Local kennel owner expands into dog training

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 23, 2017

NATCHEZ — Leo Joseph doesn’t have basic dogs, he has hunting dogs. So when he people began to ask whether he could help with their house pets, he was hesitant.

It turns out, Joseph — owner of River Town Retrievers, a local kennel — needed just one thing to change his mind.

“We constantly have people calling who want help with their companion dogs. I always told them that we don’t do that,” he said. “One time this guy called about a little girl who just got a dog for Christmas. I agreed to do it, even though it really wasn’t where I wanted to go with this.”

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Going against his traditional regime of dogs trained for competitions, Joseph then coached the pet for about two months, he said.

As soon as Joseph saw the results, he was hooked.

“The girl came back, and I saw her hugging on the dog and it being obedient,” he said. “It was all good. That was a really cool thing.”

Since that instance last holiday season, Joseph wanted to do more, hoping to help other people and animals in the area. That’s when service dog trainer Eric Babin came in.

Earlier this week, River Town Retrievers welcomed Babin to Natchez for a two-day seminar. With expertise in training dogs for military veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, he knew how he wanted to handle the request.

“Leo invited me down to see if I would be interested in applying my discipline to house dogs. It is a great training method, and it works very well,” Babin said. “At the end, you have a dog that is confident and can solve problems on its own.”

Babin — who has worked for a government contractor in North Carolina for the past five years — said the training for service dogs involves a reward system. As he teaches the animals supportive behaviors he gives them treats, then slowly weans them back.

“A service dog has to be able to handle all situations because it is for a person with disabilities who can’t manage problems for themselves,” Babin said. “As the training starts to advance, you start to pull back that reward and they can actually get a little frustrated. But, it builds on those behaviors.”

Babin said he has seen the improvement service dogs can have on veterans’ overall functionally, and thinks the method can be just as effective for domestic dogs.

“The techniques are the same,” he said. “Some dogs are just too hyper or stimulated. That might prevent them from becoming a good service dog, but they can still be great house pets. It’s not an immediate fix, but this certainly seems to be helping.”

No matter the recipient of the training, Joseph said he is thankful for the chance to expand his business.

“When you start something new, you have to find a way to learn more about it,” he said. “The companionship with any kind of dog is awesome, and I couldn’t be more impressed. It turned into something I was never interested in into something I found really cool. It really changed the dogs’ life, and the people really appreciate it when they get their dogs back.”