By Holly Cook
Vicky Kirkland’s dog, Bronco, shows off his trick of rolling up inside his blanket. Bronco has a diverse repertoire of tricks. Photo by Courtney Kuhlen
No one understands the phrase “it’s a dog’s life” more than Vicky Kirkland.
The Littleton resident has made a business out of training dogs for the last 14 years.
While the administrative success of her business recently earned her a spot in the 2008 Biltmore’s Edition of Who’s Who Among Executives and Professional Women, it’s her training techniques that earn her a spot in her clients’ hearts — and in this case, client equals dog.
A Wagging Success, Kirkland’s Littleton dog-training company, offers a “progressive” program that runs the gamut — from doggie “manners” and standard “sit commands to tricks and service training.
Bronco, Kirkland’s first yellow lab, graced the pages of Colorado Community Newspapers years ago because he was able to make bank deposits for Kirkland, pick up her dry cleaning and spend a few hours at the gym each week visiting patrons.
Haines, another former dog of Kirkland, even performed on Animal Planet’s “Pet Star” program.
Bronco’s successor, Bronco No. 2, also can single-handedly roll himself into a blanket, bow and “say his prayers.”
He learned how to do all of this by responding to verbal and hand cues that Kirkland developed over time practicing with other trainers.
Her initial training came from an animal behaviorist at Tufts University, who told her to train Haines using only positive reinforcement. Now she is a professional dog trainer teaching others calming techniques.
“Most people can teach their dogs how to sit or stay, but they don’t need to know every time they get something wrong,” she said.
What’s more, Kirkland says you won’t get the right results by only teaching basic skills.
“You can give them a cookie and say something, but that doesn’t give you a well-mannered dog.”
The three yellow labs lounging in her kitchen are extremely well-behaved, and one of them is only 6 months old.
Assuming that a 6-month-old puppy is naturally unruly is one of the biggest misconceptions about dogs, according to Kirkland. They will still be puppies, but it’s manageable.
“People think that puppies are going to be puppies, wild and crazy,” she said. “And it doesn’t have to be like that.”
Though she wouldn’t reveal her secrets for training a well-behaved dog, it’s obvious she never raises her voice at the animals, never swats or physically reprimands them, and consistently rewards them with treats when they behave.
When Bronco begs, Kirkland asks him, “What are you supposed to be doing?”
She’ll cup her hand into a “C” shape, and keeps eye contact with him until he recognizes her hand cue, and sits down.
Then, he gets a treat.
“You have to give them something of value. They don’t work for just praise,” she said. “This is their money, and it’s the most important thing in their lives.”
Love and bonding also are important to the dogs and to Kirkland’s business too.
The most important aspect of Kirkland’s training style focuses on positive, loving, bonding techniques that treat the dog with kindness, and doesn’t jeopardize the owner-dog relationship, according to her Web site.
As many as 60 dogs per week are trained in Kirkland’s small-group classes and private, individual in-home training sessions.
For more information on classes, visit http://www.awaggingsuccess.com/