You might call Brenda Dreyer of Ahwatukee a dog whisperer. At the very least, her Foothills Canine Academy does more than just train dogs.
“There are so many aspects to dog training,” the Club West resident explained. “Learning how your dog learns and communicates is crucial. I don’t just focus on basic commands. I teach people how to understand their dogs and how to communicate with their dogs.”
It’s no wonder, then, that Dreyer doesn’t look at dogs as her students as much as their owners.
Indeed, she stressed, that her school is “not a board and train.”
“The owners are 100 percent involved in training their dog. I think it is instrumental to the owner and dog to form that bond through training. I basically teach the owners to train their dogs. This is also beneficial to the owner if they were to ever get another dog.”
“I sincerely love helping people learn about their dogs,” she said. “It gets to me in my heart when I see a student who has been struggling with their pet finally have that breakthrough.”
There are four stages those breakthroughs can occur since Foothills Canine Academy offers four levels of training: a class for puppies 10 weeks to 6 months old; a beginner class, those older than that; an intermediate class for dogs with a strong foundation in basic commands that focuses on impulse control and building on the three Ds of dog training: distractions, distance, duration.
That means having the dog learn to ignore distractions; getting the dog to respond to commands at increasingly greater distances from the owner; and building the dog’s ability to keep a command for increasingly longer periods of time.
Dreyer even has an advanced class for dogs that have excellent impulse control and have mastered the three Ds. It adds obedience skills such as dumbbell work (fetching) and other moves that are often part of dog show evaluations.
“My goal is to provide you with the necessary knowledge and tools for training your canine companion,” she says on her website. “Whether it be for a well-mannered dog or a dog you want to compete, obedience training and learning how your dog thinks is crucial.”
Dreyer, who moved to Ahwatukee from West Virginia a year ago, does all this in a 1,700-square-foot air-conditioned facility in an industrial park not far from Sky Harbor International Airport.
She had wanted to set up her school closer to home.
“It definitely was a challenge to find a place that would accommodate a dog training facility,” she recalled. “As soon as I said ‘dog,’ many property owners wouldn’t even consider it.:
She ultimately couldn’t find an affordable place in Ahwatukee and is grateful she found one that’s only a 20-minute drive from her home.
She accepts any breed, though she cautions that some breeds, such as terriers, can be are among the more challenging students.
“Terriers are genetically built to be independent thinkers,” she explained. “They tend to get bored very easily if a trainer keeps drilling the same command over and over again.”
Not allowed are aggressive dogs, she said, adding they “need more than obedience training.”
Dreyer talks about dogs as if she has been around them all her life, but she got her first one as an adult – an Australian Shepherd named Ozzy – only in 2002.
“I brought him to obedience classes because we wanted a well-mannered dog that we could bring places and do things with, like camping, jeeping and hiking.”
She had “boundary trained” Ozzy so that he learned to stay in the front yard and not cross the sidewalk – which amused the neighborhood kids who loved having him chase them, only to stop when they crossed past the walk.
Ozzy died and she and her husband got CJ, a now 8-year-old Red-Bi Australian Shepherd. He’s since been joined in her family by a 4-year-old Red Merle Australian Shepherd and a 14-year-old Cockapoo.
But CJ is special, Dreyer said – and became her doorway into what she calls “Dog World.”
“Being introduced into the Dog World was one of the best things that has ever happened to me and it is all because of CJ,” Dreyer explained. “CJ is an extremely intelligent dog…but he was also very challenging to train.”
She kept working with CJ and eventually also hired a trainer who happened to be an American Kennel Club obedience competition exhibitor.
“Honestly, I never knew of such a thing,” she said, explaining how he introduced her to agility training – putting a dog through an obstacle course within a specified time limit.
“CJ and I had tons and tons of fun learning and practicing agility for two years all while continuing my obedience training,” Dreyer said. “My exposure to Dog World was growing and CJ definitely loved it, as did I. “There are so many of these fun sports to keep you and your dog active and more importantly truly helps build and strengthen your relationship with your K9 partner.”
Over time, CJ and Dreyer got so good as a team doing AKC sports with names like “barn hunt,” “fast cat,” “flyball” and many more that they’ve competed six different sports – and won a few ribbons.
“I am so grateful to have been exposed to the Dog World as it literally has changed my life and certainly CJ’s life,” she said. “There is no greater gift than working as a team; seeing and feeling the moment when human and canine finally make that special connection.”
To help people and their dogs develop that special connection – as well as her own with her dogs – Dreyer on average trains dogs six days a week.
“This isn’t something I dabble in as a hobby,” she said.
She advises dog owners to start training when they are puppies. “Puppies, up to 16 weeks of age, go through an ‘imprinting phase,’” she said, describing it as a period when they develop “the foundation of their personality.
Her students attend an hourlong class once a week and she runs the different classes for the different training levels multiple times to accommodate the pet owners’ schedule.
She also offers private lessons both at the academy and at owners’ homes. The group classes cost $125 for a seven-week series while private lessons start at $60 for an hour and go up to $250 for five classes.
Dreyer also said she is “continuously trying to learn.”
“I truly believe performing in those AKC sports has been extremely helpful and beneficial in learning about dogs,” she said. “There are 101 different ways to teach a behavior. One way might work for one dog but not another, so I am constantly looking to fill my skill box.”