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Dog trainer works with problematic pooches

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HENDERSON — John J. Armata trains dogs most trainers won’t go near.

Mr. Armata, who has worked with problematic dogs for 30 years, has sacrificed his safety on many occasions to rehabilitate man’s best friend.

“If you can teach a dog to sit, you can teach your dog anything,” he said.

Mr. Armata has owned about 30 dogs and worked with hundreds through clients. When he moved to the north country from Adams, Mass., two years ago, he found a new challenge — training his fiancée’s Akita-border collie, Inky, and labrador retriever-chow chow, Amy.

He was able to housebreak the dogs in two weeks using crate training, but gaining their trust required a little more attention.

“I laid down on the bed one day, and in less than a minute, (Inky) got me right here,” he said, pointing at his jaw.

He said Inky — who had been abused when she was younger — could have killed him with the bite, just missing a major artery in his neck. Everyone, including his fiancée, Lea J. Lewis, said he should give the dog away or put her down. However, after working with her, Mr. Armata trained the dog to calm down and behave. On Thursday afternoon, he was teaching her agility tricks. Whenever she completed a jump or duck, he rewarded her from a seemingly never-ending supply of treats in his pocket.

“When I got here, the only thing these dogs knew were their names,” he said. “It took her months to get to where she is now. It comes back to that every dog wants to learn something. I spent a lot more time with her. I made her a priority.”

Inky is not the only dog that gave him scars. He once trained a dog that chewed both of his ankles and his arm nearly to the bone. Nonetheless, he still believes they are worth training to keep them out of what he calls “death row.”

“If you’re training a dog, you can’t let them win,” he said.

He said dogs should be reprimanded for bad behavior. If they are doing something they’re not supposed to do, Mr. Armata said “stupid” works better than “bad dog.”

“Sometimes ‘bad dog’ goes in one ear and out the other, but ‘stupid’ almost sounds like a growl,” he said.

He said dogs should be hit sparingly.

“It’s the point where the dog is so belligerent that it bares teeth at you,” he said. “You can’t go overboard. You keep it sane, and you just use your hand.”

Some of the other tips he shared included:

■ Use a choke collar to walk your dog if it has the tendency to pull on its leash.

■ Scratch your dog’s chest to calm it down.

■ “I think every dog owner should have a crate,” he said.

■ Rather than calling a dog if it is misbehaving outside, use a whistle. He said a whistle cannot sound angry like a person can — and dogs are not going to go to an angry person.

■ “A dog will never learn a good habit from another dog,” he said.

■ Dogs are the most trainable until 8 or 9 years old, but you can still train older dogs.

To contact Mr. Armata, go to http://practicaldogtraining.mysite.com or call 938-7562.

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