Marian Zak was 8 when she trained her first dog. She used "a bell and Pavlov psychology," she says.
"I was in need of a school science project so I decided I could teach Taffy, my Boston terrier and Bull terrier mix, to behave the way Pavlov's animals did in his psychological experiment. He rang a bell every time he offered food, which resulted in the animal salivating whenever it heard a bell.
"I really worked with Taffy, but instead of drooling, Taffy would sit straight Pausing with pets
up every time she heard the bell. One day my brother rang the bell while Taffy was asleep under the coffee table and her response sent the table up in the air, over on its side, and all my mother's little treasures went flying all over. At the time it wasn't funny," says Mrs. Zak, who remembers that her mother did bring Taffy to school for her demonstration of obedience and she received an "A" for that project.
For 21 years, Mrs. Zak has been an obedience trainer and has bred German shepherds and Akitas. In her Marjo Kennel in Westminster she has a German shepherd and three Akitas.
Her shepherd, called Linc and officially named Banburycross Linc Von Marjo, is her first German shepherd in 12 years.
"I didn't like a certain style and temperament that was developing in the shepherd," she says. "Breeders seemed far more interested in the low-slung back quarters than they were concerned with good temperament. I kept my older shepherds until they died, and about five years ago I began looking for one with beauty and brains which I could show in conformation and train in obedience and tracking.
"I found Linc with a friend, Gail Ladd, whom I met in training 10 years ago. I liked her shepherds so I am now beginning a new stock," says Mrs. Zak.
Three-year-old Linc has his Companion Dog title in obedience but has not yet achieved Championship.
Mrs. Zak, her husband, Joseph, and four children moved from Baltimore to Westminster 19 years ago. He is with Super Fresh food markets and she is secretary at The Forest Inn, a restaurant on Route 140 in Reisterstown. Their children are Dawn, 30; Joseph Jr., 27; Cheryl, 24, and Eric, 22.
All her dogs are free in the house when Mrs. Zak is home and they are in their crates when she is away.
She is an advocate of crate training and she explains why.
"A dog has a need to den, and his crate becomes his den. It is a safe place to put him, or with the door open for him to go when he is tired. It is a place where he will never be disturbed and should never be a place where he is put for punishment," she says.
"I raised four children with Akitas and German shepherds and never had to worry one minute about what would happen with my dogs no matter how many children came visiting. My dogs knew they could go to their crate when they wanted to," she says.
"And, a dog in my house has rights just as everyone else has. I taught my children respect for them as living, feeling beings to be fed, loved and treated fairly. The No. 1 rule was that when a dog went to his crate he was never to be disturbed," she says.
Son Eric took the lesson to heart.
"Eric was about 5 and I was correcting him for doing something he should not have done, and he went flying to one of the empty crates. When I told him to come out of there, that I wasn't finished with him yet, he looked out from the crate and said 'You can't bother me, I'm in the crate.' I cracked up."
As president of the Greater Baltimore Akita Club, Mrs. Zak says the Akita is not for everyone. They are headstrong, independent and aloof, not seeming to want affection. "This isn't true because they probably have stronger affection for their owners than most breeds, and they are incredibly loyal and intelligent. They have great dignity, which an owner must preserve," she says.
Travis, her 10-year-old Akita, had throat cancer and was put down last month.
"Our veterinarian, Dr. Timothy Sorrells at the Manchester Veterinary Clinic in Manchester, diagnosed Travis the week there was an Akita show. Travis loved to go to shows. So I entered him, one last time, in the parade of champions, and he walked so proud that day and everyone in the room gave him a standing ovation. He was so pleased he strutted."
Mrs. Zak finds it difficult to talk about Travis and the good years. "He was the dog that I used to demonstrate obedience to classes. He understood everything and he'd listen to my obedience talk with a look that said, 'I know this and you know I know this, so bug off' and then, before I would even ask him to obey a certain command he'd go ahead and do it before I asked," she says.
For any dog, she believes, obedience training and non-violent discipline is essential to a good life. Training should be with voice and hand commands and praise. "But I do not believe in training a dog with food treats. If a dog is not hungry, a treat is not important to him," she says.
Mrs. Zak gives private lessons and holds classes in her home or a nearby park. "I don't like to go into a dog's home and begin vTC telling him what to do," she says. Mrs. Zak may be reached by writing to her at 2228 Snydersburg Road, Westminster, 21157.