Can you really teach an old dog new tricks?

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Aurelia Ford-Martin’s The Upbeat K9 offers a variety of dog training options for pups of all ages. (Photography: Benjamin Margalit)

By Patricia Nugent

They are the first face greeting you when you arrive home, your most loyal friend and spirited sidekick. But most dog owners nowadays lack the time and expertise to train their dogs properly.

Meet Aurelia Ford-Martin, who, along with her husband, Steve, owns The Upbeat K9. The new mobile training service uses cutting-edge methods to help Fifi and Fido learn how to behave around you, your friends and other animals.

“Our positive and open-minded approach appeals to the learning style of each dog and what motivates them,” she says.

“Our program is a win-win, strengthening the bond of owner and best friend. At the end of the day, your dog will feel more confident and learn how to manage its own good behavior. We create harmony in your life.”

She says the methodology involves a bit of training for the owner, too, as they are given “homework” to do between training sessions to reinforce all the work that has been done. All members of the family need to be part of the effort.

“We help you create a pack structure—with you as the leader—in your home,” she says.

Some behaviors dog owners want to get rid of include jumping on guests, digging, nuisance barking, leash pulling, separation anxiety and general aggression.

“While we do train lots of puppies, any age, any breed of dog can be properly trained,” she says. “Dogs flourish in environments where a trusted structure is created and maintained.”

Common Training Misconceptions
Aurelia has trained countless pooches and says many people have misconceptions about the best way to train them. Here are a few of the most common ones:

  • “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Aurelia and her team routinely train older dogs. They are never too old to learn tasks and model behavior.
  • “It’s better for the dog to train to go without a collar.” Your pup should always wear a collar that has a tag with your name and phone number, as well as a vaccination tag, and walk beside you with a leash.
  • “You need a shock collar to teach them.” Positive reinforcement is much more effective than punishment. And it leads to better adjusted dogs, who have stronger relationships with their owners.
  • “My dog is a dominant ‘alpha’ dog and resistant to training.” Actually, alpha dogs only account for about one percent of the population, and even those dogs are quite trainable. People should think of themselves as the alpha figure who their dogs look to for direction.

Providing a Balance
We use a balanced and open-minded approach that is based on the learning style of the dog in front of us,” says Aurelia. “First, we provide a lure, which is a treat, then we introduce a marker, marking time so they will not receive the reward until we see good behavior. After that, we only reward randomly, so the dog is producing the good behavior out of habit.

A basic fundamental of the program begins with the “place” command, she explains. “Dogs are taught to go to a designated cot and remain there until released.”

“Every dog responds to different positive reinforcement, whether that’s food or a toy,” she says. “In both private and group training sessions, we focus on the individual needs of the dog and the dog owner.”

They Come, They Train, They Succeed
The training takes place in several ways. With day training, Aurelia and her team of trainers show up to your home in their whimsically decorated van to pick up your pooch for the day, training them intensely (making sure they have breaks) at their headquarters. Then they return the dog to your home in the evening. Sessions run for either five or 10 days.

For a higher level of intensity, they can also board and train your pet in seven-day, 14-day and 21-day sessions.

After the packages, Steve and Aurelia say that refresher lessons are included in the package cost for a year after.

Though only a few months in business, The Upbeat K9 already has some breakthrough success stories under its belt.

Just ask Dayle Lenk of Medina, who says, “It’s a very good training program, very professional, kind and respectful. My puppy tried to test the limits.”

Aurelia says that in addition to training, they also offer dog walking and boarding services. “We recognize how guilty owners become when they have no time to take their dogs for walks, so we’ll come to your home while you’re at work and take your dog on a nice half-hour walk.”

Upbeat K9 Dog Training is centrally located in Medina. They go to homes all over Northeast Ohio. For more information, call 330-461-9287 or visit For a schedule of group lessons, which take place at PetPeople in Strongsville, check out their Facebook page.