Back in 1968, when they were newlyweds, Dan and Ann Graham decided to join a club together; but it wasn’t books or bowling. This dog-loving couple chose the Companion Dog Training Club of Flint, and have been members ever since.
“It’s been a lifelong hobby,” says Dan, a current board member of the club, who has served as president and training director through the years. The club originated in 1961 and when the Grahams joined, it had 14 members. It has grown in size and reputation; currently, there are 130 members.
“My wife and I had a young Irish Setter who was hard to control and had high energy,” he recalls. “We took her to obedience classes with a Companion member through Beecher High Adult Education.”
Today, the club offers a variety of training classes to the public at its Holiday Dr. location in Flint, near Bishop Airport. “We occupy a 9,000-square-foot, fully insulated, heated and well-lit commercial building,” says Dan. “We’re here to serve the public and help dog owners train their dogs to walk on a leash, have good manners, and obey other basic commands such as ‘sit,’ ‘stay,’ ‘heel,’ ‘come,’ and ‘fetch,’” he explains.
A typical obedience class is typically seven weeks long, with each one-hour session building upon the next and including “homework assignments.” When there are multiple people in the dog’s household, it is important for all the members to be on-board with the training and homework. “Most dog owners get satisfactory results and are pleased to have a dog with socialization skills and good manners,” says Dan.
The Grahams’ own Irish Setter was a successful student and soon, fellow club members approached the couple about learning how to show their dog in American Kennel Club competitions. Eventually, they became club trainers. Now, the shelves in Dan’s office are lined with dozens of framed photos of dogs who have earned AKC titles and ribbons through the past four decades.
“It started out with baby steps,” Dan continues. “Through the years, our own dogs earned titles. We’ve helped other people learn how to show their dogs, we’re active club members, we teach beginning and advanced level classes, and we truly enjoy helping other dog owners learn what we’ve learned.”
Belonging to the Companion Dog Training Club of Flint can include more than its popular seven-week training classes. “The majority of people come to the obedience classes to simply get their dog to behave,” says Dan. “But, we also help train and prepare dogs of various breeds to compete in AKC-sanctioned competitions.”
Dan and other Companion Dog Training Club personnel are not paid, but as passionate members, they share their skills in teaching agility, tracking,
conformation and rally. “If you’re looking to help your dog earn a champion title, our club has the experience and skills to do that,” he adds.
In addition, the club also offers certification in achieving therapy dog status. “Some owners branch out and want to take their dogs to hospitals and nursing homes to help cheer up patients,” says Dan. The club provides certification for “Canine Good Citizens,” which means the dogs are exposed and specially trained to be around people in wheelchairs or hospital settings. They can also take the therapy dog test.
Jerry Hennessy’s dog, Zippy, a pure-bred Brittany, is a certified therapy dog. “I take Zippy to Independence Village, a nursing home in Frankenmuth, where he shows residents new tricks and visits with them,” says Hennessy, who admires the clean and tidy facility at Companion Dog Training Club of Flint.
In the beginning, Hennessy worried he’d be made to feel foolish with his misbehaving dog. But that wasn’t the case. “They’re very friendly and accepting,” he says. “All of the instructors are professional and caring. I enjoy going there.”
Zippy is so well-trained, he can fetch his owner a beer. “It started with naming objects,” Hennessy laughs. “I’d ask, ‘Where is your dish?’ and he’d fetch his food dish to be fed. Eventually, he learned how to fetch beers by pulling a rope handle on the refrigerator door when I’d say, ‘Go get daddy a beer.’”
The Companion Dog Training Club of Flint helps owners teach their dogs to obey and follow commands to become better companions – whether it’s in a home setting or a professional ring. “Many Genesee County veterinarian offices promote and recommend us,” says Dan. “We’re always looking for new trainees and members.”
For more information about the club and classes, visit CompanionDogTrainingClub.com.
Caption: Dan & Ann Graham with their dogs, Calvin and Bizzy.
Photography by Eric Dutro