WALLINGFORD — After having the launch of his dog training business disrupted by the coronavirus outbreak, Jeff Mastropetre is also dealing with getting dogs comfortable around people wearing facemasks.
“Some dogs are just downright afraid of people in general and then you add this mask element — it’s covering your facial features and the dog can't read you … it can be scary for a lot of dogs,” said Mastropetre, a Wallingford resident who launched Kiss K9 Training on Quigley Road in May.
The first few weeks he was open was slow, but people have grown more comfortable with resuming some activity during the pandemic.
“People are very scared about meeting with people or having people come to their home,” he said.
Mastropetre had already planned to hold training sessions outside dog owners’ homes, so the main adjustment has been wearing masks and staying distanced.
He prefers holding lessons at clients’ homes to get at the root of their pets’ behavioral issues.
“Over time I learned that most of people’s problems are at their home,” he said. “ … When you’re trying to fix a particular behavior, usually the dog only exhibits that at home.”
Though he grew up with dogs, Mastropetre only recently began training them professionally. It started when he sought training for his own dog. He eventually landed an apprenticeship at Laurie Fass Dog Training in Newington.
Fass, who worked with Mastropetre for about a year, said she was impressed with his patience and listening skills.
“I think he’s a very sincere person who cares a lot about helping people with their dogs,” she said.
The ethos she taught Mastropetre blends corrective action to deter bad behavior and positive reinforcement. They both disagree with the notion of always rewarding behavior with treats, though Fass said there’s no hard and fast formula that works for all dogs and owners.
“Using cookies does not solve all problems, so you need to know when to be softer (and) when to use corrections,” Fass said.
Fass’ business has canceled group classes and all her sessions are also outdoors. Bringing the dogs outside is doubly important now, she said, since they’re typically getting less socialization with other dogs now that owners are going out less.
Mastropetre often works with difficult dogs who might otherwise be destined for shelters, but he says the principals he uses work with all dogs. Most of the training is centered around getting owners and their dog comfortable with each other. Being able to take walks together is vital.
“There’s a saying in training: a tired dog is a good dog,” he said.