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Prairie Grove woman trains dogs, owners

by Denise Nemec SPECIAL TO NWA DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE | July 2, 2021 at 1:00 a.m.

PRAIRIE GROVE — Wade Royal of Prairie Grove, holding a cane in one hand and the leash of his excited and jumpy German shorthair pointer in the other, walked with his wife Lynn, Spanish teacher at Prairie Grove schools, into a large, open garage door and took seats in the near corner.

In an opposite corner, chocolate lab puppy brothers strained to see and sniff everything, one on a leash with his owner, Holi Graham, and the other in the care of mother-in-law Debra Graham, pinch training for her son.

As the class of six dogs and their owners arrived and settled in, whines, yips, soothing murmurs and laughter lifted and floated in the high-ceiling room.

It was June 1, and they were there for one of six classes in Cajun Lady’s K9 Level 1 dog training. They were also occupying the first physical location for the business, the name of which is a nod to the owner’s Cajun heritage.

A DOG EPIPHANY

Erica Gibbs Jones, 24, who opened the doors of the building in January, said she grew up on a farm outside Holden, La., a small town about 20 miles east of Baton Rouge.

Jones said she was giving Kara Ault and the Ault’s dog lessons last summer, and as they walked the streets of Prairie Grove, Ault pointed out the building, which she and her husband Rick own. Ault told Jones they were trying to figure out what kind of business would work in it.

Jones, who at that time was Erica Gibbs, said she had her epiphany, and after many discussions with the Aults and approvals from the city, signed a lease. Jones married Austin Jones in the building this April, and she said he “was the biggest push on me starting my business.”

Jones said she, Austin, and Austin’s father Mitchell Jones renovated and outfitted the 1930s-era water works building, which is on Neal Street across from Mock Park and Prairie Grove Fire Department. They painted charcoal gray inside and outside and added tin and natural wood features.

Inside, a chest-high walled area defines the training space. Chairs for adults and cloth-covered foam pads on the floor for dogs are interspersed at covid-19 recommended distances. Visitors and extra family members have seating inside the room but outside the training area, which is easily visible.

TAKING ON OWNERS AND DOGS

Before opening the building, Jones trained dogs at people’s homes or locations suitable for the lessons being taught. Now, about half of her clients come to group training sessions.

Jones describes what she does as “owner-involved dog training.”

During the June 1 class, owners handled their own dogs the entire hour. Jones exuded calm assurance as she spoke loudly and clearly, explained commands and the reasons for them, and modeled each command with her dog Astrid.

When it was the students’ turn to practice, she gave individual encouragement, answered questions, and joked and laughed, much of her humor related to her work. For example, Jones said when outside people interrupt her during training sessions, she said she responds, “You owe me big bucks!” To the group, she shook her head to indicate she was joking, but continued the riff, “Charge ‘em! I just charge ‘em!”

Jones said an alternate dog training option is called “board and train,” which means dogs are boarded and trained in a facility with less owner involvement. Jones said city officials stipulated her business may not offer board-and-train services, and she said she isn’t interested in that kind of training anyway.

“These dogs go home with their owners, not me,” Jones said, adding that her experience has proven clients want owner-involved training because they want to be “good dog owners.” In other words, Jones said, they want to be owners of good dogs and be good owners of their dogs.

Jones said all her clients come from referrals and Face-book. Sarah Losh of Siloam Springs, with her seven-month-old dog Jax, said Cajun Lady’s K9 was recommended to her because of her desire to train with her dog.

Jones said she kept group class sizes at no more than six during the coronavirus pandemic and plans to keep classes capped at a maximum of eight.

At one point during the class, Jones provided what she pointedly called “natural spring water” to a few of the dogs. After the session was over, she lifted a metal access plate in the floor of the training area and cupped her hand into the flowing water to give Astrid a sip. She said it inspired her next goal, a do-it-yourself dog bath “using all-natural dog washing products” and the spring water, according to her brochure.

FOUR LEVELS OFFEREDShe offers four levels of group classes, the first focused on puppy education and socialization. The other three classes focus on fundamentals of training (Level 1), more advanced forms of leash work and distractions (Level 2), and public behavior skills and gaining American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen certification (Level 3).

Puppy education costs $100 for four classes in four weeks, and Levels 1-3 cost $130 each with six or seven weekly class meetings. Package options are available as are private lessons either at Cajun Lady’s K9 or at clients’ homes. She offers a 10% military discount, and therapy dog and service dog training, according to her brochure.

Jones said she loves dogs and will recognize dogs and know their names before she knows or is able to recognize their owners.

She came to Fayetteville in 2015 to attend the University of Arkansas as a criminal justice major. About four years ago, she got a job at Pet Smart to train dogs and found out it was what she wanted to do.

She said she learned a lot from that work and the encouragement of her boss, Robert Kho, but she learned a lot, too, from doing research on her own and from applying her experience on her dog Braun who had behavioral problems. She said her work with Braun and her research on training techniques has positioned her to help other dogs with behavioral troubles, and she said one of her proudest achievements is the work she’s done with several Bella Vista dogs who were rescued from a hoarding situation.

After Pet Smart closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, she began working with clients on her own, and estimated she’s trained or worked with anywhere from 700 to as many as 1,000 dogs in the past four years. She said her research has led her to accept that choke, prong and e-collars, while harsh, are sometimes needed for dogs, owners and others to stay safe until dogs are trained past the need for them.

She said all dogs must be clean and show proof of vaccination to participate in lessons.

At the end of the class, tired but smiling dogs and owners watched as Jones demonstrated their homework for the week, an activity for practicing “leave it” and “take it” commands.

Find out more at www.cajunladysk9.com, email Jones at cajunladysk9@gmail.com, or call 225-788-6235. Cajun Lady’s K9 is located at 114 S. Neal Street, Prairie Grove, AR 72753.

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