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April 14, 2020

As she is put through her paces, Willow, a chubby, 4-month-old golden retriever, seems to catch on quickly.

The treats help.

Willow is enrolled in the “puppy class” at Cosmic K-9 dog training school.

She’s the newest member of the family for Steve and Beth Whaley of Perry Township. They also have four adult dogs, including a retriever who works as a therapy dog.

“We want her to be a therapy dog as well,” Steve Whaley said. “So, we wanted her to get the basics.”

Located at 3400 Cleveland Avenue NW in Canton, Cosmic K-9 offers group and private lessons, agility training and Canine Good Citizen training for therapy dogs.

Owner Libby Smith has been in business for 20 years.

“When I was in college, I thought I’d be an animal behaviorist working with wild animals,” she said. “I did an internship at the Toledo Zoo.”

But jobs at zoos are hard to come by because people don’t tend to quit them, Smith said.

After graduating from Bowling Green State University, Smith got another internship with an animal behaviorist in Columbus, so she commuted from Canton.

Her instructor recommended that Smith get training in positive reinforcement. She found a local expert, dog trainer Fred Pisani of Waynesburg, a charter member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers.

“Everything clicked,” Smith said. “Only now, I was training companion animals.”

Smith said her goal is to provide each dog with a program to help them succeed.

“Sometimes a class is appropriate; sometimes you need a one-to-one,” she said.

Smith said one of the biggest mistakes people make in training is being impatient.

“It takes time to shape and mold and work toward your ideal,” she said.

“Libby is very good at explaining the training,” Beth Whaley said. “She’s very patient.”

On this occasion, Smith leads the owners through a series of “trust” exercises, including establishing eye contact with their puppies, teaching them to sit and “puppy push-ups,” training a dog how to go from a sitting position to lying down.

“You want them well-rounded at home and in public,” she said.

Puppy classes are for dogs 8 weeks to 4 months.

As part of her training, Smith gives each owner a “social schedule” to help their dogs respond properly in different situations. It’s an extensive list that includes exposing them to people with canes, costumes, different ages of people, construction sites, motor vehicles, household appliances and various ground surfaces.

Smith also instructed the class on the proper way to walk dogs on a leash.

“We want them to learn at a young age that a leash is a good thing; that all good things happen here,” she said, gesturing in the space around her. “There’s nothing natural about walking a dog in a straight line on a leash. You have a puppy, so you have a clean slate.”

Smith noted that different dogs have different tendencies and that a dog’s ability to learn and be trained is not always based on their breed.

“You have to figure out what motivates individual dogs,” she said.

To learn more, contact Smith at 330-704-4866 or email

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