Alternative Canine Training

Alternative Canine Training

Veteran dog trainer helps local dog recover from trauma

By Chris Jackett
Posted October 3, 2012

ROYAL OAK — Sharon Awbrey’s Jack Russell terrier mix was having trouble adjusting.

Having moved to Clawson from Texas in April 2012 after experiencing a trio of traumatizing events, Button’s behavior was all over the place.

“The dog actually belonged to my ex-husband,” Awbrey said, while noting she helped raise Button as a puppy before the couple split and moved several states apart. “He was murdered and she witnessed the whole thing. They found her in a truck 18 hours later (in Texas). They didn’t think she would make it. And then they took her to the pound, and then I got her and took her home with me to Michigan.

“When I first got her here, she was eating and destroying everything in the house. She was extremely nervous; she’d jump and bark at anything. I knew I needed some help.”

Between the murder, sweltering stay in a truck, visit to the pound and then moving to Michigan, Button was emotionally off-key. But Awbrey found Royal Oak resident Bonny Wainz in June, and she has been the savior of the Awbrey household.

“I found her brochure along with three others and something appealed to me. One thing is they came to your home where the problem is,” Awbrey said. “She worked with Button for maybe half an hour and I saw this was a match.”

When it comes to canine behavior, Wainz has seen it all.

After 25 years as a dog trainer, the past 12 years as CEO and co-founder of Alternative Canine Training, the 51-year-old Wainz has been all over the tri-county area, making house calls and hosting group training sessions for the most troubled of pups.

“I do group classes at Pet Supplies Plus at 12 and Woodward in Royal Oak,” Wainz said. “We walk dogs around the city. We’ll have sessions. We’ll even do group classes and take them through downtown.”

With her first taste of dog training at age 12, when she took her dog along with her on her paper route, Wainz got even more involved immediately upon entering adulthood.

“Initially, it was working with my own dog, and then I got an Irish wolfhound and was competing in obedience competitions,” Wainz said. “It was initially a hobby and I made a little bit of money. My background was in engineering. I did drafting on the board way back when. Working with the dogs was just a way to relax and have fun.”

Wainz went on to connect with several pets like Button and owners like Awbrey during the past few decades. With four-, eight- and 15-week class options, Button just completed the 15-week session last week.

“This dog would jump on everybody, chew up everything and bark at everyone,” Awbrey said. “She now obeys hand signals from a distance, lets people pet her and heels without a leash. She is a totally changed dog.

“In 15 lessons, she has gone from total disobedience, destroying furniture and barking at everyone to today I put her in the sit/stay position, got her to come to me with just a hand signal and then stop and sit/stay midway to me.”

Awbrey said Wainz’s non-aggressive training measures are effective to the point where people stop her on the street to comment at how well-behaved Button is.

Wainz has a variety of methods for treating various issues, but she said the most important things to focus on are body language, including the tone of voice and facial expressions. Also, praise and treats, such as hot dog chunks or cheese, are helpful.

In the case of aggressive dogs who may growl or snap around their food or toys, a spray bottle or shakable can may also be alternated with the praise and snacks to give the pets something to correlate to good and bad behaviors.

“Sometimes, just by substituting, it works. Other times, you need to correct the behavior,” Wainz said. “It always depends on the dog. The more people you have do it, the more OK the dog will be with other people around. Most of them turn out positive and are doing wonderful.

“One of the biggest reasons people get bit is their dog is barking out the window at something and you go to grab the collar.”

Wainz said owners need to display that they’re the alpha leader in various situations, while also creating a relationship with their pet based on equality, love and respect.

“I think the biggest thing is trying to have equality with their dogs,” Wainz said.

Awbrey said Wainz’s style is what won her over to sign Button up for the maximum class length.

“She fully explains what she is doing with your dog and why she was doing it,” Wainz said. “She’s one of the best trainers I’ve ever met and I’ve met a lot of trainers. I used to own horses. A lot of them control by fear and that’s not what Bonny does. She’s happy and playful. I think she’s better than the dog whisperer (Cesar Milan). You don’t know what happens behind the scenes (on television).

“Button is very well-trained. I still need to be trained. This is really not dog training, this is owner training.”

For more information on Wainz and Alternative Canine Training, visit or call (734) 462-2810.

Royal Oak resident Bonnie Wainz, left, leads 4-year-old Jack Russell terrier mix Button through the aisles of Pet Supplies Plus as owner Sharon Awbrey, of Clawson, right, and Birmingham resident Marilyn Faust watch. Wainz has been training dogs, including those who have had traumatic experiences like Button, for 25 years. (Photo by Deb Jacques)