Reggie’s backyard overflowed with temptation Thursday, March 18. There were dogs passing by with their owners, cars driving past, a girl who stopped for a hug, the constant click of a camera shutter and his sister, Mabel, for starters. Chewable objects were strewn about, as well. He sniffed out “edibles” of all sorts: sticks, rocks, leaves and grass.

Time after time, the 5-month-old golden retriever lost focus. Time after time, dog trainers Amy and Jason Johnson brought him back to task.

Reggie, a 5-month-old golden retriever, sits and waits for a treat during a training session Thursday, March 18, 2021, behind a Duluth apartment building. (Maria Lockwood / mlockwood@superiortelegram.com)
Reggie, a 5-month-old golden retriever, sits and waits for a treat during a training session Thursday, March 18, 2021, behind a Duluth apartment building. (Maria Lockwood / mlockwood@superiortelegram.com)

For an hour, they worked with Reggie and Mabel, keeping up a steady stream of commentary to the pups’ owner, Katherine Becker, about what they were doing so she could build off the foundation they were laying.

“It’s as much training for me as it is for them,” Becker said. “You’re learning how to communicate with them and having to be consistent with the words and the actions that you use so you’re not confusing them. But if you’re consistent, they’re consistent.”

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The Johnsons launched their business, The Homeschooled Pooch, in January after being laid off during the pandemic. The Duluth couple bring seven years of professional dog training experience to the business, which provides private lessons and services such as field training trips, puppy socialization experiences, canine good citizen evaluations and trick dog testing. They travel as far north as Two Harbors and south to Cloquet. On the Wisconsin side of the bridge, they meet with clients in the Superior area. There is even a virtual option.

“The response has been really good,” Amy Johnson said. “There’s definitely a need out there for training.”

The Homeschooled Pooch offers personal coaching in the dog’s home environment, where they’re more comfortable. Reggie and Mabel got their lesson behind the Duluth apartment building where they live.

“So if the dog is only doing things only on their property or there’s this one dog on walks that lives down the street, we can actually recreate these exact scenarios that they’re dealing with at home,” Amy Johnson said.

Five-month-old siblings Mabel, left, and Reggie glance back during a training session Thursday, March 18, behind the apartment building where they live. (Maria Lockwood / mlockwood@superiortelegram.com)
Five-month-old siblings Mabel, left, and Reggie glance back during a training session Thursday, March 18, behind the apartment building where they live. (Maria Lockwood / mlockwood@superiortelegram.com)

The curriculum is tailored to the dog, and owners get instructional videos and handouts as needed to help them understand and master the techniques. The job is just as much about training owners as training dogs.

“We strengthen relationships between dogs and humans,” Amy Johnson said. “Dogs understand when they’re being listened to and heard.”

They have a third trainer who works with them, and are considering adding a fourth. They also have two canine partners, Buck and Onyx, who help with socialization, work with dogs overcoming behavior issues and provide a training distraction. Reggie worked briefly with Buck, a St. Bernard-Great Pyrenees mix, during his Thursday session.

Dog trainer Jason Johnson, right, gives 5-month-old pup Reggie a treat for leaving Buck, a St. Bernard-Great Pyrenees mix training dog, alone as Amy Johnson talks with Reggie's owner Thursday, March 18, 2021. (Maria Lockwood / mlockwood@superiortelegram.com)
Dog trainer Jason Johnson, right, gives 5-month-old pup Reggie a treat for leaving Buck, a St. Bernard-Great Pyrenees mix training dog, alone as Amy Johnson talks with Reggie's owner Thursday, March 18, 2021. (Maria Lockwood / mlockwood@superiortelegram.com)

Part of the uptick in the need for dog training may be the number of families who decided to get a puppy during the pandemic. As things begin to open up and more people return to the workplace, owners may encounter challenges.

“Whenever our schedules change, it affects us, but it really affects our dogs. They really thrive on consistency and a schedule that they can predict,” Amy Johnson said. “When things are thrown into an upheaval for a dog, you see a lot of behavioral issues come out and people get really frustrated with that. And a lot of times, they just kind of need some coaching on how to manage situations and things that they can do with their dog to help them be more confident being by themselves at home.”

Training canines and coaching their owners is a rewarding job for Amy Johnson, a former seventh-grade science teacher.

"I love dogs. I love seeing the light bulb go off in the dog’s head when they learn something new, how excited they get to learn and I love to see owners have success with their dogs that they didn’t necessarily think was possible," she said. "People can do really amazing things with their dogs."

Visit thehomeschooledpooch.com or call 218-461-1712 for more information.