Dog trainer and Silver Bay resident Marti Mullen wants to teach dog owners to live well with their dogs.
"My class is for anyone who wants a better relationship with their dog," Mullen said. "We’re training basic manners like how to walk with their dog loosely on a leash or how to not jump on people."
Mullen's new DogSmarts basic manners group class will start at 6 p.m. Sept. 18 at the Clair Nelson Center in Finland. She started the class as she noticed an absence in dog training classes in the area and said she wanted to give back to the community.
"This is something I've had a passion for my whole life," Mullen said. "Ever since I was a kid and my mom found me, at 2 years old, down the street visiting a neighbor's German shepherd. I've loved dogs ever since."
Mullen spent most of her adult life in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where she split her time between running a software development company, working with a statewide search with her Australian shepherd and rescue team and interning with a dog trainer.
Mullen started dog training when she got her first German shepherd. Back then, though, she said most of the training was different from what she teaches today.
"It was all punishment-based training. It seems so barbaric to me now. You'd yank the dogs by their collars and punish them for not doing things correctly," Mullen said.
Mullen started investigating positive training methods when she started volunteering with the local search and rescue team.
"The search and rescue training pushed me to a whole new level. In order to train a search dog, you have to use positive methods," Mullen said. "If you’re going to have a dog off-leash, maybe miles away from you searching, you need to use positive methods, which have thankfully become the norm with training today."
She started by taking classes by dog trainer Karen Pryor, who taught clicker-based dog training. Soon, Mullen found herself fascinated with the question: How do dogs learn? She dove into research and today owns around 100 books on dog and human psychology and ethology.
Meanwhile, she and her dogs continued to work with a statewide search and rescue team and became certified in wilderness area search and human remains detection. When she wasn't working, she was volunteering with search and rescue, dog training, or taking her dogs herding.
In 2012, Mullen's world came to a halt as she was diagnosed with breast cancer. The chemotherapy so affected her brain that she developed a lot of cognitive deficits.
"It got to the point where I could no longer drive," Mullen said. "I had to give up my software business; I couldn't work; I couldn't do as much with the dogs."
Mullen and her husband moved up to Silver Bay to be closer to family. Mullen slowly started focusing on new interests including painting, bird watching and gardening. Slowly she felt her brain begin to heal itself.
This winter Mullen and her husband decided to finally get another dog after their last had passed away. When she looked at her Australian shepherd puppy, Bolt, she decided he needed a job.
"I thought, well, what's he going to do? Australian shepherds need a job," Mullen said. "So I thought it was time to start training again."
Mullen's beginner class will focus on foundation skills such as good greetings, waiting at a door, focusing on the owner, going to a mat to relax, walking on a loose leash, coming when called and other skills needed on a daily basis.
She's also looking to impart her knowledge to an intern or two. Interested individuals must be 16 years or older and interested in animal husbandry, veterinary tech or psychology.
"I want to continue to pass on my knowledge of how dogs learn," Mullen said.
Registration for the eight-week DogSmarts basic manners class is $100 and limited to 8-10 dogs and owners, though Mullen said she may start a second class if enough people are interested.