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KATIE, a lively Corgi mix owned by Ardith Towle, left, has become much easier to live with thanks to the work of Heidi Van Schoonhoven, right. MIKE SHEARER photo
Heidi Van Schoonhoven teaches owners to listen to their animals
COVE — What started for Heidi Van Schoonhoven as learning to communicate with her own dogs better has become a mission she’s sharing with other dog owners.
Using a combination of the techniques of famous Dog Whisperer Cesar Millan and classical dog training, Van Schoonhoven has been helping people throughout the valley learn to communicate with their dogs and making their pets easier to live with.
She has also been working with dogs at the Blue Mountain Humane Association, where she is on the board of directors, to make the dogs more adoptable.
She said she had to change her point of view and her behavior to communicate with her dogs better.
“It is the best thing I ever did for them — and for me,” she said recently in an interview at the home of Ardith Towle, whose dog Katie had been a problem until Van Schoonhoven applied her special touch — or rather taught Towle how to apply the touch.
The always-lovable but sometimes excitable Katie is a bundle-of-energy Corgi mix who had been the perfect dog in many ways.
According to Towle, Katie “loves to fetch The Observer” in as soon as it’s delivered. “And she taught herself that. I didn’t teach her that,” Towle said proudly.
But Katie had become too excited sometimes, jumping on guests and barking unnecessarily. She needed training.
“I just didn’t know how to do it,” Towle said. “After our first hour and a half with Heidi, I learned. Now I just say, ‘Katie, come!’ And she does.”
“Ardith was really ready to learn what I had to teach her,” Van Schoonhoven said. She smiled and added, “Ardith is in charge here now.”
Towle said even her children have commented on how much more manageable Katie is now.
Van Schoonhoven calls her dog training business Dogful Mind. She said, “You don’t need a mindful dog. You need a dogful mind.”
She said 90 percent of all problems with dogs are communication issues. “Dogs are communicating with us all the time,” she added. “But most of us don’t have the knowledge to understand them.”
Take barking for instance. “Dogs want to have a purpose,” Van Schoonhoven said. “They want to have a job, and they want someone in charge, and that’s us. And when we aren’t in charge, they’ll take charge.”
Van Schoonhoven said the techniques of Millan have been controversial but she swears by them after applying them to her own pets, Peanut and Nonga. She said she calls herself a “pack parent” who is “halfway between pack leader and dog owner.”
She summarized her dog training philosophy in an essay that said, “Listen to your animal. Learn what she has always been trying to tell you. Become aware of her body language and energy. Take responsibility for — and change as needed — your body language, your energy and your frame of mind.”
And that is just what Van Schoonhoven is teaching dog owners to do.
Even though she moved to Cove just last summer, Van Schoonhoven calls herself a fourth-generation Covite because of her family’s long history in the city, where her parents are active members in the Cove Community Association.
Born in Portland, she studied psychology, researching academic work on animal behavior and ethology, and has a master’s degree from Elmhurst College in art therapy.
Her wide-ranging career has included working at Nike as well as in Burkina Faso with the Peace Corps. In Florida, she had her own bookkeeping business and fostered dogs.
In addition to her work with Blue Mountain Humane Association, she volunteers at Clover Haven, an equine therapy center up in High Valley.
She also has experience in learning theory and training design and has facilitated many professional trainings.