Falls dog trainer keeps it real

Hintzman provides dog obedience training at Ruff Academy
by Jeff Pederson Sheboygan Falls News Editor

REBEKAH HINTZMAN of Sheboygan Falls has operated Ruff Academy dog training service for the past two years. Hintzman provides in-home private training and behavior modification, as well as regular outdoor obedience and agility classes at Happy Tails pet grooming and boarding facility east of Howards Grove. 
Falls NewsphotobyJeffPederson REBEKAH HINTZMAN of Sheboygan Falls has operated Ruff Academy dog training service for the past two years. Hintzman provides in-home private training and behavior modification, as well as regular outdoor obedience and agility classes at Happy Tails pet grooming and boarding facility east of Howards Grove. Falls NewsphotobyJeffPederson The bond that is formed between a dog owner and their dog is typically unbreakable and often unexplainable .

While a dog owner may love their dog unconditionally, that does not mean they always love the way their dog behaves.

That is where Rebekah Hintzman of Sheboygan Falls comes in. Hintzman has been involved in training, rescuing, grooming and boarding dogs for the better part of the past 23 years.

After serving in various positions involving the care of dogs, Hintzman has stepped out on her own to open Ruff Academy, dog training service which provides real life training in areas that provide the kind of distractions and scenarios that dogs encounter on a daily basis.

RUFF ACADEMY, owned by Sheboygan Falls dog trainer Rebekah Hintzman, offers regular outdoor obedience and agility classes at Happy Tails pet grooming and boarding facility on State 42 east of Howards Grove. - Submitted photo RUFF ACADEMY, owned by Sheboygan Falls dog trainer Rebekah Hintzman, offers regular outdoor obedience and agility classes at Happy Tails pet grooming and boarding facility on State 42 east of Howards Grove. - Submitted photo “I’ve noticed through my years as a trainer that nearly all training classes are conducted indoors in quiet environments with little distractions,” Hintzman said. “I would always hear people say that their dog listened and behaved great during the class, but once they walked out the door the poor behavior started right up again.

“That got me thinking that providing training in a real life environment outdoors, in public places and in high areas of distraction would be beneficial for the dogs,” he said. “It is very important for dogs to learn how to behave in their regular environment. It made a lot of sense, but yet few people were really doing it that way.”

Hintzman has been involved in caring for dogs for as long as she can remember. As a kid growing up in Menominee, Hintzman wanted a dog and asked her parents for one repeatedly and unsuccessfully.

“After hearing about how I wanted a dog, my dad suggested that we start a dog day care service.” Hintzman said. “I don’t think he truly understood what we were getting ourselves into. We would have 4, 5, 6 dogs come in every weekend, which turned out to be quite a bit of work, but it was also very rewarding for me personally.

“Over the years, my brother talked about starting a dog grooming and boarding service, but he never did it,” she said. “Instead, I started doing grooming and boarding right out of high school. Later, I went to work at the Humane Society in Menominee as an adoption counselor. I held a few other jobs here and there, but I always came back to working with dogs.”

Hintzman came to Sheboygan in 2005 after she landed a job as a dog trainer at Pet Smart.

“The dog training job at Pet Smart was only supposed to be part-time, but I thought it was a good opportunity to expand my horizons as a dog trainer,” Hintzman said. “A short time later, my part-time job at Pet Smart turned into a full-time job, which was a great job for me for a number of years.”

After eight years of working at Pet Smart, Hintzman got the urge to take a chance and do her own thing.

“I worked at Pet Smart doing dog training for a long time and it got to the point where I started thinking strongly about starting my own business,” Hintzman said. “I did some obedience and agility training classes last summer. After doing that, I started to get a number of requests from people to do in-home training and other types of training, so in November 2014, I decided to go out on my own full-time.”

This summer Hintzman is offering outdoor obedience and agility classes at Happy Tails grooming and boarding facility on State 42 east of Howards Grove, which provides ample space and perfect conditions for her real-life training style.

“My original thought was to open an indoor dog park, which would allow for indoor training, while also offering plenty of outside space for outdoor training sessions,” she said. “I still have that dream, but for now I like what I’m doing. Randy and Diane Schmidt, who own Happy Tails, have been great to me. Randy brought one of their dogs to one of my classes last summer and we got to talking, which led to me coming to Happy Tails to offer my classes this year.”

Hintzman offers basic obedience and more advance agility classes in six-week intervals throughout the year.

During the summer months, classes are held at Happy Tails while Sud-Z-Paws in Sheboygan serves as the home of the classes through the remainder of the year.

Basic obedience classes are held for one hour on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6-7 p.m. Agility classes are held after the obedience classes from 7:15-8:15 p.m. Upon completion of a six-week class, each dog and owner receives a certificate of completion.

“The obedience class covers basic commands like sitting, laying down, staying, calling and responding, healing, watching and potty training if that is needed,” Hintzman said. “This class is generally for new, rescued or older dogs that need a brush up on behavior communications. The dogs in this class often have issues with nipping, chewing, jumping and barking, which we work on specifically based on the needs of the dogs and owners in each class.”

Hintzman says many of the dog owners choose to enroll their dogs in the agility class after completing the obedience class.

“I normally recommend taking the obedience class before the agility class because it kind of serves as a natural progression,” Hintzman said. “In the agility class, we use some equipment like tunnels, tires and jumps, which the dogs really love. The agility class helps to simulate a dog’s mind and it serves as a team building exercise between the dog and the owner. Much of what we do in the agility class is off leash, which helps to build confidence and leads to further interaction between dogs and owners about being off the leash. All of the agility equipment is low impact, so nearly all dogs are able to do it.”

According to Hintzman, each class typically draws five to six dogs.

“I like that the classes are normally fairly small, which allows for more one-on-one time,” Hintzman said. “I really like the fact that the outdoor area we have at Happy Tails provides numerous distractions which the dogs must learn to deal with in order to complete the training. After a while, the dogs get used to ignoring those distractions.

“I have to really thank Randy and Diane Schmidt, the owners of Happy Tails, for offering me this space to train dogs outdoors,” she said. “They have been nothing but supportive of me, which is so awesome.”

Aside from offering classes, Hintzman also does in-home training for dogs that have particular behavior issues.

“In-home training is another facet of what I do,” Hintzman said. “Often times, this requires working with bully breeds that have particular behavior issues that need to be addressed in a more personal and intense manner. Some people just don’t know what a particular breed of dog is capable of doing and that is when I come in to educate them. I enjoy helping people understand what to do when encountering certain situations with their dog.

“During the in-home training visits, I try to examine the behavior closely and pick apart what is happening and why it is happening,” she said. “I work with a lot of aggressive dogs, which can be a challenge, but it is also rewarding when you see progress. People often come to me as a last resort for addressing their dog’s behavior, but my hope is that down the line they will come to me first before going anywhere else to address these issue.”

Hintzman prefers to utilize positive reinforcement in her dog training methods. She does not include any kind of electronic training, or use choke or prong collars, during her classes.

“I do not have any electronic training equipment, which some trainers use to set boundaries through electronic wire and collar shocks,” Hintzman said. “I believe that electronics should only be used to train hunting dogs, not household dogs.

“I also don’t condone or recommend the old school yank and crank style choke or prong collars, which use pressure to stop dogs from pulling,” she said. “I prefer to use a gentle leader head collar, which allows a dog owner to lead their dog in an easier, less aggressive manner. If people want to use those methods, that’s fine, but I have always believed positive reinforcement is the best way to go when training dogs and that is what I try to do every day.”

Aside from her work with Ruff Academy, Hintzman is deeply devoted to giving back to the community through a number of dog rescue, therapy and support projects.

“I do a lot of community work through various rescue and therapy organizations,” Hintzman said. “Through my volunteer work, I am very active in the Ruff Dog Project, which has partnered with Sandi Paws Rescue, Two Left Paws, Country Mile Kennel and PURR-Fect Match Animal Rescue to help with dog rescuing, training and foster care.

“Also, if someone has a disability and needs a companion dog to be with them, I can help and if someone wants a dog to go into nursing homes or hospitals, I can help them with that as well,” she said. “I really enjoy the volunteer and community-based projects that I am involved in. It gives me a great feeling that we are helping these dogs and helping them to potentially get matched up with new owners. I feel that the more we can make the Sheboygan County area more dog friendly, the better. Education is the biggest thing. I always like to inform people about all of the options and opportunities that are out to help out the local community.”

Hintzman says a good referral base and word-of-mouth endorsements have helped to grow Ruff Academy into an increasingly successful business venture.

“I have been fortunate to have a good referral network that has supported Ruff Academy,” Hintzman said. “The dog community is a very tight-knit one and I enjoy being a part of it. Although I have done other things over the years to make a living, dog training has been a huge part of my life. I always seem to come back to it, probably because it is not just a job to me. I find it to be truly fun and rewarding.”

Hintzman offers free consultations to first-time clients seeking assistance in modifying their dog’s behavior.

“When someone new comes to me asking for help, I come to the person’s house and conduct a free consultation that runs about 30 minutes to an hour,” Hintzman said. “During the consultation, I assess the dog, the dog owner and the general situation in the home. I provide a game plan as to what should be done and provide a timeframe on how long it might take to complete the training process.”

Looking to the future, Hintzman is hoping that Ruff Academy continues to connect closely with area dog owners.

“I am pleased with how Ruff Academy has grown and excelled over the past two years,” Hintzman said. “My ultimate goal is to have my own indoor-outdoor training facility someday. That is a pretty big goal, but I believe that it can be done.

“I really enjoy the Sheboygan area, especially Sheboygan Falls,” she said. “I have lived in Sheboygan Falls for the past two years and I really love it in Falls. My intentions are to grow Ruff Academy and stay in the area for many years to come.”

For more information on Ruff Academy, call Rebekah Hintzman at 920-277-7473, online at ruffacademywi.com, email at rhintzman78@gmail.com or via Facebook.

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