Austin Nichols, left, and Jana Nichols, right, run Northwoods Canine Connection LLC in rural Chetek. Their dogs, left to right, are Walter, Koda, Luna, Olivander and Margo Chevak. 

Whether you’ve had dogs all your life or Santa just brought you your very first puppy, the key to having a well-behaved dog—and a calm house—depends on the relationship, training and expectations you set for your dog, said Jana Nichols.

Nichols is a certified canine training and behavior specialist and owner of Northwoods Canine Connection LLC, in Chetek. She and her husband, Austin Nichols, train and board dogs. Having worked with more than 1,000 dogs this past year and having been a professional trainer for more than a decade, she has a wealth of experience. Nichols sat down with The Chetek Alert to give a few tips for new and longtime dog owners.

Nichols noted that a dog may be obedient to commands—like sit, stay, come or shake—but behave terribly around guests or other dogs. She works on a more basic level to help owners guide a dog’s behavior. She can work with aggression, anxiety, hyperactivity or separation anxiety. These are common things she sees and can work on other dog behavior issues too.

To have a well-behaved dog, an owner must first build a solid relationship with the animal, Nichols explained. Spoiling does them no favors and that’s a top bad habit of new dog owners.

“It’s so easy, and a lot of fun, to get a puppy and be the best friend. After all, that’s why we get puppies!” she said. “However, if we are not good advocates and leaders—setting clear boundaries and letting our puppies and dogs know what to do and what not to do—we can encounter problems in the future.”

Specifically, a dog should respond to you when you walk into the room, not the owner reacting to the dog. Ideally, the dog and owner work like a team—where the owner can communicate and influence the dog’s behavior, but also recognizes the dog’s mood and needs.

Nichols starts this process by rewarding good behaviors with petting, praise and sometimes treats. She uses whatever they respond to at the time.

“I teach puppies they don’t always need to be on furniture or playing, that they can be calm. Remember, calm is a very valuable skill that some puppies need to be taught,” she said.

She does not yell at or hit the dogs as punishment, but instead uses a leash or her hands to move them. “Teaching a puppy ‘no’ is just as important as teaching them yes. It gives them both pieces of the puzzle and lets them learn better.”

The best age to start training is when the dog is a puppy because they are learning the most at that time.

She recommends starting with crate training. It teaches the dog the crate is a safe place and that there are rules and boundaries when in the rest of the house. Socialization with other dogs and potty training can progress from there.

Training is like any relationship, it must be maintained to stay healthy, she noted. In a puppy’s first two years, it goes through different developmental stages and changes.

But once a solid foundation is set, usually it gets easier to maintain over time and as a dog ages.

Using this type of training, her and Austin’s house is relaxing and calm, even with eight dogs inside. The dogs respond to them and match their behavior.

Nichols noted that independent or high-energy working dog breeds might be more challenging to train, but it ultimately depends on the dog’s individual personality and temperament, along with other external factors like how consistent the owners are.

She recommended that anyone looking at getting a dog to research the breed and its traits. Anyone gifting a dog should also include a gift card for training.

“The big goal we have for people is that they can include their dog in their life as much as possible. So that their dog has a happy and fulfilled life and that we can enjoy what precious time we have with them. That is so incredibly important,” she said.

Nichols started the business in 2010 under the name Northwoods Animal Learning and Wellness Center LLC. Austin officially joined the business in 2014, and he runs the kennel side of the operation.

Boarding dogs has picked up in the past few years, Austin noted. They have play groups to exercise the dogs in both large outdoor and indoor enclosures on 69 acres of property.

Like their house, it’s relatively quiet in the kennel. Less barking means its less stressful for the dogs, they noted.

They changed the name to Northwoods Canine Connection LLC late last year to more accurately reflect what they do.

Nichols offers classes, socialization times and pack walks. Dogs and their owners are vetted first to make sure they are a good fit.

“We offer the socials and pack walks as free because we feel it’s incredibly beneficial for the dogs and want anyone who want to, to be able to participate,” she said.

Drop-in classes are offered on Mondays and other classes and a newsletter can be found at their website, www.northwoodscanineconnection.com.

Northwoods Canine Connection is located at 2775 Eighth Ave. (CTH D), east of Chetek.

Nichols can be reached at northwoodscanineconnection@yahoo.com or at 715-642-2421.

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