In 1996, Daniela Girlinghouse trained her first dog.
That first training experience unleashed a hobby that evolved into Kennel Girlinghouse, a Whetstone-based dog training business where dog owners learn how to train their own dogs in a group setting.
“The first dog I ever trained was a very difficult Hungarian Kuvasz, a large breed that is popular in Europe,” said Girlinghouse, who was living in her hometown of Wiesbaden, Germany at the time.
“I worked with a trainer three times a week in general obedience, as well as going through a class similar to the Canine Good Citizen course used in this country,” she said. “Even though she was difficult to train, she worked out perfectly.”
“I loved the whole dog training experience, the relationship I developed with my dog, and seeing how well she responded. That was when I knew I wanted to continue training dogs.”
After acquiring her first German Shepherd in 1999, a dog named Manhattan, Girlinghouse trained him in search and rescue. As a team, she and Manhattan were search and rescue stand-outs and were featured in a book about Wiesbaden’s fire department.
They also made the front cover of a magazine dedicated to a search and rescue trial held in Wiesbaden after receiving the fastest time at an international rescue dog trial.
Girlinghouse left her roots in Germany and moved to the U.S. in 2010 after marrying her husband, Charles, who was stationed in Stuttgart at the time. His military assignments took the couple to Fort Riley, Kansas, Fort Huachuca, then Fort Stewart, Georgia before returning to the Sierra Vista area in 2016.
“The whole time we were traveling around, I continued to work with my own dogs and volunteered to help others with their dogs,” Girlinghouse said. “My husband was medically retired from the Army in 2016, and in 2018, I started my dog training business in Whetstone.”
“My goal is for people to have well-mannered dogs, but I also help train service dogs. For me, it’s all about building a good relationship with your dog.”
On Saturday mornings, David and Karen Berry bring their Labrador retriever, Pepper, to a beginning obedience class. She is learning basic commands with other dogs in the class, and owners are trained right along with their dogs.
“I am training you how to train your dog,” Girlinghouse said as she borrowed Pepper to demonstrate different training techniques.
On this day, the dogs are learning “puppy pushups” where they go from a down position, to a stand, then back to a down, with handlers using treats to keep the dogs focused. The idea is for the dogs to get rewarded for staying attentive and engaged.
“We’re really enjoying the class,” Karen Berry said. “I like Daniela’s ideas and her teaching style. All three of us learn something new every week.”
Girlinghouse limits her class sizes to eight dogs.
“I like to have plenty of time to give my students one-on-one attention,” she said. “I also hold general obedience classes in Safford every Saturday at a park, and those classes are very popular.”
“Unlike this area where there are already 17 dog trainers, Safford has very few trainers. So the classes I offer there get a good response.”
Safford resident Kathy Hanson and her German shepherd-mix, Ilsa, are regulars at the Safford sessions.
“I’m partially blind and have balance problems, so I use Isla as a service dog for balance purposes,” Hanson said. “Daniela is a super trainer. She’s patient, understands how to train dogs for different purposes, and is the reason I’m able to use my dog for service work.”
“She trains both the dog and handler. She is a great asset to the community by providing a wonderful, wonderful service.”
Basic obedience, service dog training, puppy classes, child safety around dogs and AKC Rally classes are samplings of some of the training programs Girlinghouse offers at different times of the year.
“Once the weather cools off, I’m also planning to organize pack walks, which is a group walk with dogs on leashes,” she said. “It’s a fun way to explore trails and a great way for people and dogs to socialize.”
“It teaches dogs to learn to walk in a group with manners, while having fun on outings. And it gets them used to different sounds and distractions they don’t typically have at home.”
Girlinghouse plans to start the pack walks one Sunday a month in September.
“Dogs need to get out, be active, socialize and explore,” she said. “When owners take the time to train their dogs, they establish an important bond and improve the relationship between their dogs and themselves.”