Inside his cage at the animal shelter, Ranger, the 2-year-old hound mix, is excitable and loud.
But on Thursday, when he ventured into the Heritage Humane Society play yard, he showed off some tricks he already knew — and learned a couple more with the shelter’s animal behaviorist, Adam Claar.
Ranger received some special attention Thursday from Claar — the former trainer of Colonial Williamsburg’s Briards, Liberty and Justice — but now, dogs from the public can also get in on the action.
Claar is now hosting dog and puppy training classes through Heritage Humane Society. The classes are open to the public and for all dog and human age levels.
“It’s like the board game box… for ages 8 to 80,” Claar said.
The first six-week class began April 14, and classes are at the Jamestown 4-H Educational Center, at 3751 4-H Club Road.
The classes cost $140 for a six-week course, or $100 for people who adopt their dogs from Heritage. Those interested need to go in-person to Heritage Humane Society, at 430 Waller Mill Road, to register for training classes.
Career and Colonial Williamsburg
Claar began his career in dog training at Petco under the wing of a trainer who had decades of experience.
After his mentor left Petco, Claar became a mentor for Petco trainers in the Tidewater area.
Colonial Williamsburg then took Claar on as a trainer for the Briards, also giving him time to get dog training certifications.
Liberty and Justice, both certified therapy dogs, retired from a 3-year career with Colonial Williamsburg around the end of 2018. The duo typically made multiple therapy visits a week, sometimes multiple per day.
When the Briards were to be retired, Colonial Williamsburg offered Claar the opportunity to stay with the foundation.
But at heart, Claar is a dog trainer.
Claar started officially working for Heritage Humane Society in January, but was a contract employee since June.
“I fooled them into making me full-time,” Claar joked.
Claar also owns his own dog training business, but has recently begun referring those clients to another local dog trainer, Taylor Nixon of Positive Theory Dog Training, because of the time commitment with his job at the shelter.
Purpose of training
While dogs will learn a basic recall, wait at the door and other daily tasks, Claar said the dog training classes are just as much about the owner as they are about the dog.
“A lot of the time, it’s going to come down to how much have I taught the dog and the human to want to communicate with each other to find those solutions,” Claar said. “
Some aspects of the training involve helping dogs learn “elevator manners,” meaning they ignore other people and dogs when they are on-leash. Claar will have “guest dogs” each week owned by former clients to assist in training scenarios.
One important part of classes involves helping dog owners understand what are realistic expectations for their dog. Different dogs have different capacities for learning, Claar said.
The first training on April 14 was for puppies, but now Claar has four or five classes running in the cycle. He aims to have at least three dogs per class, with a maximum of six so he can give people and their dogs individual attention.
So, what about those old myths like “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” or “It’s all how you raise them?”
Those myths can be busted.
“Seeing the joy you can spread helping a family become cohesive, helping a dog go from being a loved burden to a cherished member of the family, it’s pretty unbelievable,” Claar said.