s High Standard of Excellence
During 2015, I went through the stringent process to get certified with NADOI. NADOI is a small group of dog obedience instructors and in the 50 years they have been around, I am only Certified Member #1115. That’s how small this group of dog obedience instructors is as member numbers are only given out once and never reissued to another person. Margot’s NADOI # was 368 (told you she was old when I met her). It took me 5 years of dog training to even qualify to apply.
NADOI is picky about who they certify and their application process is difficult, laborious and rigorous. It took me MONTHS of work to compile, document and answer intelligently, NADOI’s multiple and in-depth dog training questions. Months of work. Months.
This is a distinguished, well-respected and very knowledgeable group of dog trainers. I am honored, beyond words, to be NADOI member, # 1115C. It took me 6+ years to earn the right to belong.
Makes life worth the drive.
It was meeting Margot Woods, and working at Applewoods for nearly 5 years, that changed the direction of my life completely. I am in the dog training business because of Margot. Because she took me on as one of her apprenticeship students/Instructors, I can now walk a straight line, see a sidestep, ‘read’ a dogs’ face, as well as work as a team in the ring (and in life). I can coach my students from Puppy thru Foundation Loose-Leash Walking (Novice), thru Retrieve (Open), thru Utility, to field training/trialing to Therapy Dog or to just have a great dog that listens and follows commands.
I can do it all – because of the years I invested learning, watching, observing & videoing, critiquing myself and others in Margot’s demanding presence and ever watchful eyes. I will forever be grateful to my mentor, coach, drill sergeant and friend, Margot Woods. This past summer, 2016, was the last page of the book entitled, Margot Woods. Margot battled cancer for a few months and died in August.
I kept my promise to myself
and to Margot,
that I would apply myself and learn
so I could train others.
“Train it Forward”