At the most recent ClickerExpo, I met two new Certified Training Partners (CTP), graduates of Karen Pryor Academy’s (KPA) flagship Dog Trainer Program. They were Andre Yeu, who runs a dog training school in Toronto, and one of his teachers, Mirkka Koivusalo, from Finland. Soon after that I was scheduled to give a talk in Canada, at the University of Guelph. I e-mailed Andre and asked if after my university gig I could come to Toronto, visit his school, and meet some other KPA graduates from the area. Andre said that would be great!
Andre is tall, good-looking, young, and energetic. He left a successful career in the software business to become… wait… a dog trainer!? Seriously? His colleagues were perplexed. But Andre had a plan.
It started when he adopted a rescued beagle. Then another. Then, to cope with his beagles, I gather, he enrolled in the KPA Dog Trainer Program. About half-way through, he had a thought: “I could do this. I could try, anyway.”
First, he researched Toronto to see which areas had the highest percentage of dog owners. There were two: the apartment buildings along the shores of Lake Ontario, and a rapidly gentrifying older part of town, with 19th century buildings, a jillion intriguing little cafés and boutiques, and a beautiful little park right in the middle of the district.
A PARK. That was crucial. The lakefront area had the dog owners, but it didn’t have a park for walking the dogs. Andre rented space for his school-to-be across the street from the park. He signed the lease right after his second KPA workshop, just half-way through the course.
There are not one, but two, doggie boutiques abutting the park (tells you something about the neighborhood). Andre told the owners of both shops that they should start carrying Easy Walk harnesses and Gentle Leaders; none of the customers he would draw would need choke chains. So they did.
When Hounds Fly, specializing in breeds that aren’t usually considered all that trainable (like beagles?) opened its doors in January of 2010, right after Andre graduated from the KPA program. In addition to group classes, Andre offers private lessons in the park, often with reactive dogs.
People notice those park lessons.
“Oh look, there’s the Weimaraner that was always barking—and now he’s being so good! Is that the same dog? How did you do that?” (“The guy right over there, from When Hounds Fly.”)
The business began to grow, thanks to word of mouth in the park and Andre’s skilled attention to social media.
Modular classes for a variety of families
I wanted to visit When Hounds Fly because Andre does something new: he teaches KPA-style modular classes. Customers buy a series, start the classes at any time, sign up online to come at their convenience, and learn at their own rate. People love it. Sometimes they come three times a week, and sign up for more.
We had plans to go out to dinner with some KPA CTP, but first I watched the 6:00 p.m. open-admissions puppy class. A couple with an 8-week-old Husky and a family with a 4-month-old American Bulldog were having their first class. A young woman with a 3-month-old retriever and a couple with a 4-month-old Aussie were having their fourth class.
Andre moved from one owner to another, raising criteria here, giving a suggestion there. The retriever could already hand target, and proved it nimbly. The Aussie stopped vocalizing and learned a little recall. The mom and two kids watched while the dad successfully clicker trained their very active bulldog pup to sit and look up—first at the owner’s legs, then at his hands, then at his chest, and then, finally, bingo, eye contact. The dog went “Wow!” and made eye contact with his boss from then on.
After a little learning, the puppies got a play break. Andre explained what was happening, “That’s fine, growling is part of the playing.” He demonstrated how to interrupt the play gently if one dog was too rough for another, and how to decide when to let the two dogs play again. At the end of class, after a pee break, the puppies were calm, the owners were happy and excited, and Andre was ready for dinner. Our dinner guests had arrived: eleven people in all.
From L-R: Julie Posluns, Mirkka Koivusalo,
Karen Pryor, Andre Yeu, & Emily Fisher
(click to enlarge)
At a Karen Pryor Academy regional get-together, usually KPA buys the drinks and we each pay for our own dinner. I’d asked Andre to find someplace not too expensive and fairly quiet, where we could talk. I’d seen some Italian and Chinese restaurants that looked just about right.
Andre led us outdoors, up the street for a block, and then into what looked like a pretty fancy—and very noisy—wine bar. Uh oh, maybe expensive, and probably hard to talk? But Andre had another plan.
We went down some stairs and through a narrow corridor into a magical room: the wine cellar. On the cellar’s back side was a glass wall into the cheese cave. Wine bottles to the ceiling all around, cheeses ripening to the ceiling next door, candles glowing. One long table for twelve people. Wow!
Six of the guests were KPA graduates. One of them, Mirkka from Finland, is Andre’s second teacher. Two other guests were also teachers at When Hounds Fly, offering clicker tricks, freestyle fun, and rally classes.
Wine flowed, of many kinds. Conversation flowed, too. We learned about each other. Tena Kristjanson and Katherine Ferger, both CTP, regularly run Bob Bailey-style chicken camps in Ontario. Katie Hood, a KPA student-to-be, has a terrific day job (a night job, actually)—she’s an improv actress. Debra Ross, a CTP who had driven two hours from Niagara Falls for this event, is a show judge, breed enthusiast, and fanatical clicker fan.
Andre had also invited Krista Macpherson, a doctoral student studying canine cognition, who was full of questions for all of us.
“Can you really feel a social bond with horses?”
Oh, you sure can! CTP Stacey Shaw, next to me, is a clicker specialist with horses and she could speak to that question. Me, too; I told pony stories.
When the waitress came around, and I was arranging to pay for the wine, Andre made an announcement: dinner was on him. Despite protests, Andre was firm. A chorus of “Thank you, Andre,” and everyone dove into the menus.
Food arrived. Hors d’oeuvres of fresh wild fiddlehead ferns—with amazing cheese. Fish from the lake. Venison. Pastas. Wonderful chocolate puddings and fairytale cake concoctions. It was a good thing we were in a private room, because by the end of this festive meal we were making SO much noise we’d have drowned out the main dining room.
What’s your dream?
We spilled out into the twilight of a northern summer night, and said goodbyes. As Andre and I walked back to the car, I offered again to at least help with the meal bill. And Andre told me a little story. Before he became a CTP, before he even owned a dog, Andre Yeu had a dream. When he worked for the software company, vendors often came through and would take him and others out for lavish meals. Andre’s wish was to have a company of his own some day, a company that would do well enough so that once in a while he could take his employees and his friends out for a really good dinner.
When Hounds Fly has been open only 18 months. But with three classes each evening, several auxiliary teachers, both weekend days full with classes, and many signs of growth, Andre can now have his wish.