That’s a conversation Renee Nappier had with her Standard Poodle Zoe during a recent training session at the Washington County Agricultural Education Center.
Nappier, who grew up in Montgomery County, Md., has a soft spot for dogs, whether pure-bred or mixed breeds, enough so that she gave up her career as a girls’ gymnastics coach to become a full-time dog trainer.
“Dogs don’t have a hidden agenda,” Nappier said.
As a teen, she considered a career as a veterinarian, but a high school guidance counselor told her she would have limited college options in the 1970s, so Nappier abandoned the idea and headed to American University in Washington, D.C., where she earned a bachelor’s degree in health and physical education.
Nappier said a lot of the principles she learned in education work with dogs.
“I love dogs. I love dog training. I would love to see more people do dog training,” Nappier said.
As training director for the Mason-Dixon Kennel Club for 10 years, Nappier wants to make sure dog owners know the kennel club is open to all dogs, not just pure breeds.
“It’s for all dogs, mixed breeds and those with papers — just healthy dogs,” Nappier said.
She said dog personalities vary widely, but they can be taught to fit in with the people with whom they’re living.
Nappier’s first dog was difficult, and it was the second trainer she worked with that provided the right philosophy for her.
“Her motto was ‘a dog worth owning is worth training.’ I give her an incredible amount of credit as a mentor,” Nappier said.
She said her approach is a combination of things she’s learned in her 20 years as a dog trainer. Nappier relies on praise, rather than food, as a reward.
“I’m not a chicken pusher,” she said.
Praise is only given for doing the “right job.” Her dogs follow her commands because of the relationship she has with them and their desire to please her, she said.
“I would call it common-sense training, developing a relationship, which is an old style. It’s not original,” Nappier said.
Her credentials include competitive titles on 14 breeds of dogs in obedience, eight breeds in agility and seven breeds in fly ball. Titles are earned through the American Kennel Club, United Kennel Club and Companion Dog Sports Program.
One of her goals is to put an obedience title on at least a single breed in all the AKC groups — working dog, herding dog, hounds, sporting dog, terriers, toys and nonsporting.
“I felt it would be of benefit to my students and improve my understanding of breed differences and similarities,” Nappier said.
Nappier is especially fond of whippets, which she describes as little greyhounds, and has owned since 1993. Even though her mother was not an animal person, Nappier said her father adored dogs, so the family had dogs while she was growing up.
Over the years, though, she has owned a variety of dogs. Zoe is a good example of the kind of dogs with which Nappier likes to work.
Nappier got Zoe from a private training client because she had a much higher energy level than Zoe’s owners were used to.
She said trainers like her who work with dogs look for ones with “effervescent” personalities, even though Zoe has more personality than she usually seeks.
“She’s running around and wants a lampshade on her head. I always liked her from the first day I met her,” Nappier said.
In the more than three years they’ve worked together, Nappier has made tremendous progress with Zoe, who has earned obedience titles in three registries, AKC, UKC, and CDSP. Zoe is also Nappier's first dog to title from the AKC Non-Sporting Group.
Another of Nappier’s dogs, Travis, is a mixed breed. He was acquired “accidentally while helping out with a purebred rescue.” He has multiple titles to his name.
Group and private dog training sessions are available through the Mason-Dixon Kennel Club. Contact Nappier at email@example.com for more information.