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Former fundraiser finds encore career as dog trainer

GASPORT – Karen Drumm teaches everything from good canine manners to agility skills to how to show dogs and she does it in the comfort of her spacious, new indoor dog-training facility at 8466 Mountain Road.

After having spent many years as a professional fundraiser in higher education for elite Northeastern schools, as well as in the public sector, she founded Harmony Dog Training (www.harmonydogswithkaren.com, or 638-1211) in 2011 and calls it her “after-50 career.”

Drumm, who has a master’s degree in education, has found this new career combines two of her great loves – teaching and dogs.

A student as well as a teacher, Drumm has studied dog handling, training and behavior with a number of top professionals. The Syracuse native began showing dogs at age 12 as a junior handler and continued to show them throughout her life as a hobby, with impressive results. In 2008-09, her English Pointer, Parker, now 11 and retired, was ranked third in the nation for his breed, according to American Kennel Club statistics.

And, in addition to lessons at her 2-acre home site, Drumm, who is bonded and insured, will travel to owners’ homes to give private lessons, dog-sit, dog-walk and show clients’ dogs for them. She is a member of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and also presents workshops throughout the community.

What’s her key to having a successful relationship with your canine?

“I am a positive-reinforcement trainer,” she said. “I teach people to reward correct behavior and ignore less correct behavior. I don’t use punishment or choke chains or anything like that, and this method lasts a lot longer.”

Having frequented this area through the years to visit the family of college friend Sue Neidlinger, a fellow small business-owner and Newfane Town Board member, Drumm was drawn to Niagara County to start her new career.

“I hold Karen in the highest esteem, for her bravery, for taking that leap of faith,” Neidlinger said. “She sold her home in Connecticut, quit her job and moved here, not really knowing what this would bring, and yet, she’s done everything right. She took the small business class at Niagara County Community College and is building her business up. I have the utmost respect for her … She has a lot of things on her resume.”

And Drumm is adding to it all of the time. She is an accomplished flutist and has taught flute. She takes over the reins of the Newfane Business Association this month and was just invited to become a Niagara County 4-H leader, and will teach breed-handling to a new generation.

Drumm recently took a few minutes to discuss her busy past – and her promising future.

Where did your love of dogs begin?

I grew up with sporting dogs – my father was a hunter, but I fell in love with an English Pointer that belonged to a friend of mine. They are very active and like being outdoors. They are wonderful in-home dogs that like to curl up on the couch and they’re very people-oriented, but they do need a lot of exercise. I try to encourage new puppy owners to learn a lot about a breed before they get one to make sure they have matching personalities.

And you started showing dogs at age 12?

Yes. It was a hobby for me, then along came college and career, but I still did it as an occasional hobby. But then I started to learn a lot about other types of training, too, and I knew I wanted my “after-50 career” to be something that involved dogs.

I last lived in Connecticut and there was a local training group that asked me to teach some classes. It’s a ball for me to see my students succeed. I have always handled my own dogs, but I also hire out to show other people’s dogs and now I have several clients who ask me to show their dogs. When you earn a championship, you say that the dog “finished” and I have also “finished” several dogs other than my own. I’ve shown my dog, Parker, at Westminster (Kennel Club Dog Show) twice.

How many dogs do you have?

Two English Pointers. Parker, who is a retired show dog, and Colette, who is 22 months, and will also be a show dog.

What is your professional background?

I have a bachelor’s degree in music from the Crane School of Music at the State University of New York at Potsdam and a master’s degree in education from Alfred University. Due to family careers, I’ve lived in a few different places. I was a college administrator for many years, in alumni affairs, at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, before joining the Alzheimer’s Association of Northeastern New York back in Saratoga Springs, and then Planned Parenthood of Southern New England in New Haven, Conn.

How did you decide to start this business?

I realized when I was in New Haven and had been asked to teach some classes on showing dogs that I could do this professionally. I moved to Niagara County and started this business in 2011 and rented space in various places for training, then moved to Gasport in 2013 and started building my training building. I have a 40-foot-by-30-foot heated training room.

Can you teach an old dog new tricks?

Absolutely! I don’t teach competitive obedience – I teach family manners, which is just what it says, so your dog won’t jump up and steal the chicken off of the counter. Competitive obedience is more formal, where you see a dog heel by your side and sit a certain way. I don’t teach this, because there are plenty of others in the Western New York area who do this and do it well.

But I do teach rally obedience, which is a step between family manners and competition. Think of the Yellow Brick Road. You follow a pathway that has signs along the way, with words or symbols – we call them stations. One might say “sit” or another might say “down.” It’s kind of fun and reinforces the dog’s family manners and it’s kind of a game.

And, I think I’m one of the few people here who will go into a home for private lessons. A lot of people have said they’d like to attend my training sessions at my facility but can’t come out in the evenings. I’ve met a lot of lovely people and their dogs this way.

Know a Niagara County resident who would make an interesting question-and-answer column? Write to: Niagara Weekend Q&A, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, NY 14240, or email niagaranews@buffnews.com.