Cowboy couldn’t quite make it as a seeing-eye dog for the blind, so he ended up with Gina Johnson of Black Diamond.
Lucky for Cowboy, a 4-year-old yellow Labrador, Gina Johnson is a dog trainer and owner of One Good Dog, which she runs out of her home.
Johnson grew up riding horses in Issaquah and first started working with animals as a girl when people would come to her with horses that hadn’t been fully trained.
By the time she got to the University of Washington she knew she wanted to be a dog psychologist but she wasn’t sure how to make it happen.
“I knew I loved training,” Johnson said. “I found the positive reinforcement training and fell in love with that.”
She earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology with an emphasis in animal behavior from UW. She went on to do an apprenticeship at Riverdog where she spent a year.
Johnson also has experience as an instructor’s assistant for the training department of Guide Dogs for the Blind, and as a veterinary assistant. In addition she has worked and volunteered at a local service/therapy dog organization, a canine boarding facility, the Woodland Park Zoo and a therapeutic equestrian facility for the disabled.
After her apprenticeship she decided to go out on her own.
“I’ve had my own business for four years now,” Johnson said. “It’s really nice for dogs to live in a home (while training). You can work on things like counter surfing, door manners, greeting people at the door. We do down stays in the evenings, teach them to go to their rug and stay there while you’re eating dinner.”
Johnson said she can work with any kind of behavioral problems a family is experiencing with their dogs. A number of behavior problems can often be explained by boredom, she said, like digging in the back yard and a simple way to fix that is exercise.
“That’s the No. 1 thing I tell people is exercise,” she said.
There are a number of ways she can help people train their canine friends.
“I do training boot camp where the dog comes to live with me for two to three weeks,” she said. “I also do in-home private lessons. I do puppy lessons to get them off on the right paw.”
She works with families and their pets on basic and intermediate obedience skills. Dogs as young as eight weeks old can learn basic commands, Johnson explained.
Another option Johnson offers is to go into people’s homes while they’re at work and train the dog then give the family lessons later which “works really well for busy people.”
Cowboy is an example of the training she’s done. He didn’t work out as a guide dog because he barks at new people and it was something Johnson said they couldn’t seem to train out of him.
The lab does respond well to commands such as spin left or spin right, “bang” which prompts him to play dead, come, wait and many others.
Johnson said that the commands “come” and “wait” are the two most important for dogs to learn because it can save their lives.
While the winter is usually a quieter time for Johnson she said business is starting to pick up as the weather warms up.
Her business has also done well no matter the weather thanks to word of mouth and her Web site.
“It’s really grown every year,” she said. “I’m going to have to start looking for a part time assistant. I hate having to turn away business but I’ve had to turn some away.”
Right now she has two dogs doing the boarding training with her: an 8-month-old German shepherd mix named Tango and a Jack Russell terrier puppy called Sebastian. The young dogs are learning social skills and good manners.
Though the job can sometimes be demanding with 12 hour days and seven day work weeks, Johnson said, she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It’s so rewarding to be able to help people who think their dogs are hopeless,” she said. “Dogs are happier when they’re trained and have boundaries.”
To contact Gina Johnson, log on to her Web site at www.onegooddog.org, send her e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at (360) 886-0052.