Kindergarten pup

Sherry Clark

Photo By Tom Angel

If you see a yellow van that looks like a short school bus, and if that vehicle happens to have a pointy brown German shepherd nose sticking out of a window, you’ve discovered Brainy Dog. We were eager to hook up with the mobile business, run by Sherry Clark. Clark moved to Chico from Idaho in late December, bringing along the expert dog-training skills she’d honed over four years running Brainy Dog. Her own dog, Moose, loves to come along for the ride. Moose can open doors for people, put trash in a trash can and even unlock the car door. “We had to teach him that because he kept locking himself in,” Clark said. We were invited to watch as Clark showed her stuff with Duchess, a 6-month-old golden retriever owned by Pam Eckert of Chico. Specializing in one-on-one dog training on the canine client’s home turf, Clark is a member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers as well as the Humane Society and the National Association for Search & Rescue. Clark, who aims to learn about each dog’s personality before “socializing” him or her and uses gentle methods rather than force, says she can be hired to train humans as well.

Are dogs smarter than humans give them credit for?

Absolutely. The dog’s whole world is about reading body language. They understand us better than we understand them.

What’s the most difficult trick to teach?

None of them are that difficult. It just takes dedication, good timing and consistency.

Had many “problem students”?

We’ve had “challenging” students. All behaviors can be changed. It’s a matter of understanding why they’re doing what they’re doing and coming up with a plan to get them to do something else.

How smart is this dog [Duchess]?”

[Owner Pam interjects: “She’s smarter than me."] She’s coming along. She knows the basic commands and we’re working on retrieval. We want her to be able to “find mom” in the woods when they’re hiking and be able to go get help. It’s kind of a Lassie command.

What’s a good reward?

The dog will tell you what it wants as a reward. Sometimes it’s praise, sometimes it’s food, sometimes it’s chasing a ball.

Can you teach cats?

Cats are trainable. I am working with some cats. I have taught cats to sit and stay and go down and touch paws.