This dog whisperer is all about praise

Elizabeth Davies

From their cages in the corner, three Dobermans bark and bounce in anticipation.

They strain to leave their carriers to be near their owner.

As JoAnne Brettschneider walks closer, their barks grow louder. She turns briefly, offering an offhanded comment: “The two oldest ones are ranked in the top 20 in the country for obedience.”

Given the size of those teeth, that’s a relief.

Mattie, Greda and Fosta, as it turns out, are friendly beasts. That’s not to say, Brettschneider warns, that a burglar would get far in her house.

As Brettschneider is around, these Dobermans know who’s in charge.

That dynamic has led Mattie and Greta, ages 5 and 3, to the top levels of competitive dog shows. Both animals competed recently against the top dogs in the country at the

American Kennel Club National Obedience Invitational. To be invited to that competition, the dogs had to have been among the top in their breed in competitions during the previous year.

‘Sense of accomplishment’

Mattie and Greda have taken home plenty of blue ribbons: They are, in fact, lining the walls of the JPS Dog Training studio, the business Brettschneider opened so her dogs would have a place to train. It’s also where she gives obedience classes and teaches other owners to show their dogs.

“I enjoy getting people to get their dogs to do skills. There’s a great sense of accomplishment.” Brettschneider said. “You have to be able to understand the dog to train it. You have to read the dog. Too many people can’t read their dog. They can’t read when they’re happy or upset.”

The studio looks like a gymnastic academy for dogs, with hoops, tunnels and bridges. Dogs of all breeds go there to learn everything from not chasing the letter carrier to sitting before a judge. As she does with her dogs, Brettschneider teaches other owners to encourage their dogs with praise.

“I don’t train with treats and toys,” she said. “They get treats and toys, but I want to be my dog’s ultimate reward. I want them to love to work. They get this huge empowering excitement for doing it right.”

So instead of pulling on a leash to encourage Mattie to go, Brettschneider will “simply walk and praise.” And indeed, the Doberman will walk alongside her owner, eyes locked on her. She is quick to correct herself if something goes a little wrong, knowing the standards for a competitive dog is high.

“If she gets a little bit ahead, she gets docked for that,” Brettschneider said. “Any little infraction, she gets docked for it.”

‘Love for the sport’

The Rockford woman has been in the dog business for more than 30 years, having started with Greyhounds and Dobermans in the 1970s. In fact, she had the top greyhound in the country for obedience in 1982 before taking a break from competitive dog shows to raise her children. In 2004, however, Brettschneider wanted to get back into the sport, and so she opened JPS Dog Training as a way to make that happen.

“My kids are grown, and I have always had a love for the sport,” she said. “I let it go by the wayside while I had kids, so I wanted to get back into it.”

And the theories of raising kids, she found, isn’t all that different from training dogs.

“Stuff I learned many years ago in obedience taught me how to raise my children,” she said. “Be positive, mean what you say, do what you say, praise — don’t criticize — them.”

‘She has a special talent’

These days, Brettschneider has about 50 students, both in private lessons and in group classes, which cost $75 for a six-week session. The business has become a family of sorts, she said. Many students have contributed the equipment found at the studio, and it’s common for someone to bring in treats for the group.

“It’s become this nice, small little family rather than a large club atmosphere,” Brettschneider said. “I hate to call them students, because they’re friends.”   

One of those friends is Monika Pieper of Poplar Grove, who has been going to

Brettschneider for about three years. When she got her newest Doberman, Roxie, the dog would chase cars and bite tires. She was, Pieper said, “impossible.”

“Then we took her to JoAnn. She showed us how to treat her and how to get her to quit chasing cars. She’s a completely different dog than when we got her,” Pieper said. “She has a special talent with dogs. She gets them to do what she wants them to do with kindness and firmness.”

Watch Mattie and Greda

You’ll be able to see the dogs compete under their full names, LTL Mattie’s Touch of Class and Dedo’s Greda’s Touch of Magic, on television. The AKC National Obedience Invitational will air on Animal Planet and the Discovery Channel on Feb. 2. Check local listings for air times.

Rockford Register Star