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March 2, 2021

Q&A: Local dog trainer stresses respect, discipline

Photo/Don Del Rosso
Brian Kerchner started Good Dog Workshop in 2008, after closing his graphic design business.
I don’t fix other people’s dogs; I help them fix the relationship between them and their dogs.
Good Dog Workshop
• What: Dog training business that provides in-home, one-on-one behavioral instruction for pets and owners alike.

• Where: Near Warrenton.

• Owner: Brian Kerchner.

• Staff: Owner and two staff behavior trainers.

• Established: 2008.

• Phone: 703-489-1319

• Website:

• Facebook: Click here
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
The Warrenton area dog trainer got a puppy a couple of years after he graduated from Virginia Tech with a bachelor’s degree in architecture.

Little did the 20-something Brian Kerchner know, but the purchase of a 3-month-old German shepherd called Annie — the first dog he ever owned — would ignite a passion for canines that led to a decades-long-deferred career calling.

Midway through college, Mr. Kerchner grew disenchanted with architecture.

“I finished the program and was working with a buddy of mine in graphic design,” recalled Mr. Kerchner, 51. “And then I started freelancing on my own.”

Meanwhile, because of Annie, he became increasingly interested in dogs and active with rescue groups.

Foster volunteers repeatedly marveled at his deft touch with dogs.

“ ‘You always have the calmest dogs’,” Mr. Kerchner said they told him. “And I got to thinking about it and thought, ‘I’m not getting calm dogs, I’m actually creating calm dogs. And, I really enjoy this’.”

So in 2008, Mr. Kerchner closed his graphic design business (“I was kind of burned out from it.”) and launched Good Dog Workshop, which provides in-home, one-on-one training for pets and their owners.

“To me, architecture, graphic design, dog training — it’s all problem-solving,” he said. “You go to a client’s house and there’s a dog with issues, you have to solve the problems. So for me, it was kind of easy to go from one to the other.”

Mr. Kerchner and two staff behavior trainers — Marina Finelli and Josh Sowers — address an array of dog challenges, including anxiety, fear, nervousness, aggression towards dogs or people, destructive chewing, obsessive barking, jumping on people, housebreaking and socialization.

For the most part, a two-hour “evaluations and behavior” session can answer all of a clients’ questions, Mr. Kerchner said.

“Their brains are full after that, because we put out a lot of information, and we’re doing a lot of hands-on demonstrations with their dogs,” he said of owners. “We bring our dogs with us when we go to a client’s house so that we can help show them how to properly and safely socialize their dogs.”

Good Dog offers phone consultations, topic-focused seminars and workshops for people who want a “comprehensive” understanding of dogs.

The company also provides educational opportunities for animal shelter staffers and dog rescue volunteers.

Mr. Kerchner and his wife Michelle have an Australian cattle dog, a chocolate Labrador retriever and a beagle.

• What are the most common dog behavior issues?
Three things. First, pulling on the leash. People call us about that all of the time. Second, a dog snapping at a person, sometimes another dog. The third is a dog jumping on people when they enter the house.

• Do you have a favorite breed to train?
Professionally, I don’t. Generally, what it comes down to is seeing the change in one session that we can make with the dog and/or the people, because we’re there to train the people as much as the dog.

• What about personally?
I love the herding dogs — German shepherds, cattle dogs; I had a Corgi for a short time that I took in to re-home.

Their mindset just clicks with me. They have a strong connection with a human handler. The herding dogs’ job is to do a job we tell them and come back and check with us, get a new assignment, go do that assignment and come check in.

• What’s the easiest breed to train?
Probably a Labrador. They have such a high desire to please. They have that connection to people of give me a job, I’ll go do it, I’ll check in with you, I’ll get another job and I’ll go out and do it.

Also, they have a very low tendency towards challenging their handler or towards aggression.

• The most difficult to train?
It kind of depends on who you are. Someone who was a K-9 police officer or in the military with a ton of discipline and a ton of structure would probably have very little difficulty working with a Belgian Malinois.

But anyone without a very high level of discipline and structure and not willing to provide a high level exercise for their dog, the Belgian Malinois is one of the toughest — not to train, because they’re smart — but to own, because they’re so active.

I think Rottweilers can be difficult to train because they tend to be pretty stubborn.

• Let’s say I get a puppy, and I’ve had it for two or three years. It won’t pay attention to me and always acts up, misbehaves. Is he untrainable?
No. It just takes figuring out what his needs are in order to be a good student.

• Ever turn down a dog and owner for training?
Sometimes, I’ll tell people with simple behavior challenges, “Why don’t you try walking your dog three miles a day for seven days and then give me a call back.”

See if it’s an energy crisis and if exercise will make a difference on that.

A lot of dogs — if they don’t get any exercise — their behavior just can’t be good.

Some people push back and say they can’t do it. And I’ll suggest a dog-walker or a family member helping out. If I feel that people are just resistant because they don’t want to do the work, we might not be the right trainer for them and their dog.

I don’t fix other people’s dogs; I help them fix the relationship between them and their dogs.

• Can dogs be spoiled to the detriment of their behavior?
Yes, but it’s not that the dog is spoiled because it’s given too much affection or too much love. It’s that the affection or love is disproportionate to the amount of discipline and leadership it receives from the same person.

• What’s your position on feeding food scraps to dogs directly from the table?
I’m fine with most things that a lot of other trainers are not comfortable with or disagree with — a dog sleeping with you in bed and getting up on the furniture, feeding them from the table.

The reason that can work without any problem at all, without the dog thinking he owns your house, is respect. And so if a dog is calm, submissive and respectful, I like to provide that dog what the dog wants in that moment.

But they have to do everything, first and foremost, in a respectful way.

Contact Don Del Rosso at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or 540-270-0300.
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JudicialEthics · March 3, 2021 at 7:29 am
Dogs, horses, children, colleagues, judges . . . it's all the same: teach and require discipline and respect. Rewards of appropriate admiration/affection if conduct is appropriate. If conduct is out of line: re-train.
kimberlyjose · March 3, 2021 at 4:23 am
One thing is for sure, if you do educational training with your puppy, it will be easy for you to train an adult dog in the future. And you can forget about behavior correction altogether if you are raising your puppy correctly.
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