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Problem Solving with Pooches
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 puppies.

"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 a laugh.

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 name.

"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."

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