“If you talk to the animals they will talk to you, and you will know each other. If you do not talk to them, you will not know them … Let them whisper in my ear, and I shall listen.” These are the words of retired veterinarian and canine behavior-training expert, Dr. Karen Garelick of her philosophy on her life’s work, dog training.

Karen Garelick and Molly, a rescue dog. (Photo by Phyllis McCabe)

Garelick has relocated her dog training business, which she’s had for seven years, from the second floor of a coat barn onThomas Streetto the spacious quarters of the former Roberti Saab dealership. She’s renovated the ample 9,000 square feet into an agility and obedience training center, canine dog daycare and play center, courtyard, training supplies store and, eventually, a canine café “meet and greet” spot to serve coffee, cake and dog biscuits.

Garelick started listening to her animals, she says, at age 12 when she was struck by a drunk driver and spent weeks in a coma. As she began an emotionally and physically painful recovery, she noticed how her horses and dogs seemed to “read” her, and respond to her body’s pain and ailments. “I watched them change their reactions to match mine,” she said, “All their mannerisms changed. They stopped all the behaviors that hurt me.”

Garelick would agree that there is an adaptive irony in referring to herself as “dog whisperer” considering how downright loud, boisterous and (self-described) “obnoxious” she can be. Peel a layer, however, and you learn that it’s not about anything that comes out of her mouth, but rather creating an awareness of our most subtle body gestures and reading the animal’s response. Waving arms, rocking back and forth, lifted eyebrows and more all send either positive or negative messages to the animal.

“It’s learning about behavior of an animal without expecting behaviors to happen,” said Garelick, who warns against “too much talking” to dogs. It’s an error, she said, to constantly repeat orders like, “Sit! Sit!” to a dog who knows nothing of the word. Garelick assigns a word to the behavior — once the dog sits, then you recognize the behavior and reference it with the word “sit” — so the dog now knows it in context.

Garelick offers a full menu of six-week courses such as puppy kindergarten, good manners classes, companionship classes, agility classes, trick classes, advanced obedience to polish your dog’s social behaviors, and even offers Canine Good Citizens and Therapy Dog International training to certify a therapy dog for hospital visits or therapeutic programs. Garelick said the classes are all about socialization for both dogs and their handlers. The agility classes, she said, keep a dog’s body and mind actively engaged.

The classes are held in the former garage-turned-training course, filled with colorful ramps, hoops, jumps, frames, tunnels, shoots and weave-poles that all resemble fun children’s jungle gym equipment.  During the interview, Garelick’s 12-year old golden retriever, Ellis, made an impressive run through the gauntlet, bending, turning and leaping with a puppy-like zeal.

Slideshow image: Shanti, a Havanese Cavalier, with Katie Houston. (Photo by Phyllis McCabe.)