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Dog trainer teaches old dogs new tricks
Donna Soderstrom
Donna Soderstrom and her 7-year-old Great Pyrenees named Cirrus, who is a therapy dog and also helps Donna work with aggressive dogs. - photo by MONICA CANE
Donna Soderstrom first became interested in dog training 15 years ago after owning a “bad dog”, a Corgi who growled and snapped at every opportunity.

“I came across a lot of advice that did not help, before finding ways to manage him, and enjoy him” she said.

Discovering that her “bad dog” had gone-good through various training techniques opened her eyes to a career as a Professional Dog Trainer.  As a Member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers and an AKC Canine Good Citizen (CGC) Evaluator, Soderstrom has spent the past 10 years training and rehabilitating dogs in Modesto, Ripon, Manteca, Turlock, Lathrop and other surrounding cities.  

As a certified trainer Soderstrom analyzes and corrects poor dog behavior by instructing pet owners how to appropriately implement her training techniques.   Doing so builds a greater confidence in owners as the leader and brings balance and joy to the pet/owner relationship.    

The most challenging situation Soderstrom has come across in dog training isn’t necessarily an unruly dog as some might expect. The greatest challenge is owners who are not in agreement with one another.  

“When a dog has two owners and they are at odds with each other the dog goes crazy with the inconsistency” she said.

Consistency is the key to successful obedience training followed up by big rewards.  “I like to have owners focus on real life rewards” said Soderstrom.  Using rewards like dinner after sitting, a belly rub for being calm, or playing together for not barking at an inappropriate time teaches dogs tolerance and impulse control and helps dogs understand that obeying equals reward.   

One of the primary behavioral problems that Soderstrom has come across while training, is anxiety and fear aggression.   When a dog acts aggressive, “Owners often mistakenly believe that their dog is being protective of them” when in fact many dogs are simply acting aggressive as a means of coping with their fear and anxiety.

Soderstrom recalls one particular story of an 11-year-old female corgi mix, Heidi, who was both possessive and aggressive.  When Heidi’s owner got married, she would growl at her owner’s wife if she got anywhere near “her” couch. Fortunately, the new bride was excellent with the dog.   Keeping calm and consistent, she did not take Heidi’s behavior personally.  Instead, while working together with Soderstrom, she learned to correct the bad behavior while praising the good behavior.  “It was a wonderful turn around in an “old” dog” admits Soderstrom.

A few key training tips to help troubled dogs turn it around, found on Soderstrom’s website at www., are as follows:

• Timing is critical to good dog training.

• You cannot correct (your dog) after the fact. Even if you think they look guilty, they really do not know why you are angry.

• Tone of voice matters.  Calm voices keep dogs still.  Happy, lively voices encourage them to move.  There is no need to yell at your dog, unless you wish to train him only to respond to yelling.

After spending hours each day training other people’s dogs, Soderstrom says she continues her labor of love at home with 7-year-old Cirrus, a Great Pyrenees, adopted from a rescue group and a Delta Pet Partner Therapy dog, 3-year-old Macey, a Sussex Spaniel female who has her Rally Excellent title, a CD in Obedience, and two legs towards her Junior Hunter and 21-month-old Fiddler, a male Sussex who is being shown in the breed ring and is in training for everything else.”

While the trainer admits her dog activities absorb most of her time, she also enjoys yoga, participating in a book club and spending time with her husband Andy, her son Matt and her daughter Jill who will soon be studying animal nutrition at UC Davis.

For more information about training your dog call Donna Soderstrom at (209)765-2397 or send email to