Ian Awbrey teaches four-legged friends their 'people-skills'
By Anne Thomas
Your dog treats your mother-in-law as an object of desire,
snarls at your guests when they dare to move and ignores
you by licking himself whenever you try to teach him better
manners. You're at the end of your rope and ready to dump
him, but don't despair. Help is as near as Ian Awbrey, a
dog trainer who has helped people deal with dog behavior
problems for over a decade.
You can probably find him at his store, Highland Pet Supply,
where he might be up to his elbows in soapy water helping
his customers bathe their wayward dogs in the self-service
bath. Or you might find him at his training center teaching
manners to cute but mischievous puppies. Or he could be in
the park helping a troubled pooch deal with the existence
of other dogs invading his universe. Individual and group
training takes place at Ian's Highland Pet Supply Training
Center in the Midtown Outlets near Piedmont Park. "Of
course we do basic dog training, but our main focus is teaching
people how to manage their animals from the time they wake
up in the morning until they go to bed at night," said
Ian. "It's not just 'sit' and 'stay.' We help people
problem-solve." Ian has owned Highland Pet Supply, located
at 1186 N. Highland Ave., for eight years. "We carry
the upper echelon of dog foods and try to educate our customers
on how to take care of their pets and keep them healthy," explained
Ian of his store's philosophy. "I think we have a nice
little package with the store and the training."
Ian holds group classes on weeknights that run for five
consecutive weeks, and gives individual classes during the
day, training between 500 and 600 dogs a year.
He has four dogs of his own - two border collies, a pit
bull and an Australian shepherd. He and his dogs herd sheep
competitively and compete in Frisbee tournaments. "I
enjoy working my dogs and we also help people if they want
to learn dog sports," he said. "But our main focus
is teaching people how to live with their pets on a day-to-day
basis." Some of Ian's favorite subjects to train are
"I love to teach puppies. They are wide open. They're
a blank slate and they want to learn," he said. "They're
experimenting with the world and if you help set things up
properly, you'll end up with wonderful dogs."
Perhaps the most unique and fun aspect of the store is its
self-serve dog wash, located in a 400-square-foot tiled area
with elevated tubs and drying tables.
"It's entertaining just to watch owners and their dogs
taking baths," said longtime customer Stuart Noel with
Store manager Toni Barry has worked with Ian for six years
and also helps with training.
"Everything I know about training, I learned from Ian," said
Toni, who admits she gets a lot of experience training dogs
in the store as well. "I do a ton of over-the-counter
training with our customers."
Toni's own dogs are an Australian cattle dog mix and a border
collie she has worked with in Frisbee competition and herding.
Last year a trio was formed, when a German shepherd/boxer
mix showed up on her porch.
"He's learning Frisbee, but what he needed most was
just manners," said Toni. "I've taught him to be
a good social dog around the store because he's there with
me all the time. He's good about helping dogs that are fearful
of or aggressive toward other dogs. He speaks good dog."
Stuart's dogs, George and Duncan, went through Ian's training
class when they were young and Stuart said the training certainly
paid off. Now he says the staff asks about the two dogs by
"Ian's very energetic and innovative in his approach
and dogs really respond to him," Stuart said. "To
this day, if my dogs misbehave, I tell them that Mr. Ian
would be disappointed in them. Maybe it's my tone of voice,
but they look so remorseful."