Good Citizens from Paw to Tail: The Charles River Dog Training Club

 

Tuesday evenings at the Waltham Field Station are anything but sleepy. When the offices close and the fields empty, the Charles River Dog Training Club (CRDTC) brings in new energy. People and their puppies occupy the station, turning the bottom floor and rose garden into lively classrooms. The CRDTC is the second oldest non-profit dog training club in Massachusetts, founded in 1941. With the mission to “train all breeds of dogs as companions, as well as for competition,” CRDTC trainers have been connecting local pets and owners at the Waltham Field Station for more than a decade.

 

On one such evening, I spoke with Gwen Beaven, club president and dog owner. Walking to the first-floor entrance from the parking lot, I was immediately greeted by Gwen’s German Shepherd. Five-year-old Frank comes to hip height, and has plush, solid black fur with big brown eyes. Though I could tell he was anxious to join his canine classmates, he patiently waited for me and Gwen to finish talking before we stepped into class and joined the action. Through our conversation, she offered me insight into the CRTDC’s essential services, and niche within the larger field station community.

 

Gwen Beaven got involved with the Charles River Dog Training Club in 2005, hoping to learn how she could best manage her first dog’s behavior as an inexperienced new owner. Taking classes with her trainer and then-president of the club, dog training became an unexpectedly important part of her life. Coming full circle, Gwen is now club President, a trainer, and member of 15 years. Her favorite part of working for the club in all that time has been the sheer diversity of her fellow members. She finds joy in the many different dog varieties, and owner experiences, that she joins with in class.

 

The CRDTC is an American Kennel Club (AKC) affiliate with no breed specifications, meaning any dog owner can apply to become a member. Looking at Frank’s fellow classmates, you can tell: a huge German Shepherd himself, he trained alongside a sweet, orange Corgi, a perky-eared Shetland Sheepdog, a curious Poodle, and many others. No dog in the room looked the same! CRDTC holds AKC trials twice a year, open to pups of all shapes and sizes to compete and learn together. That particular evening, the gathering I witnessed was a casual summer class. Students from Waltham and other local communities were learning how to use praises, rewards, and release commands to communicate efficiently with their dogs. During the year, classes are even more specific. The Bear Hill Road location hosts classes on competition skills and obedience. Meanwhile, the Waltham Field Station hosts the CRDTC’s popular puppy obedience, obedience for companionship, and Canine Good Citizenship classes, as well as Canine Good Citizen tests.

 

Canine Good Citizenship (CGC) is a program run by the AKC which trains dogs and owners in good behavior. Dogs learn how to be part of a community—receiving training in friendly interaction and household routines. Their humans learn responsible dog ownership. Upon completion, they are eligible to earn official certification after passing a final test and pledging to care for their dog’s safety and quality of life. Gwen told me that clubs who offer CGC training, like the CRDTC, are more and more of a “big need.” Dog rescue and adoption is a more popular option for prospective dog owners with each passing year. By offering CGC classes, CRDTC improves the experience of new rescue dog owners, provides steady employment and support opportunities for local dog training professionals, and most importantly, ensures that local canine adoptees are healthy and happy in their forever homes.

 

The CRDTC has found a home at the Waltham Field Station for many years. Gwen stressed how important a “flexible facility” is for dog training clubs. Private, dog-friendly places that feature both open space and shelter are surprisingly difficult to come by. If the field station is shut down, the CRDTC trainers will scramble. The “challenge to find a new space” is looming.

 

However, the CRDTC’s reasons to remain at the field station run deeper than simple convenience. The location is accessible: members of the club live throughout Waltham and the Greater Boston Area. Additionally, Gwen explained, the station is “designed to accommodate all types of activities.” With this, different groups are constantly “sharing interests.” I was excited to learn that CRDTC has close relationships with many past and present field station tenants. One such tenant, a staff member at the Massachusetts 4-H Youth Development program, became a student at CRDTC classes after seeing them take place on the floor below her office. She rose through the ranks, and now leads beginner obedience classes as an official CRDTC trainer.

 

Watching a Charles River Dog Training Club class is a delightful experience. As a prospective dog owner myself, it was encouraging to see dogs and their families from all different backgrounds construct such a friendly and mindful environment. All they needed were a few leashes, traffic cones, and (of course) dog treats! Immersed in such a setting, CRDTC students are able to learn good citizenship, and become excellent role models. The Canine Good Citizenship Pledge reads “I understand that to truly be a Canine Good Citizen, my dog needs a responsible owner–” thus acknowledging that pet-owner relationships are two-way streets. When care and trust are mutually held between a dog and their person, their whole community benefits.

 

Knowing this, it’s no wonder that the Waltham Field Station is the site of choice where canine companions of the CRDTC are learning how to become better community members. Plant, animal, or human, everyone here is striving to build, care for, and participate in various communities. Across the hall from CRDTC classes, Grow Native workshops show local gardeners how to grow with intention—harmonizing with the native New England ecosystem rather than clashing with it. Outside at the Waltham Fields Community farm, children have the rare opportunity to learn about their food system, and how they fit into it, from a young age. Even the beekeepers, stopping by to check on the station’s hives, conduct daily maintenance with a community-minded purpose: to gradually strengthen the local community of plants and pollinators. Living and working at the station provides every resident an opportunity to become a better community member from head to toe, leaf to root, or paw to tail. We are so glad the CRDTC has joined us in the pursuit of that opportunity.

By Anneke Craig, Boston Area Gleaners Intern