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The Canine Connection

While watching dogs and their handlers practicing on the agility course at the Grand Forks Dog Training Club, one can’t help but marvel at the connection between canines and humans. They run through the obstacles as one, with the dogs following commands on the fly to soar over jumps, zig-zag around poles, traverse teeter totters, scurry through tunnels and dash up and down ramps. As dog and handler teams await their turns on the course, the dogs exude a “What’s next? Let’s go!” attitude, as if they can’t wait to prove how good they are.

This gem of the Greater Grand Forks area is similar to a training center for Olympic athletes because it produces dogs and handlers that compete on a national level in American Kennel Club (AKC) events. For example, a Clumber Spaniel named Melody owned by club member Susan Strinden Hall of Thompson, was a runner-up for the breed during the Westminster Dog Show in February. In March, club member Kaidy Grunhovd from Euclid, Minnesota, had two of her dogs compete in the AKC National Agility Championships in Tulsa, Oklahoma. A Boston Terrier named Rogue owned by member Lisa Wiersma from Erskine, Minnesota, recently received a silver level award from AKC.

But it’s not just the top-caliber competition dogs trained at the club that give it a special place in the community. Anyone who wants a more obedient dog, a better-behaved dog or just to have more fun with their dog can enroll in classes at the training club. The organization—run entirely by volunteers—is committed not only to helping dogs and owners create a lasting bond, but also to showing how dogs are an asset to the community.

“Our purpose is to promote responsible dog ownership in the Greater Grand Forks area,” says Jen Koller, club vice president. “There’s a lot of us who teach a variety of subjects. We all have full-time jobs, although we’d rather be training dogs full time.”

Early Dog Days

The roots of the club go back to the Grand Forks Kennel Club founded in 1956. The club disbanded in the early 80s when interest waned. It was rejuvenated in 2005 with classes being taught in an East Grand Forks potato barn. Later, the club rented space in a building on Gateway Drive in Grand Forks. Two years ago, the club moved into its current location at 6801 Demers Ave., about a mile west of the Amtrak station.

While the club holds AKC events to help its members reach higher levels of competition, it also provides multi-week classes ranging from puppy kindergarten to obedience to scent work to tricks to therapy dog training. It can also provide individual and specialized training. Fees from $50 to $75 make the classes affordable and enable the club to cover its expenses.

Club President, Lisa Smilonich, who’s a technician at the Peterson Veterinary Clinic in East Grand Forks, says local residents initially didn’t show much interest in dog training classes, but that’s changed dramatically. Now there are waiting lists to get in. “It seems like people are hearing about the classes, how fun and enjoyable they are and how much they appreciate their dogs afterwards,” she says. “We have a Facebook presence and a website with information about the classes we offer. I honestly think there were a lot of people who wanted training for their dogs, but didn’t know how to get it. Now there’s community knowledge that this is available.”

Strinden Hall and her husband, Lyle, built the facility for the Grand Forks Dog Training Club on the western edge of Grand Forks because they saw the need for a facility solely dedicated to dog training. After two years, she says the facility is doing well.

The club is important to the Halls because they’re also actively involved in breeding, preserving and showing Clumber Spaniels, an English hunting dog which nearly became extinct after World War II. Strinden Hall estimates there are around 230 Clumber Spaniels registered in the U.S. and about 3,000 worldwide. She cites her greatest accomplishment as breeding Benson, a Clumber Spaniel owned by Helen Marshall, Strinden Hall’s friend and mentor from Wisconsin. Benson was best in show at the 2014 National Specialty Show and has gained many other honors in the dog show world.

The contributions of the training club go beyond the convenience it provides to Stinden Hall and other dog owners in the area. “Our goal is to make the community a better place to live,” she says. “I think we’ve improved the quality of life in the community. For instance, if I would go to a community, one of the first things I’d look for is a dog training club. There are people who look for that when they’re coming to a community. We’re filling a need.”

In short, Grand Forks isn’t going to the dogs. The dogs are making Grand Forks a better place to live. G

// To view the full story, check out the digital issue here


From Issue 3, 2019


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