Making house calls for unruly puppies

March 07, 1995|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Staff Writer

George A. Conaway's business is going to the dogs and he wouldn't have it any other way.

The owner of Von Conaway K-9 Services makes house calls, often to frantic pet owners, desperately seeking respite from an errant dog that is destroying the house and disrupting family harmony.

When Nancy Grote willingly gave a lost and large mixed-breed puppy a home, she didn't count on months of unruly behavior.

"I couldn't control him," she said. "He was not housebroken and was so rambunctious."

Von Conaway K-9 Services of Eldersburg rescued Malibu and the Grote family with an in-home puppy management course.

"George completely turned the dog around like magic," Ms. Grote said. "My Malibu is now a watch dog and he is good with the kids."

Mr. Conaway said he used no magic wand, but promises his "kinder, softer and more understanding approach can be fun with good results. It can be easy but it's not quick."

He stresses consistency and diligence.

"Work with a dog three times a day for five minutes each time," said Mr. Conaway. "Dogs will learn. I haven't met a dog yet that I couldn't train."

His canine service also includes basic to advanced degrees in motivational obedience training and behavior modification, but the most frequent calls are from owners such as Ms. Grote. He tells them that the right amount of discipline from the beginning can save time and expense.

"I tell people not to rely on the 'he'll outgrow it' phrase because most of the time it doesn't happen," Mr. Conaway said. "Every dog needs good guidance."

The initial puppy management course costs $50 and usually takes two hours, but Mr. Conaway does not watch the clock. He also is available by phone for any follow-up advice.

"Ultimately, the course pays for itself in destruction reduction," he said with a laugh.

Linda Siegmund, owner of Stanley, a 3-month-old Great Dane, said Mr. Conaway "really has a way with dogs and the right philosophy on training. He takes you through all those things you should know from nutrition to grooming."

Once Stanley learns all his puppy orders, Ms. Siegmund said she will enroll her dog in Mr. Conaway's obedience training course.

Von Conaway Services also includes grooming, pet-to-vet taxi service and kennel design and construction. Mr. Conaway also will advise owners on what type of dog best suits their lifestyles.

"Those cute little fur balls can grow into really big dogs," he said. "People should think about that before they get a dog."

Large dogs all have a propensity to misbehave, he said.

"Without good training and guidance, you can expect problems," he said.

Frustrated owners often give up on the dogs or relegate the animal to a chain in the yard. Mr. Conaway often leaves his card in the mailbox of an owner he feels is mistreating a dog.

Mr. Conaway prefers in-home training to group obedience classes, where 10 different owners try to teach 10 dogs.

"In those classes, you get 20 different personalities in a circle," he said. "Each dog is a different age and breed with different needs. The dogs often are focusing on each other and not their handlers. The dogs are stressed out and not learning."

By catering to the schedules of his customers, Mr. Conaway allows both the owner and the dog time to enjoy one another, he said.

"The dog can be guided and rewarded and won't feel stressed," he said. "A puppy is like a young child and can't always assimilate complex learning. You can't force positive behavior, but you can guide it."

Much of what he teaches is common sense and allowing the dog to be a dog, he said. He recommends consistent crate-training for puppies. "Puppies learn to love their crate as a safe, quiet place."

He also uses a retractable leash when walking a dog.

"Dogs have instinctual needs and people should care about them," he said. "Let him be a dog. Give him freedom and freedom won't be a big issue."

Time spent in the home also gives Mr. Conaway a chance to develop what he sees as both the owner's and the dog's needs and to set realistic goals.

"You want your dog to like being with you, to focus on you," he said. "It takes training to achieve that."

When he began his business four years ago, he said he "submerged himself in all the different methods of famous trainers."

He settled on Schutzhund, a German method that stresses personal protection and tracking. He has trained his own Rottweilers in the method. Bear, a 4-year-old male, has won a basic handler title as a full protection dog.

For callers who want an animal trained solely for protection, he first insists that the handler has control.

"Serious people realize the importance of control . . .," he said. "It can be like having a loaded weapon."

A lifelong dog lover, Mr. Conaway owns Bear and two other Rottweilers. He frequently rescues and retrains "the often misunderstood breed" -- an expensive and "not the safest" proposition for a trainer.

Mr. Conaway eagerly shows off his champion, Bear, an intimidating 110 pounds. The dog listens attentively and reacts immediately to each command from Mr. Conaway.

"Bear is a good personal protection dog, but I can walk him on a leash without any fear of his lunging," he said.

The dogs are kenneled just outside the house. Frequently, though, they are inside. What if a prowler breaks into the house, when Bear is inside?

"He's lunch," said Mr. Conaway with a laugh. "I sleep real well."

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