Courtney Gluchacki and her husband Alphonse have taken their love of dogs and turned it into a thriving, growing business in Buttonwoods – and now Courtney’s hard work has led her to be nominated for a national award in dog training.
Gluchacki was nominated by her coworkers for the award, offered through Wisconsin-based flooring company Greatmats – which makes special “agility” flooring often used in indoor dog competitions, among other products – is given to dog trainers for outstanding achievements and those “who have made a difference in the lives of clients, animals and communities through the virtues of service, integrity and quality.” There are 21 nominees from across the country up for the honor.
The Gluchacki’s operate K9 Positive Training, located at 424 Buttonwoods Ave., in a space that went from an unfurnished, dreary concrete shell to a warm den of dog training after just a month of hard work. The training center is in the midst of its third year of operation, and business has been good enough that they will be opening an extension within the same complex by the end of the month in the hopes of increasing their clientele and hiring additional employees.
The realization of a dream to care for dogs with various issues – from anxiety to physical limitations such as blindness and deafness – and help dog owners who are in over their heads has been 10 years in the making for Courtney, who started work in the industry as an employee for Rumford Pet Center on Bald Hill Road.
She received training at Rumford to become a veterinary tech, which she initially felt was her calling, but couldn’t stomach the realization that she would have to put dogs down for behavioral issues. This caused her to shift her career path towards behavior training, which led her to a job at Petco as a dog training apprentice. She met Alphonse while working there.
Courtney then became an evaluator for the American Kennel Club’s K9 Good Citizen and Star Puppy programs, some of the premiere dog training programs in the country, and went on to become a member of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers. Courtney became a certified canine life and social skills evaluator through that training, and then she began her journey towards starting her own training business.
It all started on the wind-swept fields of India Point Park in the autumn and winter months, before Courtney and Alphonse had a space to call their own. They went on to rent space from a local daycare before finally getting the opportunity to own a space where they could run with their vision to the fullest extent.
“One hundred percent, I love what I do,” Courtney said. “We, as a family, gave up everything so that I could do this full time.”
When asked what she does differently from other trainers – differently enough to get nominated by her entire staff for an award – her husband had the answer.
“Her passion,” he said without pause.
Dog training isn’t simply a job, and Courtney and Alphonse live to train and compete their own dogs as well. An entire wall behind the front desk is dedicated to ribbons won in competition by their German Shepherd, Ace, and another wall is dedicated to Krypto, a mostly-blind, totally deaf Australian Shepherd who also competed in various competitions, including a victory in an agility contest the first try. Krypto sadly passed on Courtney’s birthday last year, but his memory lives on in their newest puppy, Kal, also a deaf Australian Shepherd. His nickname, in homage of Krypto, is Superdog.
Not every client who comes to K9 Positive Training is looking to train a competition-winning dog. Some are simply overwhelmed by the difficulty that can come with raising a dog, especially if they didn’t do their homework prior to acquiring the animal.
“Typically, it’s not knowing what they got into,” Courtney said. “They fall in love with a dog but maybe don’t understand the breed or exercise requirements or training that’s involved and they get in a little over their head, and that’s where we come in.”
K9 Positive takes in as many as 10 dogs per day in class – though that will change with the additional space. They also do private lessons and group socialization classes. They offer a puppy university class for puppies eight weeks old to eight months old, and an academy for dogs eight months and older. Private lessons can seek to solve many issues, from anxiety, over-aggressiveness to simply assessing the temperament and potential issues with a rescue dog coming from an unknown background.
“On the owner side, research, know what the breed requirements are for what you’re getting,” Courtney recommended to prospective dog owners. “If it’s a rescue dog, meet the dog a couple times. Don’t just jump into it. Talk to a trainer before you get a dog. Get some insight into what the steps would be once you bring the dog home. Then, once you get a dog, it’s all about socialization and training.”
Socialization means different things for different dogs, especially dependent on the dog’s age.
“If it’s a puppy, you want structured, supervised play either at a training facility or even some of the local pet stores offer puppy socials. You want to avoid dog parks for puppies,” Courtney said. “For the older dogs, it’s definitely exposure – getting them out and exploring new places, meeting new people, coming to classes and getting them used to being around other dogs.”
The most crucial moment in training a dog, Courtney said, is in the 6-14 month range. This is also typically when dogs can go through a “fear phase,” when the dog’s temperament can suddenly and drastically change as it transitions from a puppy into a teenager – just like can happen with humans. Courtney stressed how dog owners handle this phase will have a significant impact on how the dog grows into maturity, when behavior becomes more difficult to correct.
“That’s probably your most frustrating phase of training, but equally the most important,” she said, explaining that dogs in this age range encompass about 90 percent of her clientele. She said positive reinforcement is essential to helping dogs overcome whatever they’re afraid of – whether it’s strangers or a fear of vehicles.
To vote for Courtney and K9 Positive Training to receive the 4th annual Greatmats Dog Trainer of the Year award, visit https://www.greatmats.com/2018-greatmats-national-dog-trainer-of-the-year.php. Voting runs until Nov. 29.
For Courtney and Alphonse, helping their clients go from frazzled to feeling good about their dogs makes the 60 to 70 hours a week they put into their business not even feel like work.
“It’s a transformation,” Alphonse said, with Courtney agreeing that, “It makes it all worth it.”