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The new Petiquette

Why can\'t a dog be more like a pet?


Jim Burwell, known as Houston's dog Whisperer, has found that if you talk softly, you don't need to carry a big stick.

Houston’s Dog Whisperer Jim Burwell has heard his share of bad dog stories. There was the one about a client’s husband who got up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom and when he started to climb back into bed, his Jack Russell terrier not only refused to let him back into bed, it bit him. The wife was given an ultimatum: “The dog or me.”

Then there was the dog, another Jack Russell, coincidentally, who marked his territory by peeing on its mistress’s head while she slept.

And, that’s just the terriers. There are hundreds of breeds and mixed breeds who are equally territorial.

Dogs are “hardwired” to jump, bite, bark, chew and pee whenever and wherever the urge strikes, says Burwell, who is known as Houston’s Dog Whisperer. That’s not a problem when they live in the wild, “but all that hardwired stuff is a problem when they’re invited inside.”

Burwell, who has trained more than 20,000 dogs in his 20-year career, says “dogs live in a very black-and-white world.” Give them an inch and they’ll take over the bed, the couch and your life. To have a dog that’s not always “resource guarding,” the owner has to take a proactive role and be consistent.

“It’s as much teaching people as it is teaching dogs,” he claims. “When we put human emotions on dogs, that’s what causes the problem.”

A pet whisperer, by the way, is someone who can read dogs’ language and intuitively reaches out to dogs that need rehabilitation.

With more people elevating pets to “child” status, training is becoming a necessity to have peace in the dog/human relationship. “This is good timing business-wise,” Burwell, who has just launched Jim Burwell’s Petiquette, says. “The market is going back to in-home dog training.”

He’ll start by selling franchises in the Houston area, where he’s well known, and consecutive areas, before going nationwide. When he’s out of his element, the franchise most likely will drop the “Jim Burwell” from the name.

Pet services, including dog training, is one of the fastest growing area of the U.S. pet industry, according to Packaged Facts, the publishing division of MarketResearch.com. Pet training services are expected to average a 12 percent growth rate in a $1.3 billion segment.

Only 10 percent of dogs in the U.S. are professionally trained, according to the American Animal Hospital Association’s 2004 Pet Owners Survey. And, there’s a significant opportunity for a franchise chain, since only 14 percent of pet specialty stores offer obedience training, Pet Age’s Retail Report found.

Burwell’s legend as a dog trainer reached epic proportions in his hometown after a cover story in Texas magazine, a supplement of the Houston Chronicle, described his numerous success stories. “That story generated 2,000 phone calls and 750 to 800 e-mails,” he says.

The former banker saw an opportunity to share the wealth. He sold his interest in a pet resort that he built with a partner to concentrate on training. “Training is my passion,” he says, “The (pet resort) business was landlocked and I couldn’t add more trainers.”

Franchising came to his rescue.

While Burwell is looking for people who are passionate about dogs, he’s not necessarily looking for trainers to become franchisees. He’d rather teach them his methods. His first franchisee, however, has a dream background for what he’s teaching. Curtiss and Melba Lanham volunteered their time at rescue shelters before becoming franchisees of Petiquette in February of this year. “We found out the reason so many (dogs) ended up there is because they weren’t trained,” he said.

The Lanhams took one of Burwell’s classes to save an out-of-control Brittany spaniel someone had brought to the clinic where Melba worked so it could be be euthanized. The Lanhams convinced the owner to let them try to train the dog and adopt him out, and it became one of Burwell’s success stories. “My wife said to me, ‘Do you think Jim would train us, if we paid him,’ and the next day we got an e-mail from him about Petiquette,” Lanham says.

Lanham kept his engineering job, while Melba Lanham quit hers to do the business full time. Both are licensed paramedics, and they have experience training both humans and dogs. “Dogs are pretty easy to train, it’s the people who take a little more time,” he says.

Anyone can call themselves a dog trainer, Lanham says, but they wanted to be trained by someone reputable, had proven methods and that was accessible to them after they got started. Plus, “the start-up fees were reasonable,” he adds.

Their biggest challenge to date was a 7-month-old dachshund who refused to be housebroken. They took the dog into their home to train her, when the owner, who was going through chemotherapy, found it too stressful a time in his life to deal with a strong-willed puppy. Nothing they did worked, however. “We’re out there waiting to praise her, waiting to treat her, and she’d wait us out,” he says. Two minutes after they returned her to her crate, she’d pee. “She learned everything else, but not to potty outside,” he says. When they returned the dog, they explained the situation to the owners, with the sage advice: “If you go outside for eight hours with her, she might go outside.”

The next day they received a call from the owners who were laughing. They had no problem getting the dog to go outside—first trip out she immediately did her business and trotted back inside.

The Lanham learned the lesson all pet owners come to realize—a dog’s sense of humor is as keen as its sense of smell. And, if you don’t train them, they train you.

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