By Laurelle Walsh
Puppies, dogs and their humans are learning positive social behavior, obedience and agility skills out of the snow this winter thanks to Three Rivers Dog Training’s new year-round training facility.
“The new building is wonderful,” said Three Rivers owner Lynne Wasson. “It’s not big enough for a real agility course, but it’s way better than taking the winter off.”
Training dogs for agility competition, in which dogs run a timed obstacle course off-leash with or without a handler by their side, is just one of the activities happening at Three Rivers, located 2 1/2 miles from Winthrop on East Chewuch Road.
Wasson also offers puppy classes, obedience, and coaching — once basic skills are mastered. Her teaching philosophy is reward-based positive training, in which dogs learn discrete skills that build upon one another. When the dog demonstrates the desired behavior, the handler rewards the dog with a food treat or the sound of a “clicker” as a predictor of a reward.
Wasson keeps her groups small — around six dog/handler pairs — and knows everyone by name. “I love teaching,” she said. “Every dog and every person is different. I learn something new from every person.”
The new 40- by 80-foot building, built of ecology blocks sunk about six feet below grade, was completed just before Thanksgiving. Earth insulated but unheated, the building was modeled after an old potato shed design and should stabilize to around 40 to 50 degrees year-round, according to Wasson’s husband, Richard, who designed the building.
It is a dry and well-lit indoor space. Under foot is a mix of gravel and emmer hulls — locally sourced — which creates a quiet and cushiony floor.
The building will be used for dog training all winter long, but its purpose the rest of the year will be equipment and apple storage for the Methow Valley Ciderhouse, the Wassons’ primary business. They grow organic apples and produce four varieties of cider and apple juice on site, for sale seasonally at the Ciderhouse and from local grocers.
Cider and dog training
The Wassons bought the 15-acre property in 2004, not knowing exactly what they were going to do with it at first, Wasson said. Richard Wasson took classes from a British master cider maker in 2007, and the fate of the property was sealed. The Ciderhouse opened for business in 2010.
Wasson started doing dog training in the Methow shortly after moving here, with classes initially held at what is now Aspen Kennels, she said. She started teaching agility about four years ago.
Wasson got started in dog training by raising puppies for Guide Dogs for the Blind when she lived in Issaquah. She also went through Pet Smart’s dog training program and worked there for about seven years, she said.
These days, when she’s not teaching or coaching, Wasson and her two dogs — Bree and Trip — compete in agility trials around the state along with around 10 other dog/handler teams in the valley. A few of them also travel to the Wenatchee Kennel Club for agility training and coaching year round, she said.
The valley’s youngest agility competitor is 10-year-old Kelly Schuh of Winthrop, who is coached by Wasson and competes with her Labrador retriever Finley. Kelly and Finley have been winning ribbons in competition for two years, Wasson said, and have really turned some heads at agility trials. “It’s pretty unusual to have someone competing at such a young age,” Wasson said.
As much as Wasson likes agility, “Puppy obedience is my true love,” she said. Her Monday puppy class currently has six dogs under one year old. In puppy obedience the dogs learn socialization and basic commands, such as sit, down, come and stand. Much of puppy obedience translates into practical behaviors for the dog, such as being able to stand still while at the veterinarian or when having muddy paws cleaned.
“I don’t care if I become rich through this by any means. It’s just fun playing with people and their dogs,” said Wasson. “I’m happy if I can help dogs become better citizens.”
Three Rivers Dog Training can be reached at (509) 341-4353, at firstname.lastname@example.org, and on Facebook.