Teaching dogs rather than training

First Posted: 12/21/2013

When Tony Mercuri of Clarks Summit teaches obedience to dogs, he cares more about the dog’s mind than about the physical action. He believes what dog owners really want in a dog is a little focus and discipline. That’s what he teaches dogs at K-9 Academy, an obedience school he owns at 881 Old State Road in Clarks Summit.

Since K-9 Academy’s beginning in January 2013, Mercuri has been teaching dogs comprehension skills in his basic obedience program. He explained that when dog trainers hold a treat and give a command, it’s more or less just a response.

“They (dogs) are not actually thinking about what’s going on,” he said. “Where as when I tell a dog to sit or lay down, I don’t actually care about the action that they’re doing. I care about what’s going on in their head.”

Mercuri mentioned that he starts the program with very basic skills and forms a foundation, which he and the dog owners build upon in each lesson.

“The very first thing I teach all dogs is the words “no” and “OK” and the discipline that goes behind it,” he explained. “Once you teach a dog “no” and “OK,” you can teach them anything.”

Mercuri mentioned that “no” is the control word and “OK” is the release word. When he tells a dog “sit” or “down,, he expects the dog to stay until he says “OK.”

He also teaches dogs words like “sit,” “stay,” “come,” and “down.” Once the dogs understands these words, he uses these commands in complete sentences, so that dogs could know other words as well.

Mercuri believes that most dogs suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder to one degree or another.

“Once you get them focused and slow their brains down because their minds are racing, once you slow that down, you can teach them anything,” he said.

Each dog has their own personality trait, whether it be aggressive, fearful, dominant, happy-go-lucky, or submissive, he said and so he teaches dogs differently based on their personality.

“Dog training isn’t really breed-specific, it’s personality-specific,” he stated. “So, before you can learn how to teach a dog, you have to know what kind of personality they have.”

Mercuri doesn’t believe in the old saying, ‘You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.’ He believes that dogs can be trained at any age, and that as long as dogs keep learning, their minds will remain sharp.

K-9 Academy also has an advanced obedience program, in which he teaches dogs hand signals and commands in German. He teaches German because it’s the international language of dog training. He uses German formally but English casually. Some of his international hand signals include the ones for “down,” “sit,” and “heel.”

He’ll also uses distraction scenarios to keep dogs focused even when diversions occur around them.

Mercuri is no stranger to the dog business. After high school, he worked as a decoy for police and private guard dogs for an internship for another dog trainer. Then, he opened a dog grooming shop called K-9 Care, which was located on State Street in Clarks Summit.

“I pretty much got roped into doing dog training because I had lots of clients begging me to do dog training for them. People always ask their dog groomers for advice,” he quipped.

Mercuri is a dog owner himself. He has a Rottweiler, an American bulldog, and a couple of German shepherds, one of which he recently rescued. His grandfather, the late Clark Pritchard, trained competitive beagles in Easton.

His wife, Tracy, also helps him with the business part of K-9 Academy. They have two sons, Anthony and Giovanni.

“Dogs seem to take to him,” Tracy said about her husband. “I think he’s the best dog trainer in Northeast PA.”

K-9 Academy accepts all breeds of dogs at any age and any behavior. Mercuri has even taught dogs, whose owners were about to give up on them. One client, Mary Ellen Durkin of Ransom Township, has a German shepherd named Willow.

Durkin said Willow was out of control before going to K-9 Academy. Since her obedience program, Willow’s behavior has improved greatly.

“Tony has turned her (Willow’s) life around,” said Durkin. “Tony’s like a dog whisperer. I highly recommend him. He goes the extra mile. He kept my dog for three weeks, and she learned German and hand signals. Willow was the worst dog I ever owned, and now she’s the best dog I ever owned.”

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