By Kierra Pixler, Managing Editor
Lined up on the pavilion in Yettie Polk Park is a pack made up of many different dog breeds, including a corgi/retriever mix and a Belgian Malinois. Justin Larsen, owner of Furry Heroes Dog Training puts on the weekly dog obedience classes with his two assistant dog trainers. They’re passionate about training dogs and their owners, from teaching puppy kindergarten to intermediate and advanced classes. The hour-long classes include teaching dogs basic obedience as well as socialization; adult manners, and problem-solving skills.
Jonathan Simmons started off as a client of Larsen’s, but is now training dogs along side him. Simmons spent four years in the Marine Corps and is finishing his last year in the national guard. Suffering from PTSD, training dogs has proved to be therapeutic for him.
“I grew up around dogs,” Simmons said. “We had five pugs and helping take care of them is where my love for dogs started. I suffer from PTSD and being around dogs has been a positive coping method when it comes to that. Helping others when it comes to the same problem is a goal of mine and I just want to give back in any way that I can.”
He brings his deaf two year-old pit bull Achilles with him to sessions. Simmons adopted him from the Killeen Animal Shelter a year ago and stated that training Achilles has been a challenge, but a rewarding one at that. Establishing a constant line of communication is key when it comes to training a special needs dog who doesn’t have all of his senses available.
“I train him using a special collar that I control with a remote,” Simmons explained. “It puts off a vibration each time I push it. Achilles has responded very well to it. I’ve been training him with it for four months and so far, he knows sit, down, place and heel.
Having grown up in Jamaica, Tiffany Fudger used to watch her grandmother feed the stray dogs that would wonder the streets. Fudger is Larsen’s newest dog trainer and already has the hang of things after three weeks on the job. She knows the importance of positive reinforcement and how it strengthens the bond that you share with your dog.
“I want to show families that training your dog properly is possible,” Fudger said. “It’s important, especially when you have little kids in the household.”
Larsen is helping fellow veterans further their education by partnering up with a non-profit organization that trains dogs. His goal is to provide others with the opportunities that he didn’t have.
“Right now, I’m looking to partner up with a company called Universal K9, which is based out of San Antonio,” Larsen said. “I’ll be sending people over to their school for the first four weeks of their training programs and after that, they’ll have a year-long apprenticeship, during which they’ll get paid from the GI Bill. This opportunity wasn’t outlined to me when I got out of the Marine Corps and it took me a long time to find a career I truly love. I know there are other veterans out there like me that would find enjoyment and fulfillment out of helping dogs fit better into our families; and I would love to help them with this.”
Larsen is in talks with an undisclosed veterinarian to open a full-service facility that will offer a veterinary clinic, indoor dog park and a training facility in the all in the same building.
“Currently, we are shopping around in buildings,” Larsen said. “I’ve been looking in the Belton area because of how nice it is here. Furry Heroes Dog Training is going to be a part of a much larger entity and I’m really excited for this opportunity.”
Classes are offered Friday during the evenings at Yettie Polk Park in Belton and Monday evenings at the Killeen Community Center Park in Killeen. Larsen also offers private instruction.