SEQUIM, Wash. -- Indoor facilities for dog-training classes are common in places where winters can be as long and nasty as their days are short. So it's no surprise to see a spacious room at the heart of Terry Ryan's training center in this Pacific Northwest town.
But then you notice the details that make you wonder if Legacy Canine Behavior & Training is more than just one of countless local businesses dedicated to helping people instill good manners in their pets. There's the collection of videotapes in Japanese, for one thing, or the clocks on the wall that note both the time both in Sequim and in Tokyo.
And then there's the fact that you're almost as likely here to meet a student trainer from Japan as a local dog lover. Finally, there's Ryan herself, soft-spoken, articulate and passionate about changes taking place more than 4,000 miles away.
"When I started going to Japan in 1990, the only dog training available was residential," she said. "Three-month old Fluffy would be boarded with a trainer for three to six months, and at the end of that time you'd pay a lot of yen and take home a dog who was completely different."
Not only were training classes unheard of, but also the training in those boarding centers was strictly of the boot-camp variety, according to Ryan. "Test and punishment," she said, grimacing. But there were dog lovers who saw a need for change, and they sought out Ryan's help.
The timing, she said, was perfect. Japan's booming economy left people flush with income and interested in what they saw as Western status symbols, including purebred dogs. Suddenly, breeds such as the Siberian husky were all the rage, despite their unsuitability for living in tiny urban apartments. The dogs may have been acquired for questionable reasons, but the new dog owners loved their pets and needed help training them.
"The next year after my first trip to Japan, I took two trips. The following year it was three trips, then four. Now, I spend three months of the year there," she says.
In her almost 30 years of training dogs in the United States, Ryan saw -- and helped to lead -- a complete turnabout in how we handle our pets. Today there's hardly a pet trainer left in North America who exclusively uses force-based methods, or who hasn't at least integrated some reward-based techniques into the canine curriculum. A popular speaker, author and innovative trainer of other trainers, Ryan is a firm believer in what Japanese dog lovers are now looking for as well: a cooperative, positive approach to a well-mannered dog.
Despite the enthusiasm she found for her gentle, in-home training techniques, she had to adjust her teaching style to the culture. "In Japan, tradition is very important. There's a feeling of 'This is the way it's done because this is the way it has always been done,'" she said. "Some of the concepts didn't even translate into Japanese."
With Ryan's help, there's now a version of the American Kennel Club's Canine Good Citizen certification program in place in Japan, rewarding those dogs and owners who prove they can be trusted to be model citizens in public. Dogs who pass the test -- about 20 percent of those tested pass, says Ryan -- are given special privileges, such as being allowed to stay in participating hotels. The test is tougher than the American version, says Ryan, and the dogs must be recertified every two years until the age of 10, when they're given the status for life.
With an eye toward easing up on a demanding schedule and thinking about being a little more retiring, Ryan's focus in Japan is shifting to the path she has been on in the United States for some time. She is becoming more involved in training Japanese dog trainers so the interest in gentler methods of dog training will continue to expand there.
"I don't want to keep going to Japan over and over," she says. "And Japanese instructors are twice as fast because of the language and less expensive because of the travel costs."
Which means there'll be less of Ryan in Japan, and more touches of Japan in her aptly named Legacy training center in Washington.
Fall's a great time for traveling with pets
Fall is my favorite time of year to travel. The weather's cooler, the crowds smaller and the colors spectacular in many parts of the country. While I don't mind wandering alone, I much prefer to take my dogs along.
In this, I'm not alone. In response to the surge in pet-related travel, the hospitality industry has rolled out the red carpet in recent years, not only letting pets in, but in some cases pampering them in ways unimaginable not that long ago.
While some people do travel with cats, birds and other pets, when people travel with animal companions they're usually taking their dogs along. Most dogs love travel by car, and enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of new places every bit as much as we do. Not to mention: They just love being with us!
Basic gear for dogs means carriers, leashes, ID tags, bowls, clean-up bags and food. (Water doesn't need to be packed from home.) Basic gear for dog lovers includes a travel guide listing pet-friendly lodging along the way.
For years now I've kept "Traveling With Your Pet -- The AAA PetBook" ($17 in AAA offices or retail book sellers) in my van. I've gone coast to coast with multiple dogs and done a great deal of regional travel, and this basic guide has never let me down. Because on long trips I don't always know how many hours I'll feel like driving, I use the guide to look down the road and check on my cell phone for same-day lodging.
While I can't say I always found the plushest of accommodations -- a trucker motel in the middle of Texas comes to mind as one I'd prefer not to visit again -- I can say I always found something basically acceptable and never once had to sleep in my van because my dogs weren't welcome.
The AAA pet guide has a new edition coming out in April, and they're looking for a pet travel picture to put on the cover. The winner will receive $100 cash and pet travel accessories. For more information visit the group's Web site at www.aaa.com/PetBook. -- G.S.
Prepare a 'user's manual' for your pet, just in case
Q: Would you share an experience that might help others? I am only 55 years old, and early this year I suffered a major stroke that put me in the hospital and then a nursing home for two months.
While I'd had the foresight to set things up for myself in case of illness, the only preparation I had set up for my 10-year-old mutt, Peabody, was for someone to take care of him if I died. I was lucky that a co-worker took him in while I was sick. All things considered, he survived our separation well.
However, I wish I'd left a file of information about him to make the time less traumatic. Things such as: what kind of dog food he likes, the name of his veterinarian, which of the many blankets and rugs in the house is his "main bed," where his leash hangs, where his toys are kept, and the words I use when I take him outside to relieve himself.
I could even have left a request for someone to take him to the dog park a couple of times a week, so he would still have that routine and his special doggy friends. -- A.S., via e-mail
A: Your suggestion is excellent. Everyone should prepare a simple "user's manual" -- a file folder for each pet just in case someone needs to step in and care for the animal.
Like you, I've left specific instructions for what is to happen to each of my pets if I die, but I haven't given a thought to what would happen if I became temporarily incapacitated. I mean to change that, thanks to your note.
The Bar Association of the City of New York has some great guidelines on providing for pets in case of death or disability on its Web site (www.abcny.org/rep_brochure.html; click on "Providing for Your Pet."). In New York City, the information took on a special urgency after the terrorist attacks left countless pets without caregivers. In many cases, no one even knew animals were trapped in the homes of the victims.
That's an extreme example, to be sure, but one that should remind us all that it's important to let people know we have pets, and to make sure those pets are provided for if we can no longer care for them.
I'm happy to know you and Peabody have been reunited and are both doing well. -- G.S.
ON THE WEB
Disaster relief groups need help
With the hurricanes in Florida still fresh on our minds, it's important to prepare for our own disasters and to support those who look after animals in times of crisis.
Even if you don't care about animals, you need to know that helping animals also helps people. Many times people will not evacuate if they cannot take their animals with them. Helping animals makes crisis situations better for both animals and people.
Groups such as the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS.org), United Animal Nations' Emergency Animal Rescue Service (uan.org/ears), American Humane (www.americanhumane.org) and Noah's Wish (www.noahs-wish.org) all have information on their sites about how to prepare for your pets in case of a disaster and what to do afterward. It's essential that all pet lovers know this potentially life-saving information.
All such non-profit groups providing disaster relief could use a donation now to help rebuild their disaster teams after the hurricanes that recently hit Florida. Most take donations directly on their Web sites. -- G.S.
Vanity plates go to the dogs (and cats)
Go to any dog or cat show and you'll see vanity license plates that proudly reveal the love the vehicle's owner has for animals. It's a little harder to spot animal-themed plates while driving around in the general population, but I've managed to see quite a few, including "DOG MA," "CAT MOM" and, on the veterinary side, "K9(heart)DOC" (for a veterinary cardiologist) and "AVN VET" (for a bird veterinarian).
I always assumed the vanity plate started in car-crazy California, but Popular Mechanics magazine traces the phenomenon back to Connecticut in 1937. No matter where they started, vanity plates are popular everywhere, often earning money for some worthy causes with the extra fees spent on them.
Do you have a pet-related vanity plate on your vehicle? Send a jpeg image of it to email@example.com, along with an explanation of what it means and how you came to choose it. We'll be doing a feature on these plates in a future issue. -- G.S.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies," "Cats for Dummies" and "Birds for Dummies." She is also affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also read her frequently updated Web log or view her column archives at www.spadafori.com.
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