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Dog Day Afternoon

A Bark Busters franchisee helps dogs, and their families, get on their best behavior.

Biting, barking, chewing, mangling--Kathy Plourde sees it all. Every day she works with families whose dogs are having obedience problems. Many times it's minor: A puppy needs to get off on the right foot or a dog barks through the night. Sometimes, though, if biting is involved, this visit could mean the difference between life and death for a dog.

Plourde, a Bark Busters franchisee in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, begins her day at 8 each morning in her home office, responding to phone calls and e-mails from prospective clients. An hour later she's in the home of the day's first client.

This rat terrier has been biting people and other dogs. Plourde works with the dog, and its owner, on the aggression problem, and, at the end of the session, the dog is no longer displaying aggressive behavior. The dog's owner is so happy with the results that she gives Plourde a big hug.

Like this one, each session lasts about two hours (Plourde charges $295 for the first dog and $100 for each additional dog). The first 45 minutes are spent talking with the family, discussing the dog's problem and any possible causes. "Every session I go out on is like putting a puzzle together," says Plourde, 50. "People tell you their dog is biting people, but there's a reason why dogs do everything, so it's pretty interesting putting that puzzle together and figuring out why the dog's acting like that."

Once the problem is dissected, the training begins. Plourde has the owners work with the dog, so they can learn to control the animal. "If I went in and trained someone's dog, it would respect me, but when I left, all that would go with me, and [the family would] be left with the same dog they had before," she explains.

At the end of the session, Plourde leaves the family with a bit of homework--15 minutes of exercises to do every day for five weeks. The client can call Plourde back if there are any problems, free of charge for the life of the dog. If there are no more problems, Plourde won't return to the home. All puppies, however, get follow-up visits. "We can't teach a puppy everything at one time, so we go back probably four times," she says.

Plourde's second session of the day, which begins at noon, is a serious case. This German Shepherd got out of its yard and bit a neighbor. The neighbor called animal control and is asking that the dog be destroyed. Animal control suggested the family call Bark Busters before having the dog put down.

After talking with the owners, Plourde identified the problem: The family had put the dog into a leadership role. "Often dogs are put into a leadership position in the pack and it's too stressful for them," Plourde explains. "They think they have to protect this pack of people and little kids, and they'll strike out at people because of that."

Two hours later, the dog, and its family, made quite a turnaround. Because of Plourde, this dog's life was saved. "I wanted to do something that meant something, that made a difference to somebody's life, and this does," she says. "This gets dogs and people living happily together. It's saving dogs' lives and putting people at peace."

Plourde has one more session today: helping a Labrador Retriever get along with other dogs. The franchisee brings one of her own dogs to the session, and, by the end of their time together, the Labrador is no longer aggressive toward the other dog.

Bringing families these kind of happy endings is quite a change of pace from the days Plourde led while working in retail. "I got to a point in my life where it was, 'What do I really want to do?' and 'Where is my passion?' "What would I do if talent and money were no object?'" Plourde says.

A chance meeting with Andrew Brooke, one of the people who brought the Australia-based Bark Busters to the United States, helped Plourde answer some of those questions. Plourde, a lifelong dog owner and lover, was interested in working with dogs. When Brooke told her Bark Busters was offering franchises, Plourde found what she was looking for.

Plourde, who joined Bark Busters last July, works about six days a week on the franchise. She sets at least one day aside to spend with her husband, two sons and three dogs.

After her third session, Plourde heads home. Her husband, Peter, is in the office--he quit his job a few months ago to handle the bookkeeping and paperwork for the business. "He stays home and works in the office here and does all that for me so I can go train dogs and have fun," she says.

And Plourde is having fun working with dogs and their families. She is also excited for the possibilities Bark Busters has presented, including possibly taking on a director position in the head office, which is based in Plourde's hometown. "I look long range," she says, "and I do talk openly to [Bark Busters corporate] about those possibilities."

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