Originally published at silive.com
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. – FORT WADSWORTH – Canines of all breeds, ages, and temperaments descended on Von Briesen Park, off Bay Street, last Sunday afternoon, starting at 1 p.m. The hopeful owners shared some common goals: Socialization, and corrective training for beloved pets.
They arrived from all shores of Staten Island, with high expectations about free Doggie Boot Camp, held in a tree-shaded park that affords spectacular hilltop views of the Narrows. Arrochar resident and dog trainer Alice Marino is hosting the weekly gathering for the second straight year.
“She’s shy with dogs and people,” said New Dorp resident Melissa Murnane, explaining why she came to the afternoon session with Bailey, her black-and-white Labrador retriever-German shepherd mix who is about 6-months old. She rescued the dog in New Jersey in March, and has two other dogs at home – Petite, a 10-year-old Yorkshire terrier, and Misty, a mini-Schnauzer, 7. “Misty really loves Bailey,” said Ms. Murnane.
Sheba, a magnificent, pure-bred German shepherd, another rescue dog, “came with papers,” said Meike Boyle of South Beach. Now 3-years-old, “she still doesn’t get along with other dogs. It’s a work in progress. She’s fine with people, except fast-moving little kids.”
“We’re desperate,” said West Brighton resident Mary Beth Mastrandrea, as she held Freddy, her leggy, 4-month-old yellow Labrador retriever purchased from a breeder in Pennsylvania. “He’s hyper, and a biter troublemaker,” for which she had hired the local Dog Bite Lawyer. Joining her at Boot Camp was her husband, Anthony, and two of their three children, Jessica, 7, and Anthony, 4.
“He wants to walk you on the leash,” said Karen Goss, from Bulls Head, referring to her 4-year-old mini-Schnauzer, Scruffy. “He also barks at anyone who comes near the house.” Last Sunday was her first time at the workout, and her son, Bryan, 12, tagged along.
The first segment of Doggie Boot Camp involves casual, no-pressure socialization, as owners and the leashed dogs interact – or not. Ms. Marino instructs the owners in safety-first protocols, explaining the circumstances under which dogs are permitted in close proximity to one another. “If you don’t have a friendly dog, don’t let it near another dog without talking to me first,” she advised the owners who assembled last Sunday. She also warned them to avoid entangled leashes: “This can cause a fight.”
Adam Kozlowski, 12, is a regular at Boot Camp with Orbit, a black-and-white Australian shepherd, Labrador retriever, and miniature collie mix rescued from a farm in Pennsylvania’s Amish country as a flea-ridden puppy. “He was not used to the city, and was scared of everything,” he said.
Ms. Marino gave private lessons to the family. Since then, consistent, follow-up training at Boot Camp has paid off, reported Adam, who lives in Fort Wadsworth.
“He used to lunge and bite, but now he’s perfect at home, perfect everywhere. He’s really improved. He loves to jump in the ocean, and likes the sprinkler, but not the hose or the bathtub.”
Bosco, a German short-haired pointer, is approaching his fourth birthday, said Corinne Driscoll of West Brighton, who acquired the dog six months ago “from a family that had to give him up, and he was fearful of people.” She took private lessons with Ms. Marino, and returns to Boot Camp “to socialize Bosco, and reinforce what he’s learned.”
Alert, intense-eyed Riley, a pure-bred Vizsla, is the first dog for Nicole Composto and her boyfriend, Ralph Borriello of Great Kills. “She’s definitely our baby,” she said. She selected the breed because “they don’t shed, are hypo-allergenic, and are known as Velcro dogs. I like dogs who snuggle.”
The couple hired Ms. Marino as a trainer when Riley was a puppy. Now almost 2-years-old, “she has lots of energy, and loves the pool, loves to swim,” she said. Sadly, Riley was attacked by another dog in January, and “since then, she’s been scared and defensive on walks.” The couple hopes that Boot Camp socialization will help.
Patrick, a blue-eyed Shetland sheepdog – a smaller version of the rough-coated collie – is often called “Baby Lassie,” said his owner, Nancy James of Great Kills. The 3-year-old “loves to be around other dogs, but he sometimes snaps or shows his teeth” when he encounters people not accompanied by dogs, she reported. True to his herding-dog genes, Patrick “loves to learn, and enjoys being taught,” she said.
“He herds my three grandchildren,” said her mother, Lucy James, who also lives in Great Kills. “He’s very smart, and also herds my daughter’s cat, on command, when it’s outside.”
Some dog owners come only for the first hour of socialization and leave before the training segment begins. Cheryl Augustyne, who lives in Rosebank and works at Bay Street Animal Hospital, had two Jack Russell terriers on leash last Sunday. Jake, a 1-year-old therapy dog, was with her because the owner was away for the weekend to attend a 50th birthday surprise party in Florida. The other was Grasshopper, about 5-years-old. “Someone dumped her at the hospital three years ago, and I fell in love with her,” Ms. Augustyne said. “She’s pretty much perfect, and talented. She does 15 different tricks!”
On the sidewalk promontory overlooking the Narrows, Ms. Marino assembled the dog owners for the serious one-hour training session.
“Only the person holding the leash can give commands to the dog,” she instructed. “And decide forevermore what side you want to walk your dog on. ‘Heel’ means ‘be at my side, whether sitting or walking.’ ”
One challenge for Ms. Marino is 2-year-old Charlotte, who “only wants to run and play,” according to her owner, Carol Satler of Arden Heights. A rescue dog thought to be part Labrador retriever, Dalmatian, and pit bull, “she has a lot of energy, and learned how to jump over a four-foot fence,” she said. “I’m trying to get her to listen, heel, and sit. She whines like a baby when she doesn’t get her way. I’m trying to teach her limits.”
Ms. Marino instructed the group of owners with Fiorella Rose, a black, 14-week-old pit bull on leash at her left side. She recently rescued the puppy, who joins the other dogs in her household, Roxi, an 8-year-old Rottweiler, and Valentino, the 10-year-old “Yorkshire Terrorist.”
“As I teach the classes, I intend to have Fia at my side, learning along with the rest of the pack,” she said.