Local Business

Perfect Poochies

Local dog trainer teaches people and their pooches how to make the most of their relationship.

Megan Hird with her charges, including her “number one” dog, Kayla (front left).

Megan Hird with her charges, including her “number one” dog, Kayla (front left).

Photo by Boomer Jerritt

While the idea of one person controlling more than a dozen dogs may sound impossible to an owner whose companion won’t even sit still when asked, Hird reminds us that it all starts with the basics. Instilling effective obedience techniques, she says, is as much about teaching the owner as it is about training the dog.

“Owners tend to use a lot of voice, but that’s not really going to help them out,” she explains. “Dogs don’t speak English.” Instead, Hird teaches owners to complement their commands with hand signals and body movements that help coax their dog into position.

On graduation night, in the field behind the old Tsolum School, Hird’s emphasis on body movements transforms her image from giddy drill sergeant to enthusiastic aerobics instructor. She whips her hand dramatically into the air to demonstrate a distance “Sit!” command, then throws her whole body into a lunge with a downward point to demonstrate “Down!” These canine calisthenics are repeated for each student as she makes her rounds, alternately shouting encouragement, laughing at her students’ antics and offering good-humoured advice for her sometimes-frustrated owners.

“No swearing at the dogs,” she shouts playfully in response to one particularly frustrated owner whose dog appeared more interested in licking than listening. “When they make you the maddest, remember their good qualities; remember how much you love them—most of the time!”

If anyone could be born to work with animals, it’s Megan Hird. Raised on a hobby farm near Shawnigan Lake, Hird grew up surrounded by cats, dogs, chickens, sheep and horses. “Every animal I had,” she says, “I learned everything I possibly could about them and tried to do more and more and more. I always wanted to (work) with animals. I had to do something with animals.”

Hird began volunteering at veterinary clinics when she was 16, and got a job as a veterinary assistant at a Vancouver clinic immediately after high school. It was there that she really began to discover her skill with dogs. She wasn’t allowed to have a dog in her apartment so she began walking dogs for friends and even clients from the clinic, doing basic obedience training along the way.

Hird was gearing up to become a veterinary technician and volunteering at the Victoria SPCA when she enrolled in an animal welfare program through the College of the Cariboo. This year-long course gave her an in-depth knowledge of animal anatomy and behavior. Following this, Hird went on to complete an intensive four-month dog-training program in Victoria under the tutelage of trainer Ben Kersen, all the while volunteering with the local SPCA and working at a combination kennel/training facility.

“Doing the dog training programs really gave me the confidence to start my own business using my own methods, and help people have a better relationship with their own dogs,” Hird says. She relocated to the Comox Valley “for the outdoor life” in December 2004 and began working part-time at local vet clinics while starting up Poochies.

Today, Hird’s pack includes three dogs—Kayla, an eight-year-old Belgian Malinois-cross she rescued from the Victoria SPCA; Skye, a two-year-old Border Collie she raised from a pup, and Choncho, a two-year-old Chihuahua also rescued from the SPCA.

Kayla, scheduled to be euthanized due to her aggression toward dogs and men before Hird adopted her, is now a friendly, balanced dog—thanks to intensive training and exposure to all kinds of situations.

“Kayla is now my teacher to other dogs,” says Hird. “She is a role model for other dogs, and helps other dogs with aggression issues get through it and past it. She and Choncho (who had three other homes before being rescued by Hird) and Skye are the ambassadors for Poochies—they are there to help with the training too.”

Her dogs all accompany Hird to classes, where they wait patiently for after-class playtime, participate in demos and act as distractions for the dogs in class.

With her dogs as proof of the benefits of training, it’s no surprise that Poochies’ classes are in demand, and have been since she first started. Back in 2004 her obedience classes began to fill up almost immediately as word spread about her apparent gift with animals, although “gift” is another word that Hird surely wouldn’t use to describe her knack with dogs. To her, it’s simply a matter of reading the dog and knowing what training method will work best.

“Every dog is an individual,” she says. “Some dogs are really food motivated, some aren’t. Some are toy-driven and some just want to run around or snuggle. It’s finding the motivation for the dogs, and what works best for the owners.

“I don’t really have just one method. It’s all praise-based and reward-based, but while I’ll tell one owner to do something in group class, I might tell the next owner to do something completely different, depending on their dog and their capabilities with it.”

Her methods seem to be working.

It’s hard not to be impressed by the half dozen dogs heeling, halting, sitting, staying and dutifully earning their advanced obedience diplomas. Immediately after the class, participants are already asking Hird when she’ll be offering a follow-up course. (She expects to have one available before the end of the summer, as well as a course focusing on handling aggressive or fearful dogs.)

“It really shows the depth that you can go with training your dog and how you can establish a really good relationship,” says Linda Perron, whose dog Ellie May has just graduated. “There are things she’s doing now that she wasn’t doing before, and things that I understand in her behaviour that I didn’t understand before.”

But it’s Taz, a three-year-old terrier cross, that’s the real story of the day. “He’s from the SPCA in Nanaimo,” explains Lucienne De Vries, Taz’s owner. “He spent his first two years in a back yard. He was not house-trained and he had no social skills with humans or with other animals. He was a wild animal.” The name Taz is actually short for Tasmanian Devil, a moniker he earned with his demonic behaviour.

After his Poochies training, De Vries says, Taz is a different dog. “He has manners now. He listens. He was dominant and never had any control in his life, but now he’s totally calm.”

Hird has recently rescued another dog due to be euthanized for his aggression with people and dogs. “He didn’t have the tools to handle situations when it came to people greeting him and dogs approaching him,” says Hird of Rotty, a three-year-old Jack Russell/Miniature Pincher cross.

Thanks to Hird and her dogs, Rotty is now learning how to behave properly in a variety of situations. “I have been doing set ups with him every day to teach him how to interact with people and dogs, always ending with a victory,” says Hird, adding that Rotty has gone back to basics and is developing proper social skills and learning “life boundaries.”

In the week she has had him, he has “come so far. He is now running free with other dogs and has had many successful visits with dogs and people,” says Hird, who will continue to work with Rotty until she feels he is at a level to be re-homed.

“I am sure Rotty will become a great new family member to somebody fairly soon.”

“It’s never too late to teach on old dog new tricks,” says Hird, adding that she recently helped correct some bad behavior in a 12-year-old dog, a geriatric to say the least. Whether it’s for a young puppy or an older dog with behavioral issues, Hird’s advice is always the same: “Invest the time.

“Commit to the time because it just takes a few little reminders here and there after you commit to that time in the beginning. It’s just so nice to be able to have that control when your dog’s out in a public place and is listening to you.

“Nothing,” she adds, “is more frustrating than when you hear owners yelling and screaming at their dog and the dog doesn’t have any idea what the owner’s asking them to do, and the owner doesn’t understand why the dog’s not listening.”

If Poochies’ success continues, as it seems destined, those kinds of ignorant owners in the Comox Valley may soon become a dying breed.


Poochies next basic obedience sessions start September 22. Classes are held Monday and Thursday evenings for six weeks. For more information and details about upcoming classes call Megan at 250-898-9022 or visit the Poochies web site.