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Dog Training Needed More Than Ever During Pandemic

May 6, 2020

CHILHOWIE, Va. — Spending time with pets can be a bright spot amid COVID-19 restrictions, and that may be keeping a local dog trainer busier than ever.

Paula Shupe, certified master canine trainer in Chilhowie, Virginia, said she gets two or three emails each day from people who report they have adopted dogs and puppies.

“Apparently, more people are looking to adopt a new pet during this time. So many families are quarantined at home and need something to do,” said Shupe.

“But people need to realize that owning a dog is a lifetime commitment — not just for the few months we’re sheltering in place during the pandemic.”

Gaining a reputation as a “dog whisperer” of sorts, Shupe has spent the past 20 years training dogs, from small Yorkies to large Great Danes.

There’s really not a dog that can’t be improved from the training methods by Shupe, who calls herself a “motivational trainer with a balanced approach.”

Shupe, who owns and operates Beyond Sit and Stay Professional Dog Training, may be the only certified master trainer in the region who offers obedience classes, private lessons and in-home training. Some of her clients travel as far away as North Carolina and Tennessee to study under Shupe, who seems to have an extraordinary ability to understand and interpret her canine friends.

Teresa Holden of Stickleyville, Virginia, drives more than an hour to attend Shupe’s obedience classes.

Holden, who owns two Dutch shepherds, learned about Shupe from her dog breeder when she needed her dog Kyra trained as a service dog. “We also took agility and fun classes just to help stimulate her.”

Her second dog, Sable, took the same beginning classes, followed by protection training and competitions. “Our dogs have done the whole gamut with Paula,” said the dog owner.

“We drive three hours round trip to train with Paula. I’ve seen her work with all breeds of dogs at every level. It’s definitely a gift. That’s the amazing thing about Paula. She will work with you and your dog at whatever level you are. That’s what makes her the master trainer that she is.”

Shupe provides training to pet owners, competition enthusiasts and law enforcement agencies. The current patrol K-9 for the Smyth County Sheriff’s Office, named Navir, was a Belgian Malinois that Shupe raised and trained from a puppy.

Shupe said her classes book up quickly, especially since she is limiting her outdoor obedience classes to no more than 10 people and their dogs during the pandemic. Participants are advised to keep a 6-foot social distance from other class members.

Her next available series of six classes begins June 18. Classes meet once a week for one hour at a training area in Chilhowie.

With more than two decades of experience raising and training dogs, Shupe has an understanding of dog behavior and the ability to use a variety of different training techniques.

The trainer offers two levels of obedience classes: basic and off-leash. Basic training is the first step to familiarizing the dog to commands, such as sit, down, come, stay, heel, and gaining manners and socialization skills with other dogs.

Off-leash training is a more advanced approach with more polished results. The dog learns commands while not restricted by a leash, learning to overcome distractions during class time.

Training dogs is a way of life for Shupe, who is an evaluator for AKC Canine Good Citizen, a program that promotes responsible dog ownership, and Therapy Pets Unlimited Inc., a nonprofit organization whose mission is to bring pet therapy to those in need.

The dog trainer grew up caring for a variety of small animals — dogs, cats and hamsters. After graduating from Abingdon High School, Shupe attended Tar Heel Canine Training, a full-service canine training kennel in Sanford, North Carolina, where she earned a certification as a master trainer.

She’s also a part-time deputy for the Smyth County Sheriff’s Office.

“But dog training is my love,” she insisted.

Of all the things she learned at the training kennel, Shupe said patience is one of the most important.

“Being patient is the secret,” she said. “And being able to help each owner. Everyone raises a dog differently.

“Teaching dogs is very simple. Teaching the owners is a whole different ballgame,” said Shupe.

“The animals can only do what we teach them. If we’re teaching wrong or we don’t teach at all, it falls back on us. Any dog can learn. It just depends on whether the owner wants to take the time and effort.”

During her obedience classes, Shupe addresses the dog owners.

“When I teach, I’m showing the owners the commands and how to follow through with them. I could work the dogs all day long, but when they go home, it won’t do any good unless the owners are consistent,” she said.

“Training is not magic. I don’t have magic pills to give the dogs. If the owners take the advice and stay consistent, it works great.”

Shupe said she doesn’t teach dogs by correction.

“If you yank on the dog to get him to sit down, that’s not fair to the dog because he doesn’t understand what ‘sit’ means. Once you see the dog understands what you’re asking and if it chooses to not follow through, then that’s a time for correction.”

Shupe advises people to choose dogs that best fit their lifestyles.

“Don’t pick a dog just because you like how it looks. Huskies are beautiful dogs, but they require a lot of exercise. They’re not happy living in an apartment.

“When you get a dog, start training it young. Don’t wait until the dog exhibits problems. If you start young, you’re teaching the rules right off the bat.”

Socialization for your dog is important, too, she said.

“With the coronavirus going on, that could be a big problem because a lot of people are under lockdown. But if you don’t get a dog around other dogs when they are young, they won’t properly learn how to socialize and interact.”

It’s safe to say Shupe and her husband, Jason Shupe, run a tight ship with their own five dogs. They have three Boston terriers, one Rottweiler and one German shepherd.

“Our dogs are our kids. We take them traveling with us a lot. Training dogs is like a hobby to me. It never feels like work,” Shupe said.

“I couldn’t ask for a better way to spend my days.

“I don’t look at the owners as my clients — the dogs are. I run into people 20 years later, and I can remember their dogs’ names, but I can’t remember the names of the owners,” she said with a laugh.

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