We love to hear the success stories from our clients and students at Hillside K9 Academy. It fills our heart to see the difference that our service can make in a family’s life and keeps us propelled forward in our passion to serve the community! Today we will spotlight one of our favorite stories, that of Benigne Dohms, her husband, and their working dogs.
Benigne’s dynamic story begins right after her husband’s job brought them unexpectedly from the University of Michigan to the desert of Tucson, Arizona. For many, the change of scenery would be a shock, but they immediately fell in love with the terrain, culture, and the ability to experience “The West.” After living there for a time, his career in exploration geology eventually transplanted them again to the foothills of California where he assisted in redevelopment of gold mines, and then again to Northwest Florida to oversee groundwater studies for superfund sites. When retirement began to appear on the horizon, there was no real question of where to go next, as their hearts longed to return to Arizona. In 2012, Benigne and her husband settled down in Payson, to a home that sits on a hill and has an unobstructed view of the Rim.
For Benigne, dogs have been a part of her life for as long as she can remember, and she has owned them since the age of 20. “Dogs have brought me smiles and laughter when I needed it. They have taken me on adventures and road trips to places I might not have ever seen otherwise. The regular exercise and long walks have kept me physically fit. Although a dog can’t talk, from them I have learned a different understanding of trust, unconditional love, responsibility, and the simple joys that gladden a heart. I have learned to try new things, overcome fear, and am better at accepting “failure” when tests, shows, or trials don’t result in a qualifying ribbon. My dogs are too often very good at embarrassing me, but I have also learned how to overcome humiliation because of them, and have gained patience, perseverance, and endurance.”
Later in life, Benigne’s passion fell on a specific breed, the Polish Lowland Sheepdogs, or more commonly known: PON. Over the years, people have often asked her Why this Breed?
“Around the year 2000 I was doing research for a newsletter article on Poland when I came across information on the breed; it was love at first sight the moment I saw a picture of these dogs, but being 100% Polish, I knew I had to have one.”
At that time, the PON was still a rare breed in the U.S., with long waiting lists for prospective owners. In September of 2005, after 5years of patience, she finally brought home her first, Olek, and life for her has not been the same the since.
Olek was named for her great-uncle, Aleksander Kosiba, an avid explorer, professor of glaciology and climatology, and published author of books about his expeditions to Greenland. “Amazingly, my Olek had the same mischievous and warm personality as that of his namesake!” Trained in advanced agility, and earner of over a dozen AKC and UKC titles, Benigne opted to not enter trials with him so as to have time for a wider variety of activities. To this day she does not regret the extra personal time she was able to spend with him as a result. “We sadly lost Olek less than two months after he was diagnosed with a very rare nose cancer; there had been no signs or symptoms, the cancer was found by accident and baffled veterinary medicine.”
The Polish Lowland is an extremely intelligent breed with an incredible curiosity about everything, has an expression on its face known as a PON Smile, is adaptable to city or country living, is playful, virtually non-shedding, and filled with personality. “For a perfectionist, idealist, competitor, and ADDD person like me, this breed was both a match and a challenge.”
These days, she and her husband are kept company by their current Polish Lowland Sheepdogs, Bisia and Taz. Between the two of them, they have earned over 32 working dog titles. “Bisia [the polish equivalent of Betsy] is our prized herding dog. She is the first of her breed to ear herding tiles from AHBA and is currently the most titled Polish Lowland in the herding world! Taz lives up to the description of the iconic Tasmanian Devil. He is the first Polish Lowland to earn Lure coursing titles and needs only a few more point for his AKC CH title and has qualified for Barn Hunt.”
Benigne loves taking part in the wide world of dog sports and appreciates all the different flavors of working dog skills required to show and compete. She also connects with the teamwork and relationship that comes with the territory. “I would have to say that Rally, Tracking, and Herding are my favorite things to do with my dogs. Rally is fun, upbeat, and interactive, typically done indoors. Tracking is a quiet sport, requiring complete trust on the part of the handler to go with his/her dog. As it follows a scent laid in a series of right and left turns over a course of 440 or more yds to find an article placed at the end of the line. So, to speak; tracking fulfills natural activity outdoors for the dog and is a great opportunity for handler and dog to bond. Both Bisia and Taz are preparing for their field trials this fall, but herding is perhaps the one sport I really enjoy because there is something very powerful, almost magical in seeing the natural ability of a dog come to life when allowed to interact with sheep or goats.”
Although very fulfilling, Benigne’s experience with working dogs hasn’t always been a breeze. When acquiring Taz from his breeder, they asked her what she wanted in a puppy. However, what she found in Taz was far more than the “energetic, outgoing, fearless, playful show quality” pup that she had envisioned. Taz was entered in a Puppy Class at 10 weeks of age and excelled with everything taught to him. A very outgoing dog, he even began introductory herding by 12 weeks of age. He was also taking a Handling Class to prepare for the show ring. Everywhere he went, he had a good time and showed it in exuberant body language and barking. “I was told to ignore the barking, he would outgrow it, it was his way of saying I’m happy. Looking back now, I see what was the beginning of ‘demanding’ to be noticed, to be paid attention to in all the places he went for classes or training.”
Between the ages of 7 months and 1 year, Taz spent most of the time in the Northwoods, on acreage, and generally away from people. This gap in adequate socialization, other than being with Bisia, brought out the extreme Alpha in Taz; and he was diagnosed by some as “reactive” and “aggressive”. Benigne soon found herself in a tight spot. “All obedience classes offered in Phoenix generally are evening classes, held in the winter months; living in Payson makes it burdensome to return home after 11 pm from such classes, and travel in snow or ice eliminated me from all of the training offered by clubs, or so I was told.”
As the barking and half-friendly sounds from Taz grew worse and worse, Benigne took part in fewer and fewer dog sports with him. By the time he was 15 months old, she had tried a variety of collars, leashes, and harnesses to reduce his pulling and tendency to lunge at people and dogs, and by age 2, had given in and was using a prong collar.
In late spring of this year, Benigne saw a post on Facebook for a group class at Hillside. All the features of the class mentioned in the announcement sounded like what she had been searching for. “Within 5 minutes after my arrival that first evening, Shawn instantly recognized what I needed help with and began immediately to work with Taz. No dog I have ever had has been as great of a challenge in good behavior training as this one, yet Shawn is the first person to break through to the canine level of Taz and help him become a better and happier dog.”
Benigne has since reached out and thanked the trainers at Hillside for the amazing difference that she has seen in Taz. We were so touched by her story, we asked if we could publish it in hopes that more of our clients will come forward with theirs as well! Do you have something to share about your experience with training at Hillside K9 Academy? For the month of September, we are offering $5 coupons towards daycare, boarding and grooming to anyone who leaves us a review on Yelp, Facebook, or Google. Just reach out and let us know your story and save instantly on services for your canine companion!