Could New Dog Training Program Prompt Changes in NJ Pet Culture?

Oct 11, 2017

It was an ideal fall morning in Manahawkin’s Nautilus Park: young mothers meeting in the car lot with their strollers, the biting October temperature not yet stifled by the afternoon sun, and, in the distance, a fit, all-business woman cutting across the dewy grass with an elderly Labrador trotting tightly at her hip. No leash, all smiles.

Kerry Sutter, a Surf City native, wore a long-sleeved T-shirt that said, “Off-Leash K9 Training.” Beside her was her 9-year-old yellow Lab, Tucker, her demonstration dog, who wagged his tail in welcome to the newcomers.

Sutter currently runs the Jersey Shore branch of OLK9, a dog training program that utilizes e-collar training and advanced military techniques to provide everyday dogs with anything from service dog training and nose work/detection to basic behavioral modification.

Off-Leash K9 Training began in 2010, in Woodbridge, Va., under the ownership of Nick White, a former U.S. Marine and U.S. Secret Service agent. Through OLK9, White seeks to deliver the same high-level obedience training instilled in military dogs, to household pets in real-world environments. With over 120 growing locations worldwide, the program has served such prominent clientele as Ryan Reynolds, John Cena and, most recently, Dick Cheney.

“We make it so easy that little children are able to do it,” Sutter said, when asked how simple it is for owners to take over at the completion of a session. Among individual lessons and various packages, OLK9 offers a two-week “board and train” option. A dog will live with a trainer in his/her house for 14 days, and return to its owner off-leash and reliable.

“After the board and train program, I’m pretty much their trainer for the rest of their lives. If they have any questions and concerns or anything, they can call me at any given time and there is no additional cost,” Sutter said.

Throughout the board and train program, trainers post videos online so owners can check in and witness their pet’s improvement. OLK9 currently boasts over 5,000 YouTube videos documenting start-to-finish progress.

This program couldn’t have come to the Jersey Shore at a better time. The American Pet Products Association reported this year over 60 million households in America own a dog. Yet northeastern cities seem to be behind the curve when it comes to accommodating these creatures. A survey by WalletHub reported that Newark, N.J. was the least pet-friendly city in the country. Not far behind were Boston, New York City and Jersey City.

“New Jersey is a little bit stricter when it comes to dogs,” Sutter said. “I’m hoping that they’ll start to become more pet friendly, especially for well-trained dogs. Down south, you can take them anywhere. Up here it’s a little more restrictive.”

Though she couldn’t pinpoint any defining reasons as to why pet culture is more prohibitive in northeastern cities, Sutter seemed optimistic that changes could be made. “I just had a board and train go home yesterday, and I was walking him off-leash through Jersey City.”

In cities such as Nashville, Orlando and Austin, it’s not difficult to find a pet-friendly business. More breweries and restaurants seem to be opening their patios to pups, and clothing stores have begun to allow shoppers to peruse with their animals. New Jersey has a bit of catching up, but maybe all it needs is a nudge.

Off-Leash K9 Training could be that nudge, proving that any dog, old, young, aggressive or spoiled, can be trained to function off-leash in an increasingly off-leash world. “We have a method, and it works.”

— Sarah Hodgson

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