Patricia Linehan has had dogs her whole life, so she knows a thing or two about training them on how to behave. When she started mulling over opening her own dog training business, she came to realize that people are often more difficult to train than their four-legged friends. At True Connections Canine Academy, Linehan does both, teaching owners how to teach their dogs in a positive and fun way so that both of them have an enjoyable time.
A Different Kind of Education
Linehan and her husband, Terry Clodfelter, both have impressive backgrounds in education. Linehan has a PhD in educational psychology, and the reason that the couple relocated to the Mankato area in 1998 was because Linehan was hired as an adult education faculty member at Southwest Minnesota State University.
Linehan has owned dogs for the past 50 years, and she currently owns a cattle dog, three border collies, and a Pyrenean shepherd. She said that she had long enjoyed a wide range of activities with her dogs, from hikes in the mountains to competitive shows, but she didn’t explore formal training until she moved to Minnesota.
“I’ve always loved dogs and doing things with dogs,” she said. “About nine years ago, I discovered agility [training] and fell in love with that. Then five years ago, I discovered herding and fell in love with that. There are just so many things you can do with your dog.”
As Linehan continued to explore different training opportunities with her own dogs, she also kept thinking about a lifelong dream of hers: opening her own dog training center.
We like people and we like dogs. Kindness is the mantra here, both in treating humans and treating dogs.Patricia Linehan
“I wanted to be able to help people just have a family dog with good manners,” she explained. “When I would see people struggling with their dog on the end of their leash, trying to take them for a walk but getting pulled down the sidewalk, I was like, ‘Hey, there’s a cure for that, and it’s a kind cure.’ It’s all about positive reinforcement training. When dogs are well mannered, they get to go more places and have more fun.”
To do this, Linehan became a certified professional dog trainer through the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers, and she and her husband began looking for a space large enough to hold a fully equipped training academy. They found it outside Kasota, off Highway 22, and spent the last two years preparing it with everything dogs and their owners need to learn and grow.
“[We were] looking really specifically for a large enough property for a big agility arena,” Linehan said. “We’ve worked very, very hard in making it into a fantastic facility where people can come. We wanted to help people with dogs, and we wanted dogs to have more fun.”
A Class for Every Dog
True Connections Canine Academy officially opened on Aug. 1, 2019. Besides Linehan, there are six other instructors.
“This really is a little village,” Linehan said. “I don’t just go out and do everything without consulting the people that are the trainers; we do it together. I wouldn’t even be here without that community.”
Classes are taught throughout the year and usually last about six weeks, with weekly meetings. True Connections offers a wide variety of classes, including puppy classes, family dog manners classes, tricks classes, agility classes, conformation classes and scent work classes. According to Linehan, the majority of her clients are hoping to simply teach their dog how to be a “family dog,” so that it is well behaved enough to be fun and safe to be around. Because of this, the puppy and family dog manners classes are the most popular.
“The average person would like to be able to walk around town without their dog dragging them around,” Linehan said. “In our regular classes, that’s how we focus: how to have a family dog.”
Before owners can show up with their pooch, though, they have to go to class themselves—attending a one-time, two-hour PREP (Positive Reinforcement Experience & Practice) Class. In this class, owners are taught about positive reinforcement, the only teaching method Linehan and her instructors utilize at the academy. Owners learn how to use tools such as a clicker to interact with their dogs at future classes.
“We really train humans how to teach their dogs,” Linehan said. “[We train them] in the most scientific manner—positive reinforcement. It has decades of research behind it, and it works. Getting the humans to learn that takes a while. That [PREP] class means that we don’t have to train anybody at every other class. They’ve already had that training and are ready to go.”
Linehan added that any dog can be trained, no matter the breed or the age. It may take a little longer for certain dogs, but the trick is just figuring out how they best learn.
“It is not too late,” she said, urging people to never think they can’t teach an old dog new tricks. “I’ve had some elderly dogs in class. We had a 13-year-old golden retriever in a tricks class, and it took him a little while longer to learn, but when he got the tricks, he was so thrilled with himself. That was just a joy.”
An Updated Schedule
Like most businesses, True Connections had to shut down this spring, closing two weeks into one of its six-week class periods. Linehan admitted she wasn’t sure how they would move forward after months of no business, but she was pleasantly surprised once they were allowed to reopen on July 5.
“We’re actually inundated with people,” she said, adding that there’s currently a wait list for classes.
Originally, Linehan had planned to add several more classes this year, including barn hunting (a search-oriented sport), lure coursing (a sport involving a mechanically operated lure), treibball (a competitive dog sport involving large balls), herding and farm dog foundations. However, she said she’s going to wait to offer those courses because most of them require no snow on the ground, and it’s getting late into the year. Instead, she’s starting a new class called “Reliable rapid recalls,” which focuses on ensuring your dog will quickly and reliably obey your commands.
Currently, all of the classes offered at True Connections have small sizes of seven or fewer people to ensure the best social distancing practices.
According to Linehan, training your dog can—and should—be a lifelong endeavor, since training not only helps dogs behave well but also offers them stimulation and fun. Positive reinforcement like the kind utilized at True Connections is meant to make training into a game that can be played over and over.
“What you’re doing is training the animals to love training, so that you can continue to train and train and train,” she said.
With the help of Linehan and her instructors, any dog owner can form a stronger bond with their furry friend and start building healthy, lifelong practices.
“[At True Connections], we like people and we like dogs,” Linehan said. “Kindness is the mantra here, both in treating humans and treating dogs. [People] get hooked on having fun with their dog. We’ve made lots of friends with lots of clients. We’re doing this to help both people and dogs.”