Local puppies get a good schoolin’
Margie Cantwell uses canine psychology at Songbird to help raise well-behaved puppies
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By Mira Brody  January 10, 2014 12:00 am

Abdul, a black Labrador retriever was Bonnie Bergin’s first ever successfully trained service dog, one that helped improve the life of her owner, paraplegic Kerry Knaus, by providing both physical assistance and emotional support. 

Bergin, who opened Bergin Canine University in Rohnert Park, realized that those handicapped and in need of canine assistance would most likely have limited use of their arms, and thus began training dogs a new way – by eliminating harsh physical interaction and training them by using positive reinforcement only.

Teaching more than 60 commands

Margie Cantwell, who spoke at her first ever Good Puppy Academics class at Cotati’s Songbird Healing Center last Friday, hopes to spread Bergin’s teachings through her recently published book, “Good Puppy Academics: using nature’s way to raise your dog’s GPA” and demonstrating with her Jack Russell Terrier, Jack.

A spunky and inquisitive creature, Jack is trained both as a service and an entertainment dog and can understand more than 60 commands initiated vocally and through hand signals.

“I got into canine psychology mainly through service dog training,” says Cantwell, who initially studied child psychology and moved on to get an AS degree from Bergin University. “To really get to know them, you have to understand their mind.”

Since all dogs are still 99.8 percent Asian gray wolf, understanding your dog’s primitive mindset and psychological makeup is crucial to getting them to fall into a pattern that matches your own personal lifestyle.

“It’s about maintaining a symbiotic relationship, or the give and take relationship,” she says. “You have to remember that you don’t own your dog, only the law says you own your dog. Their hardwire is still instinctually driven.”

Owning a dog should be an improvement in your life, not a stress producer, which is why Cantwell feels her book is a great addition and fresh view in the world of canine studies. It covers the proper use of positive reinforcement and how to redirect bad patterns and initiate good ones. She describes the mind of a dog to be much like that of a 3-year-old; existing primarily in the moment.

“There’s a lot going on inside a dog’s head, and the more you understand what it is, the more fun you’ll have with your dog.”

Researching similar breeds

Before you go impulsively purchasing the first dog that runs into your arms, however, research breeds that have been conditioned to live a similar lifestyle to your own. Dogs need mental and physical stimulation for at least one hour every day, an hour that should be free of all distractions except communication between pet and owner.

“Dogs help us reconnect because they are so in tune with nature and the elements around them that we might miss or forget to appreciate on a daily basis,” says Cantwell. “They keep us connected to our own primitive mind.”

The effect canine friends have on their owners is referred to as RX Pharmdogs, when a dog can literally change the chemical makeup in a human’s brain to make their life more fulfilling, which is why Bergin’s studies are so important to our fast-paced lives. For those who have few acquaintances, especially mentally and physically disabled people, dogs can be a blessing.

“I never stop learning from the canine subjects I mentor as they continue to accompany us while we evolve as a species,” says Cantwell.

“Margie speaks dog so well that it makes dog ownership easy,” says Joann Bostow, who connected Cantwell with the Songbird Center. “Songbird is there for everyone to advance or educate themselves pertaining to everyday challenges; it just seemed like a perfect match.”


Dogs for entertainment purposes

In addition to holding more classes in the future at Songbird, Cantwell hopes to get her book out into the general public as well as eventually training dogs for entertainment purposes, much like Matilda De Cagny, who is known for training the dog from former hit television show “Fraiser,” Benji. 

Although there are neglected and lonely pups out there, Cantwell stresses her belief that any dog can be redeemed, as every creature has a drive for purpose. And under Margie’s care, it is clear that even the oldest dogs can still learn new tricks.

For more information on Cantwell or to purchase her book, you can email her at info@psychiatricservicedogs.com.

Post Your Comments:
Marie Midkiff
January 11, 2014
Margie Cantwell's work in Fresno, Ca. is wery well known. She demonstrated on local television and her Mardi Gras for Dogs was so popular it was missed when she moved to Rohnert Park.
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