Sit, Stay, Win: Best Paw Forward Talks Training

Castle, a Samoyed pup, trains at Best Paw Forward.

Sit. Stay. Win.

Having a dog as part of the family is more involved than playing fetch or long walks. There’s a real business of pet ownership, and with canines, training is a big part of it. Many folks are signing up for classes to get their dog up-to-speed in obedience, including basic commands, as well as competition.

“I have been training Central Florida dogs for 45 years, starting with my own Irish setters at Three-J Dog Training when it was in Maitland,” says P. J. Lacette.

Angel practices the weave poles, one of the toughest obstacles for agility dogs to master.

It was an act made out of necessity.

“After our first setter chewed her way through her third couch, my husband said, ‘Do something about them, there were two by then, or they are gone!’”

When Three-J Dog Training moved, Lacette and friend Sandy Guy started Best Paw Forward, a southwest Volusia County dog school.

“I often say that I would not likely have stayed in dog training if we had started anywhere else in Central Florida,” she says. Guy has since retired, and Lacette, the only full-time trainer, offers services with the aid of volunteers.

Best Paws Forward offers 15 small group sessions plus private classes each week covering everything from beginning manners and obedience to competition obedience, agility, rally obedience, conformation, social issues such as aggression, shyness and nervous dogs, plus occasional workshops and seminars. There’s even cat counseling.

“We are very lucky that so many of our students go on to very successful dog competition work, but we are just as proud of the vast number of dogs who stay in their homes after working with us to avoid or fix common problems like jumping up, pulling on leash, chewing and barking,” Lacette says.

“Many dogs go back to shelters or reputable breeders for these problems, and, most commonly, house training or even social issues. Fortunately, we have a much better success ratio, but learning to help families make practical decisions is not always easy.”

Agility tires are fun and help dogs train for jumps in competition.

Success is often measured right away. Lacette notes that dogs start improving immediately because they are very smart; they can earn fun and rewards quickly when their owners start to operate in a kinder, fun environment, using logic, fairness and rewards like treats, toys and favorite games rather than force.

“Scientific studies are proving lure-reward methods combined with clicker training vastly speed up training results,” she says.

All businesses require investments, and with dog trainers, that comes through steps taken for certification.

Lacette is a charter member of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT), which offers certificate courses. The association was founded in 1993 by renowned animal behaviorist, dog trainer and veterinarian Dr. Ian Dunbar.

“I have been a longtime volunteer at APDT and at other educational conferences, including several of the first clicker training programs. We have the longest-running Dunbar-style puppy sessions in Florida and the longest-running group clicker classes in at least the southeast U.S.,” Lacette says.

Businesses also need to let folks know about their products and services, and for Best Paw Forward, it’s a mix of word-of-mouth and technology.

“Since we focus on in-person training, our best resource continues to be our students, both for referrals and coming back with generations of dogs,” says Lacette. “We get a lot of veterinary referrals, too, because I’ve done a lot of in-person cold call visits over the decades.

Chihuahua Maggie leaps for a treat.

“Facebook advertising has also been helpful in recent years to help target nearby markets, and I am learning more every day about how to better use technology.”

Best Paw Forward also maintains a robust website with a comprehensive list of offerings.

It’s all been a formula for success.

“I got my first Lab in 2001 and had no idea how much it would take to get a loving, trained dog to match my working lifestyle,” says Karen Burmeister of Longwood.

“I found the Best Paw puppy class, and they helped me through the adjustment from Shelties 20 years before to the strong, driven retriever. Casey was with me for 12 years, and the one puppy series made all the difference.”

Burmeister has since returned to Best Paw Forward with other dogs.

Another longtime customer is Jacki Skelton of Orlando, owner of Blue, a female Flat-Coasted Retriever.

“I have been learning and training my dogs at Best Paw Forward for many years,” says Skelton. “PJ has taught me, and my dogs, obedience, conformation – showing purebred dogs – rally, scent-work and agility. She has a vast knowledge of dogs and dog training, knows the latest methods of positive-reinforcement training techniques and explains why we do things, not just what to do.”

Lacette says the keystone of the business is offering gentle, positive, affordable training with experienced dog trainers.

“We pride ourselves on offering a very inclusive program and provide work-study and barter options to ensure that Central Florida residents can develop well-behaved dogs,” says Lacette. “It is a bonus to get them also introduced to the fun of dog shows, obedience and rally competition, agility trials and many other dog events.”

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