Tecla’s K-9 Academy saves dogs, trains owners and builds relationships - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

Tecla’s K-9 Academy saves dogs, trains owners and builds relationships

Tecla with Brinkley

Walking into Tecla’s K-9 Academy in Ellicott City, Maryland can be quite overwhelming.

New clients with their dogs struggle to figure out how to hold a leash, while daycare dogs happily reunite with their owners after a fun day of play and throughout it all you are nearly assaulted by a cacophony of barking, whining, and howling.

But take a few more steps into the facility and you will find a large bright training room, with dogs of all shapes, sizes and breeds, sitting calmly beside their owners as a trainer instructs the class. Walk a little closer and see another trainer working with a single dog and its owner. Upstairs is a cozy kennel area where dogs can go when they need a nap from playing in daycare, or when they just need a quiet place to relax before their owner picks them up in the afternoon.

In the middle of it all stands the founder and owner of Tecla’s K-9 Academy, Tecla Walton, CPDT-KA, Pack to Basics Certified, an esteemed dog trainer of more than 14 years.

Tecla and Penny (Danielle Lavis Photography)

Tecla and Penny (Danielle Lavis Photography)

“I’ve studied the entire spectrum of dog training from clicker work to remote collar conditioning as well as many dog sports including Schutzhund, competitive obedience, and nosework. Not just dabbled, but studied with the best people, nationally and internationally, so that I can offer the best-personalized training for each dog that comes through the door,” Walton said.

Walton didn’t begin her career as a dog trainer until after she had been teaching music education for several years.

“I was always meant to train dogs. I trained my first dog when I was 16, but by then I had already started playing violin, and my parents were pretty much decided that I was going to be a musician,” she explained. “So I did music and it was good. It served me well, but my passion was always the dogs.”

In her late 20s, Walton bought a house and along with it, a German shepherd puppy that she named Penny.

“It was my first ‘adult’ dog. I wanted her to go everywhere with me, so she had to have really good obedience,” she explained. Walton started training Penny in “Schutzhund,” a sport that focuses on obedience, tracking, and protection. Meaning “dog protection” in German, Schutzhund was originally used as a test to determine breed suitability. Today, the technique is used not only to train police dogs but as a sort of triathlon for dogs and their owners.

Walton grew to love the sport so much that she sought out to train with the best of the best, and soon she and Penny became a recognizable team in the competitive world.

But when Penny turned eight years old, she was diagnosed with cancer. She had eight tumors in her lungs and the doctors gave her six months to live. But Walton refused to allow Penny to live her last months in a haze of pain, medication and treatments. She used a holistic treatment approach that included acupuncture, Chinese herbs, raw diet and immune-boosting supplements. Walton also still allowed Penny to compete in the sport they had both grown to love.

“I am a firm believer in giving dogs a job and a sense of life purpose,” Walton said. “This is even more important in older dogs or dogs with illnesses.”

The combination of holistic medicine and regular competition worked – Penny lived for three years after her diagnosis and was asymptomatic the entire time. About three months before she died, they entered her in her first nosework trial.

“I was just hoping we could earn a title together but Penny had other ideas in mind,” Walton said. “She won High in Trial,” which means she had the fastest overall search time and fewest faults in nosework.  Penny completed four searches in 1 minute and 16 seconds and had no faults.

Today, a portrait of Walton tearfully hugging Penny takes up an entire wall of the academy to remind her of the dog who started it all. Penny not only garnered attention for her incredible courage and competitive talent, but people often commented on her excellent behavior.

“By the time she was three I could take her anywhere, off-leash, and people would see me with that dog and say, ‘I want that.’ So I just started helping people [train their dogs] and a couple of years into it I thought, ‘Maybe it’s time to think about making money on this.'”

After working with owners and dogs in their homes, Walton formed an unofficial partnership with a local kennel, helping them with management work in exchange for use of their grounds for her classes. She operated under the name Angel K-9, opened a training facility 2007, and then became Tecla’s K-9 Academy in 2011.

Today, Walton and her gifted staff train and really save thousands of dogs a year in addition to providing daycare to about 40 dogs a day. Classes offered include obedience, Chad Mackin’s Pack to Basics Socialization Classes, agility, nosework, rally, and the sport that started it all – Schutzhund. Tecla’s also offers puppy classes for those wanting to get their puppies off to a great start as well as “doggie boot camp” for more difficult or stubborn dogs.

Obedience through relationship

Allex Crumbley brought her Golden retriever puppy in to Tecla’s Academy four years ago and was immediately drawn to the competitive world.

“I got completely hooked,” she said. “I started competing in rally and competitive obedience with my Golden Retriever (Brinkley), shadowing Tecla in other classes she was teaching, reading, going to seminars, learning all I could.”

Crumbley enjoyed herself so much that she started apprenticing under Walton and eventually became a trainer.

She explained how the academy is different than other facilities: “TK9 is training for the whole dog. Our obedience program is one of the most robust I’ve ever seen, particularly in terms of working around distractions so the skills are still there in real life settings. On top of this, our trainers work to get at the root of behavior problems through balancing relationships and building trust. Tecla’s Pack to Basics and Behavior Modification programs are an incredibly powerful way to help dogs overcome their fears of other dogs and even people.”

Some dogs require more individualized care, and the academy offers that as well. In fact, Walton says they specialize in what some would deem difficult dogs.

“Just like some children need an IEP [Individualized Education Plan], some dogs need an IEP. Some dogs need more structure, and it doesn’t hurt to provide that structure, and then relax a little as they get older,” Walton explained.

Her goal is reach as many dogs and dog owners as possible.

She discussed a recent situation with a deaf American bulldog mix named Remi. “I was very close to putting him into the category of truly miswired because I just couldn’t figure him out,” she said. Remi’s owner agreed to let Walton take Remi for four weeks, while she recovered from a surgical procedure. At first, Walton said, the going was rough. “For the first 10 to 14 days, we couldn’t even touch him. We had to use double leashes, double handlers. It was a long journey and he needed boundaries.”

Tecla and Skye

Tecla and Skye

Part of Remi’s obstacle wasn’t his nature, but his nurture. Remi’s owner was feeling sorry for him because he was deaf and wasn’t following protocols set forth in the initial training. “She was spoiling him, and was confusing him,” Walton said. “I made an iron-clad go-home protocol that was about 20 points long. She had to initial next to everything, and there was a statement at the bottom saying if she didn’t then she was released from training with us. There was no reason for that dog to walk that way through life.”

Walton says this situation is more common than most might think. “People who have rescued dogs from a rough start start to feel bad for the dog, and a large percentage try to make up for that, and they make up for it in the wrong ways. They love them but they love them too much incorrectly,” she says. “Their hearts are in the right place, they want to help the dog and they need to see how to love them the right way, by providing structure and proper leadership.”

The academy also takes in dogs deemed unsocial by other daycare facilities and works to socialize them, teaching them to be around other dogs and have appropriate manners and most importantly, appropriate play. And as trainer Denise Willis says, the academy will work with any dog. “They all deserve a chance. My favorite thing is watching a dog I’m working with shed his stress layers and give a deep sigh of letting it all go. It’s awesome to be a part of the process.”

Willis has been working as a trainer for 15 years, ten of those under Walton’s tutelage. She says that while their goal is always the same – obedience through relationship – they are always seeking new ways to improve training methods. “Of course we care and love dogs, but beyond that we take an approach to dog training that’s not buried in one particular training method. It’s made adaptable for each specific dog and usable by the owner when there is no trainer around.”

In addition to daycare and classes, Tecla’s K-9 Academy fosters shelter dogs to get them trained for their forever homes, works to help trained dogs pass testing to become therapy animals, and trains diabetic alert dogs. In October, Tecla’s is hosting a sport dog expo to promote competitive dog sports and raise money for nearby shelters.

Walton is also opening up a 13,000 square foot state of the art second location at 7111 Dorsey Run Road in Elkridge. It will offer classes and daycare as well as boarding.

But she hasn’t forgotten her first love. In addition to running the academy full-time, Walton still competes with her Belgian Malinois, Skye, who was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in October 2013. Walton was told that her only option was to prolong Skye’s life with amputation and chemotherapy, but she chose a different approach.

“I decided to amputate and opted to take a completely holistic approach to boost Skye’s immune system, which consists of weekly acupuncture, raw food diet, organic “green” shakes that I make for her, and about 10 different immune boosting supplements. She also gets chiropractic and underwater treadmill sessions to help condition her body since she has to work harder on three legs.”

Having only three legs hasn’t stopped Skye – or Walton. Part of Skye’s medical treatment also includes continuing her competitive obedience work. “Cynosport Rally will allow dogs with disabilities to compete so we have been to three competitions since January and Skye has taken home many first place finishes and perfect 210 scores,” Walton says proudly. “This past weekend she earned her ARCH, which is a Rally Champion title.  Winning the ribbons is great, but what is truly incredible is seeing how much Skye loves to work and how much people love watching her work.  A woman pointed to her when we were leaving the competition ring last weekend and said ‘That one is my hero!’ It is so amazing to be on this journey with Skye.”

Tecla’s K-9 Academy’s website boasts several rave reviews from owners who have experienced a complete 180 in their dog’s behavior, but Crumbley sums it up best: “Everything we do works to build dogs up and make them stronger, not break them down with too much force or cover their insecurities with food. But then, it’s a two way street; it’s not enough for the dogs to learn our words and our rules, we have to learn how to get into their heads too,” she said. “Tecla can teach you how to speak dog.”

 


About the author

Emily Campbell

Emily Little (nee Campbell) was a perpetually single girl who recently met and married her Mr. Right. Her blog, Dating Emily, has been a two-year diary of her adventures in relationships. Her life of bar-hopping and casual dating has turned into one of dog-walking, craft-making and budgeting for eventual home ownership. But just because she can make a mean casserole doesn't mean her adventures are over. As she prepares to become a first-time homeowner and eventually, a mom, she is discovering that the adventure may just be beginning. Contact the author.
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