Tracey Tong/Metro Ottawa


Dog behaviour therapist and trainer Connie Clarke and Roland “Rolls” Tong share a moment.

As far as I’m concerned, Connie Clarke is the bravest woman in all of Ottawa.

The local dog behaviour therapist agreed to come into my home to wrangle with — er, train — my two precious monsters, Cujo and Roland.

The dogs are a Chihuahua and a miniature dachshund, but don’t be fooled by their pleading eyes and weak chins — those two have nipped visitors, eaten thousands of dollars in shoes and scared off potential boyfriends (mine, not theirs).

Clarke got the standard door greeting. Nervous, high-pitched barks and snarls — typical small-dog behaviour, she said.

“We’re treating dogs like people. People get a dog instead of a child and indulge the dog,” said Clarke, who employs the Bark Busters technique. “The dog has too much impact on what goes on in the house. And many people make that mistake.”

More Ottawans have been employing the services of trainers like Clarke in recent years, especially since the advent of TV shows like The Dog Whisperer.

Clarke, who has worked with over 200 area canines of all shapes and sizes since she began work two years ago, has seen every problem from separation anxiety to biting.

“Basically, if dogs misbehave, they either don’t understand what you want or don’t care what you think,” Clarke said.

While many dogs recognize select words, they don’t understand language the way we do. Dogs rely on body language to communicate, so we do too.

“Stand tall and be still,” Clarke instructed me. “Don’t chase them or flap around.”

Dogs also use growls to keep each other in line, so we follow suit. Clarke teaches me to growl, “Bah!” to the dogs — and here’s the key — at the first signs of undesirable behaviour.

I feel guilty and a little silly about barking at my pets, but she insists they’re going to be happier dogs for this. Most people give dogs too much freedom, she said.

It’s never too late to train a dog, Clarke said. “But a lot of people are soft,” she adds. “I call them cream puffs. But you have to remember to treat dogs like dogs.”

Look for Metro reporter Tracey Tong’s Cityscapes column every Wednesday.