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Local Newspaper Article About Jess Rollins

Best Friends Pet Resort trains canines while owners go on vacation

By Carole LaMond/ Staff Writer for the Sudbury Town Crier
Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Most of her peers drive Freya crazy.

A pleasant walk in the woods can turn ugly in a hurry when a stranger appears on the path. Someone bounding up to say hello may prompt her to lunge with all the force of her furry 70-pound body, dragging her owner along with her.

Freya, a 7-year-old German shepherd from Dover, is now learning to control some of the more temperamental aspects of her behavior with the help of a session at Doggy Summer School at Best Friends Pet Resort and Salon in Sudbury.

While Freya's owners were away on vacation last week, she worked with trainer Jess Rollins.

"She's really people-friendly, but she has some problems with other dogs," said Rollins as she attached a leash to Freya's collar. "She barks a lot. I think it's mostly display, she's not really intense about it."

Freya may not be intense, but her sheer size makes her scary to other dog owners, and her reaction to other dogs makes it difficult for her owner to take her out for a walk in a public place. Freya's owner hired Rollins to help.

Rollins has the perfect classroom for working with Freya - a kennel full of other boarders who are just inches away, but out of reach in their separate cages. Aggression toward other dogs is one of the three most common behaviors that Rollins is asked to work on. Jumping up and pulling on the leash are the other two.

At the first bark from another dog Freya begins to lose it, but Rollins moves quickly to distract the dog. Rollins uses a hand-held clicker to grab Freya's attention, immediately rewarding her with a treat when she looks at the trainer.

Rollins speaks soothingly, but firmly, as she moves her arm from the dog's snout to her own face, touching the tip of her nose to make it a focal point for the dog's gaze. A series of clicks, rewards and verbal praise soon calms the rambunctious dog who begins to shift her focus from the other dogs to Rollins.

"She used to throw herself at all these doors so she's much improved," said Rollins as she moved down the kennel corridor. "My goal is for her not to have any reaction at all to the other dogs. Now, just as long as nobody barks at her, she's doing good."

The board and train program gives dogs an opportunity to work with a trainer on a daily basis and can be an excellent way to work on problem behaviors.

"Dogs are very easy to teach. They're just waiting to learn," said Rollins. "People are usually amazed when you show them, it's really so simple."

Rollins focuses on replacing the behaviors that the owner wants changed with a new behavior. If the dog is jumping up, Rollins works to reward the dog for sitting. With Freya, she works to associate other dogs with receiving a treat.

"I want to replace that aggression with a behavior oriented away from the other dog, like 'sit' or 'look.' I want her to learn when a dog appears you have a chance to get treats if you sit or look at me," explained Rollins. "I teach her that what she doesn't like equals something she does like - food."

Rollins' pockets are filled with the tricks of her trade - anchovy paste, peanut butter, dried liver and various squeaky or chew toys. She works with a variety of food, toys or activities to use as rewards for coaxing the desired behavior.

"I even had a dog who liked a bone dipped in a can of tuna, and that's what worked for him," said Rollins. "I sometimes forget and leave them in my pockets, it can be gross."

Rollins, 29, a Framingham resident, received a degree in biology from the University of Rochester in New York. An animal lover, she worked in a laboratory after graduation until she realized that she "wanted more interaction with live creatures."

Three years ago she became a certified dog trainer and began her own business called Creature Teacher. Rollins, who also does dog grooming, began working as a trainer at Best Friends a year ago.

"A lot of dogs are misunderstood. Dogs learn so fast, it's the people who are slow," said Rollins about owners who don't follow-up on the training tips. "Consistency is huge. Most people are very happy after a few lessons. I do the legwork and they just have to reinforce it."

Although the board and train program is called Doggy Summer School, the lessons are offered throughout the year. A one-hour lesson at the kennel is $50 per hour. A home-school session is the same price, but Rollins adds a charge for travel time. Rollins likes to schedule a follow-up lesson with the owner after a board and train session.

And yes, said Rollins, you can teach an old dog new tricks.

"The board and train program is great for a young dog who I can teach the basic words to, and it can work great for dog aggression because of all of the dogs here," said Rollins. "Training is fun for them, they get play and interaction and treats."

Rollins adopted her own dog, Gigo, a Chihuahua mix rescued from the streets of Puerto Rico, from Buddy Dog Humane Society just two years ago.

Gigo is her best pupil. He even rings a bell to be let into his litter box and can wave "bye-bye" as well as obey the standard commands of sit, lie down and stay. Gigo is a certified "Canine Good Citizen," which makes him able to work with people who have anxiety disorders or need help getting over a fear of dogs.

"It's awesome, I'm learning so much from having him. I read a lot and am constantly studying, but having a dog of your own can't compare," said Rollins. "And he's great company."

Jess Rollins

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Jess Rollins

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