Dog trainer explains labor of animal coaching

Toni Bailey has been raising and training collies for over 25 years. She walked in the Tahlequah Christmas parade while Dave pulled a sulky.

When Toni Bailey was a young girl, she read books by Albert Payson Terhune, which made her become attached to the idea of raising collies. Now, many decades later, she has show collies and helps others train their dogs.

A collie didn't come into her life until the 1990s, and she rescued it from the city pound.

"I had it two years and realized that one collie wasn't enough," said Bailey, who was raised in Memphis, but has lived in Tahlequah for 40 years.

A breeder in Pennsylvania contacted Bailey, and she claimed James.

With James, Bailey got into canine freestyle dance, and learning about training.

"Collies are one of the most versatile dogs you can get, not to mention the most beautiful," she said.

Her collies, Curtis, 5, and Dave, 4, are well trained and enjoy showing off. Dave pulled a sulky, lightweight, two-wheeled cart in the 2019 Tahlequah Christmas parade.

"Also last month, they collected almost $1,000 for the Salvation Army when we rang the bell at Walmart," said Bailey. "The collies are training for a herding trial this spring and also compete in canine freestyle dance. And, of course, they are maturing nicely enough to win points in the breed ring.

They are also therapy dogs certified with Alliance of Therapy Dogs.

"You have to be bonded and have certain tests every year. After you do get certified, you have to have an insurance policy for over $1 million," said Bailey. "You can't just walk in and say I want to be a therapy dog owner. They have to trust and believe in you."

Bailey has taken the collies to nursing homes, schools, and libraries.

She also takes them to school with her, as she teaches dog obedience classes at Indian Capital Technology Center in Tahlequah and Muskogee, and does private training. They are her "demo dogs," she said.

Her classes are open to all ages of dogs, but they tend to fill up fast.

"Training dogs is a lot of work. Students get into class and half of them drop out, asking, 'I have to do this every day?' You have to do it every day," she said. "Everybody is trainable. Mostly it's the people I train."

She said one of the most important things to training a dog is to have a bond.

"If you have a bond with an animal, you guys can learn anything together," said Bailey.

Another key aspect is communication.

"No matter the breed, dogs are not stupid. A lot of times we don't communicate properly," she said. "You have to communicate with a positive attitude and kindness. No hitting; no violence; no ugly stuff; no jerk and snap."

Bailey uses a clicker to further train animals, including her cat.

"You use the clicker to mark behaviors. It takes a lot to learn it, but when everybody learns it, training goes quickly and smoothly," she said. "It's a quick way of teaching what you want them to learn."

Bailey suggests people truly consider their long-term plans of being a pet owner before taking on the responsibility.

"A dog can live 15 years. You have to make a plan in case something happens to you," she said.

"Owning a dog is not for the lazy."

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