Gloria Voss arrived at the TNT (Train-N-Trial) Dog Center in Midland wearing a glittery top she designed, driving a SUV she decorated with her business names, accompanied by her Border Collie pet she trained to twirl to the beat of music.
The Secord Lake resident teaches the sport of Canine Freestyle at TNT, one of many dog training centers Gloria either conveys her experiences or picks up lessons from other instructors.
The Trenton native marked a natural artistic ability by starting businesses in graphic print design, creative signage and, for the last decade or so, as an award-wining dog trainer. She also is a dog vendor and has her own line of shirts and hand-braided leashes, fancy dog collars and bandanas. Check her website www.gloriavoss.com.
GCR: What makes a dog a good learner?
GV: Most dogs are capable of learning. Some breeds are more trainable; more eager to please. Getting a dog or a puppy is a long-term commitment that should be taken seriously. Research to know what breed will fit best in your family and lifestyle. Unfortunately, I think that many people are really in love with the idea of having a dog but not prepared for how much of a commitment it is and how much time it takes to train and care for a dog. That is one reason we have so many dogs in shelters. I work with dogs and owners when I do my “In Home Lessons.”
GCR: Dogs often growl at other dogs, forcing an owner to tug at a leash. Is it possible to strip away aggression in a canine?
GV: It might not be an aggressive dog. Some dogs will react to a new dog coming into a place that they are familiar with. There are ways to work with dogs that have issues and help them to get past some of that type of behavior. Some dogs that have “fear aggression issues” due to a bad experience may need a lot of help. A knowledgeable trainer will socialize them. In some cases it can be overcome and in some cases it is managed but never cured.
GCR: Talk about canine behavior translating to human behavior.
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GV: The thought process of dogs is different than that of humans. Dogs are pack animals and they basically want someone to be the leader of the pack. If the owner doesn’t take that position, and if the dog doesn’t perceive the owner as a leader able to protect them and keep them from harm, then the dog may take on that position in the pack. Something as simple as having a dog run out the door ahead of you or you stepping over the dog or going around him instead of asking him to move, may be sending the message to the dog that he is running the show. If you want your dog to be a well behaved family member then you have to think like a leader and also devote the time to training. By a Leader, I don’t mean using aggression. I train with positive training methods and clicker training. You can be a strong leader and a good trainer without fear-based training methods.
GCR: What is your artistic background?
GV: I have always been artistic. I taught ceramic classes out of my home and at a couple of shops when my daughters were young, back in the 70s. When they got older I went to Macomb County Community College for Graphic/Commercial Art. I also went to Gemini School of Art & Design for airbrushing and sign painting. I worked for a Grosse Pointe magazine/printing company, in the art department, and ran my own part-time small sign business “Lettering by Gloria”. Since we lived in St. Clair Shores, I worked mostly lettering the names and registration numbers on boats. In 1994, after our daughters were grown and out on their own, we moved up to our cottage at Secord Lake, where I started River Signs. I started doing truck lettering and got into doing sandblasted redwood & cedar signs for cottages and businesses.
GCR: What was the surgery that forced a new direction?
GV: After many years in the sign business, I started having a lot of pain in my neck and shoulders and numbness in my hands and arms. After many x-rays and finally an MRI, it was discovered that I had damage to the discs in my neck and needed surgery. After almost a year of recovery, I went back to sign work and then a year later I fell practicing agility with one of my dogs. It was in the evening and the grass was wet and I fell forward and hit my head. It caused numbness from my neck down and required another cervical disc surgery, in 2001. I closed my sign business January 2002, and gave up the sport of agility.
GCR: Was it an easy transition or were you in limbo until you figured what direction to pursue?
GV: Well, I have to admit that it was very hard at first. I didn’t get feeling back right away so my focus was on therapy to get back mobility. I did aquatic therapy for six months, 2-3 times a week. Finally got most of the feeling back and then started to decide what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.
GCR: What did it take to leap into starting your own business, even as a graphic designer?
GV: Well, my husband likes to say, “Living with an artist is a challenge, because we see the world in a whole different light.” He is an engineer so I guess it’s true what they say: opposites really do attract. I worked at many different regular retail and service type part-time jobs early on and always knew that I wanted to do something with my artistic ability and have my own business someday. The sign business was tough for women back in the 70s & 80s, like most professions that were traditionally mostly men. I was one of the first women sign painters in the Detroit area. I worked mostly out of my pick-up truck, spending the days painting boats at the marinas on Lake St. Clair from Detroit to Port Huron. I loved my job and the part-time work for the magazine and printing company too. When I was no longer able to do that type of work, it was like loosing my identity. I had worked very hard to gain respect for my work and make a name for myself and it was all gone and I felt like my self worth was gone too. I had been doing dog training as a hobby and activity with my own dogs for many years. Getting involved in therapy dog work with one of my dogs and going to the nursing homes with her was a way for me to also recover and focus on others. I think if you are lucky enough to do something that you LOVE then it will show. You may not get rich but there are other things that are more important than money.
GCR: Creating a new business takes energy. Did you do some self conditioning?
GV: I am not the kind of person to sit around and wait for things to come to me. I just sort of plunge in and work hard and hope for the best. Education is important. I put in a lot of hours and took the jobs that came along no matter how small. I think what I learned rather quickly is: if you show up when you say you will or return calls and deliver what you promise, then you will have all the work you can handle. I didn’t skimp on the quality of the supplies. A beautiful sign or truck lettering job isn’t much good if it only last 6 months.
GCR: What would people recognize of your work?
GV: At Jay’s Sporting Goods, I did the sandblasted signs that are above each department in the Clare store. I did vehicle lettering for many local businesses: Nor Pro Lawn Care, Cloverleaf Landscaping, Lyle’s Flowers, Bonham Heating & Cooling, Hardwood Hills Construction, Quality Garage Doors, Northern Rental Center, Pratt’s Plumbing, Sterling Excavation & many more companies. I made signs for The Medicine Shoppe, Secord Eagles, Sue Sews, Cedar Avenue Inn, Hunters Grill & Bar, Stone Cottage Gardens, Byler’s Woodworking, DeShano, Lakeside Condos, Nor Pro and many cottage signs for local people.
GCR: Did watching your daughter’s dance lessons and recitals plant a seed in your brain with ways to teach dogs dance lessons?
GV: Actually the sport of Canine Musical Freestyle came about in this country a few years before I had to give up doing agility with my dogs. Freestyle has been a competitive sport in the United Kingdom for over 25 years. I guess I wouldn’t call it dance lessons for dogs but rather training to music. The behaviors we teach are basically tricks and heeling patterns choreographed into a routine to music. It was taken from the sport of Dressage with horses. When I first saw the sport, I couldn’t imagine getting up in front of people and dancing with my dog, but I could see that it would be a wonderful way to entertain at the nursing homes. I put together a routine to use for therapy work and then the Freestyle Club in Michigan was going to have their first show in May 2001, in Davisburg. I entered and I was hooked after one show.
GCR: Is the TNT Dog Center a new facility? (Train-N-Trial, 7402 W Wackerly, Midland, www.tntdogcenter.com)
GV: Yes, TNT Dog Center is a brand new business and a new building that was designed and built just for dog training. The grand opening was June 2. Lisa Lundahl is the owner and her assistant is Debbie Eagle. They did a lot of research and built a state-of-the-art training center. I am very fortunate that I was asked to be an instructor for the sport of Canine Freestyle for TNT. I’m thrilled to be part of this new business. They offer classes in Agility and Obedience also.
GCR: Are these the treats you use? Biscuit Bob’s Gourmet Treats in Shelby Township, near Detroit.
GV: Yes, Biscuit Bob’s is one of the treats that I sell. They make a great product and I like to help promote small Michigan businesses. They are hard biscuits, so more for treats instead of training. I also carry another line of training treats made by Cloud Star, also corn & wheat-free, soft and small for training.
GCR: Your travels are year-round circuits. Do you have a personal secretary to keep track of it all?
GV: I love it up here and hope that my health and my husband’s health will remain good so that we can live up here for many years to come. I do spend a lot of time traveling with Teaching Workshops, Judging and competing in Freestyle shows. I also entertain at many Rescue & Shelter Fund raisers and some dog shows and fairs, etc. Now that two of my dogs are retired from showing and I only have the one that is competing, I don’t do the demos as often anymore. No, I don’t have a secretary, thank goodness for computers.
GCR: How did you become involved with DSA?
GV: Dog Scouts of America is a wonderful organization. Lonnie Olson started DSA, based on the premise of teaching Responsible Dog Ownership and doing fun things with your dogs. Dogs are happiest when they have a job and are with us.
Dog Scouts promote Positive Training Methods and hold two week-long camps every summer in St. Helen. Using a clicker and treats is a way to mark the behavior you are asking him to do at the moment that he does it. You mark the behavior, by clicking, at the exact moment the dog does it and then treat him. It sends a very clear message to the dog. I belong to Troop 101, which is Lonnie’s troop. I started teaching at camp in 2009. There are Troops all over the country. People come from all over to go to DSC up here in Michigan.
Learn more at www.dogscouts.org.