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Canine clarity: Duluth dog trainer keeps it simple when motivating students

Pam Longville, director of training at Twin Ports Dog Training Club, leads a beginner class at the club. --- Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com1 / 6
Pam Longville, director of training at Twin Ports Dog Training Club uses a microphone to give instructions while teaching a beginner class at the club. --- Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com2 / 6
Owners and dogs are a blur as they pass by Pam Longville, director of training at Twin Ports Dog Training Club during a beginner class at the club. Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com3 / 6
Gordy, a 20-month-old English mastiff, owned by Christine Dearing of Duluth lies down as Pam Longville, director of training at Twin Ports Dog Training Club teaches a beginner class at the club Monday night. --- Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com4 / 6
Laura Thorsvik of Hermantown and her blue Great Dane sit at attention as Pam Longville, director of training at Twin Ports Dog Training Club while teaching a beginner class at the club. --- Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com5 / 6
Pam Longville, director of training at Twin Ports Dog Training Club, works with Jill Kulas of Superior and her mixed breed Kuper while teaching a beginner class at the club. --- Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com6 / 6

If you're in her class, she knows your name, your dog's name and your back story.

During a recent session at the Twin Ports Dog Training Club, instructor Pam Longville told a News Tribune reporter where to "sit" before directing the eight or nine handlers and their dogs.

Golden retrievers, poodles and a whippet were called to walk and stop midway across the training room floor. It was the advanced class, and many got it; some didn't.

"Any time a dog makes a mistake, we'll make three corrections," Longville said.

Dogs were hand-fed treats at a job done well. One handler tossed a snack a few feet away for fetch.

During one exercise, handlers told their dogs to "sit" and "stay," and sit and stay they did — for three-plus minutes while their owners waited in the other room. Before time was up though, Jill Hood of Duluth returned to check on Jorgie, her black standard poodle.

Jorgie used to get snarky with other dogs, and "Jill has a tendency to get a little bit nervous about that," Longville said.

"It's about training the owner as much as it is the dog."

— — —

Longville is director of training at the club, and she's an American Kennel Club ambassador. She has volunteered with animal-assisted therapy for 25 years — and has been training for longer, she said.

Dogs are simple, loving and hopeless optimists. They don't have boundaries; they want clarity, and that's our job, she said.

Some rules of thumb: Never punish a dog for trying, and never make it personal. Always try to train from the animal's point of view.

"Dogs want to please you. They want to do what's right, but sometimes, there are other circumstances," Longville said.

Different breeds call for different training techniques, and dogs learn differently, just as humans learn differently, she said. If a canine has stopped performing on a course they've mastered, Longville tries to eliminate changes that might be throwing it off, such as a change in the handler's soap, lotion or laundry detergent.

With any difficulty, she stressed taking a direct approach. "Avoidance behavior is my pet peeve. How are you going to fix it if you avoid it," she said. "Bad owners don't ask for help."

A common misconception that she tries to correct is: "They're not children in furry coats."

Dogs don't think like humans, and pet owners should avoid applying human expectations. They don't always need to be friendly or welcoming to strangers, she said, adding that they can only communicate with their mouths and paws.

Because of that, "a growl doesn't mean the dog is nasty, it just means, 'You need to get out of my personal space.'"

Another misconception that can be harmful is being afraid to discipline.

"There's nothing wrong with punishment or correction as long as there's no malice behind it," she said. "When your heart is right, your dog knows it."

— — —

Animals have always been a big part of Longville's life. "My dad's rule was, you can have as many animals as you want as long as you take care of them." At age 5, she got her first pony. From there, she's had black angus cattle, goats, pheasants, ducks, geese, rabbits, bear cubs. Among the animals she tried smuggling into her home as a kid: squirrels, chipmunks, a fawn. (Of the latter: "I got yelled at because you learn that you can take pictures of them, but you don't touch them," she recalled.)

Longville, 60, has lived in Duluth the past 32 years, and today, she has dogs, horses and a bunny. She's quick to share the biological drives of animals she has worked with, from predator to prey.

And training always came naturally. It's like putting a puzzle together, she said. "Sometimes, the pieces don't fit, so you have to come up with another solution." She trains in baby steps, and respect, patience and a partnership with the animal are elements she regards highly.

"I call her the Northland dog whisperer," Jennifer Jablonski said.

Jablonski, of Esko, has been involved with the Twin Ports Dog Training Club for 14 years, and she has worked with Longville since she started training her first dog there.

"She honestly just is an inspiration and so knowledgeable and willing to donate her time to help you." Jablonski is an instructor at the club, and also a student in the advanced class with her dog, Shylo.

Longville doesn't sugarcoat information, she said. "If you ask her something, she's going to give you a true answer, but she's always very kind-hearted.

"Not only is she our teacher, she is also one of our biggest cheerleaders outside the show ring."

— — —

During the advanced class, Jeannette Turchi of Duluth, "walked" her standard poodle without a leash. "Come on, hurry up," she said to Annie, who picked up the pace, as other handlers and canines moved through the training room.

"I love working with Pam," said Turchi, who has trained three dogs at the club. "She has to push us and call us out. ... You just can't be embarrassed. ... The dog's only going to do as well as the handler."

After the advanced class, Turchi and several others, including Jablonski, moved from student to instructor for the beginner class. As more pets and owners filed in, the chatter and dog buzz grew louder. Longville gave instructions from a microphone.

During class, her direction was firm, honest and sometimes included "hon." In one exercise, owners stood with taut leashes, as she bounced a tennis ball in front of their dogs. When Longville reached the end of a row, she pretended to throw it. "Go get it," she said. Most pooches stood still, a couple jumped, and all of their eyes followed the yellow ball.

"Next week, I'm going to throw the tennis ball," she said.

During a break, Longville fed treats to Küper, a lab/terrier/collie mix, as his owner, Jill Kulas, listened.

Kulas, of Superior, later said Longville offered tips on working with Küper during positive interactions with others. He has had some nipping issues, and Kulas has seen improvements since the start of class. This is her first time training a dog, and she's feeling more comfortable, too. "When I'm doing something wrong, I like when they come in and tell me," she said.

Some of the greatest rewards on the job are seeing dogs progress, Longville said, adding that dogs are a blessing.

"All they do is try to make your life better, and that's how I try to look at it with them."


Melinda Lavine

Lavine is a features and health reporter for the Duluth News Tribune. 

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