Northbrook resident Carlos Aguirre, a veteran with a Purple Heart, became fascinated with the abilities of dogs when he served in Iraq in 2006.

The four-legged animals who searched for hidden weapons and bombs were crucial to some military missions, Aguirre said.

"It's almost like living in a supernatural world," said Aguirre, 28, who served in the United States Marine Corps from 2003 to 2009 and often worked with K9 units. "They can hear, smell, move better than us."

Once he left the military, Aguirre's interest in dogs did not fade.

"I wanted to know how they got the dogs to do what they did," he said.

So after leaving the military, Aguirre went to the Tom Rose School in St. Louis to learn about dog training.

Now, he and his wife Elizabeth Oliva are running a Northbrook-based dog training business called Wolf's Lair K9, which they opened up about a year ago. Aguirre and Oliva, who met at a dog training club in Chicago about two years ago, offer private training, day training and a "lodge and learn" program, during which a dog lives with them for about six to eight weeks.

Oliva has been involved in rescuing dogs since 2006 and has fostered more than 100 pit bulls.

"We're not the typical PetSmart trainers," said Oliva adding that she and Aguirre have extensive experience in dog training together and do additional research depending on a case. The couple own three dogs themselves — two pit bull mixes, Luigi and Capo, and a Belgian Malinois, Beulah.

Oliva's and Aguirre's goal is to train dogs obedience and other skills in a home-like environment while also educating the pets' owners.

"Any trainer can make a dog look good," Aguirre said, adding that the challenge is keeping the dog obedient once a training session stops.

If an owner is nervous, that anxiety can be passed to the pet.

Aguirre said they take everything on a case-by-case basis, but most of the time, there is hope to correct any dog's behavior even if it's older.

Although relatively new, Wolf's Lair already has some loyal followers. Aguirre said the majority of their customers come from Northbrook, Glencoe, Highland Park, Wilmette and Evanston, but they also have clients in Wisconsin, Indiana and other surrounding areas. A training session starts at $85, Aguirre said.

Jeff Kurchel, 49, who lives in Sterling, Ill., said he drives about three hours to Northbrook every month to train his 1-year-old Belgian Malinois Lab mix Phoenix with Aguirre and Oliva.

"They're very motivating and very knowledgeable people," Kurchel said.

Kurchel, who has three dogs in total, takes his pets to different competitions around the country that test their discipline. He said he was looking for professional trainers when he first got Phoenix about 10 months ago.

"When I first brought Phoenix up there, she was a handful," Kurchel said. "But now she's a totally different dog. She's very focused. And Carlos and Eli helped me bring that out in her."

Jessica Turk, 31, who lives in Twin Lakes, Wis., with her husband and their 3-year-old son, said she was nervous at first when she and her husband decided to get a dog.

"I've never had a dog before," Turk said. "I didn't know what to expect."

The family first tried taking their German Shepherd puppy named Khaleesi to a group training session, but the class did not really work, Turk said.

After doing some online research, Turk said she stumbled upon the Wolf's Lair website and decided to try their services out.

"We wanted to make sure that our dog would behave well around people," Turk said. "We didn't want people to be afraid of coming over to our house."

Now it's been about a year since the family have started the training for Khaleesi, and they're very happy with the results, Turk said. She said the dog gets a private training session about every two weeks.

"We made a huge improvement," she said, adding that Khaleesi did not know basic obedience, such as sit and stay-type commands, when the training started. "It's been awesome."

achachkevitch@tribune.com
Twitter: @chachkevitch