Our County's Very Own Dog Whisperer
“I always had a dog,” says local dog obedience expert Joy Parker Schellhorn, “And I have always loved them! I can remember as a very small child putting on dog shows with my neighborhood friends and our dogs.”
She continues, “Then I grew up and had three children in addition to lots of dogs. The kids were well-trained and well-behaved, but the dogs never were! When they were grown, the kids gave me a Basset Hound and told me, 'We have always had the worst dogs! We are giving you this Basset Hound in hopes that you will get her trained!' I was teaching aerobic dance at Brookhaven College at the time and asked my students if they knew of anyone who did dog obedience training. I took my Basset Margot Fonteyn to the place they recommended, but the instructor was very stern and rigid, yanking on leashes and not giving the dogs treats and loving praise. I did not identify at all with the way he taught. Once we were heeling and he said to turn left, but I made a mistake and turned right, fell into Margot, and we both fell to the floor. He walked over, looked down at me on the floor, and sneered, 'You teach dance?' Well, with that, the gauntlet was down, and I was determined to show him what we could do. We completed our six-week basic training, and the teacher told me the American Kennel Club had obedience trials I could compete in with my dog. As a former PE teacher and a very competitive tennis player and competitive person in general, my interest was really sparked by the idea of competing. We worked hard, and three years later, Margot Fonteyn was the highest scoring Basset Hound in the country in dog obedience!”
Margot's instructor asked Joy to teach a dog obedience class. “I told him I would, but that I was sneaking cookies and other rewards to them when he wasn't looking,” she recalls. “He said he already knew that and admitted maybe everyone would like obedience training more if we gave treats.” Joy moved back to Austin and got another Basset Hound, naming her after another famous dancer, Isadora Duncan. Following Margot's lead, she earned her title in another three years, too.
Joy married Johnny Schellhorn and moved to his country property on a beautiful heavily wooded piece of land in Woods Community. He had a small cabin with a living area and kitchen, and they added a master suite with a large closet and a bathroom for each of them. A deck just off the master suite overlooks a lovely little creek and woods and serves as a peaceful haven to sit and drink coffee, feed the birds, and enjoy nature. Joy and Johnny adopted a dog they named Phoebe Lantana and had her for 13 years. Not a purebred dog, Phoebe never competed in the AKC competitions like Joy's Bassets, but she was a Therapy Pet Pal who was voted Volunteer of the Year at Panola Nursing Home.
“When Phoebe died, we were absolutely devastated,” remembers Joy. “Johnny booked a cruise for us to just get away, and didn't even want to think about getting another dog. But all I could do was cry and stay on my Ipad looking at dogs at the Longview shelter. I found this wonderful shaggy-haired mixed-breed terrier and fell in love immediately. Johnny finally gave in and agreed to get the dog, and we got our Millie Rose.”
Joy explains that the AKC does not allow mixed breed dogs in their “confirmation” shows, which are like beauty contests for dogs. Every breed has a standard for looks and temperament—how the dog is “formed.” The dogs are judged on how well they meet the written confirmation standards for each breed. However, the organization now does allow mixed breeds in their obedience trials, and this is where Millie Rose competes. In these trials, the dogs are judged on how well they perform the required obedience exercises. There are three levels in the trials. The first is obedience exercises: sit, heel on leash, heel off leash, come when called, stay, etc. In the second, the dogs retrieve dumbbells and go over jumps. The third, which Millie Rose is working on, adds directed jumping, signal exercises, moving stand (people move around the dog, but the dog remains still), and scent discrimination. There are three titles available to dogs in these trials: companion dog, companion dog excellence, and utility dog. Millie Rose has achieved the first two and is working on the third. She is also starting work for an AKC trick title, of which there are beginner, intermediate, advanced, and performance titles.
It is very entertaining to watch Millie Rose practice her tricks. While still working on the basic verbal and signal commands for sit, heel, stay, moving stand, etc., Joy is adding story scenarios and asking Millie Rose to enter into the story. For example, she tells Millie Rose she has a bad cold and does a pretend sneeze, and Millie Rose will grab a Kleenex from the tissue holder and bring it to her, then put it in the trash can when Joy tells her it's dirty. She puts a key ring somewhat out of sight, tells Millie Rose they need to go in the car, but she has lost her keys, and Millie Rose will go find the key ring and bring it to her. They are now working on a story that combines several of the tricks she has learned. Joy is also thinking that Millie Rose might be a good candidate to become a Therapy Pet Pal. “I might not take her to nursing homes,” she jokes, “because I’d be afraid they might keep me there! But I think she would be a great Therapy Pet Pal for children!”
Joy has been teaching basic dog obedience classes for many years now. Panola College occasionally offers the class through their Continuing Education Department, and Joy is teaching it regularly at Tops and Tails Dog Salon. Classes are taught twice a week for three weeks, but Joy points out that most of the learning really takes place at home, that probably 99 percent of the success comes from practice at home of what has been learned in class. When people ask her what they are getting for their money with these classes, she anwers, “You are getting a set of tools to train your dog. If you go buy a set of tools to fix your car and leave them sitting in the trunk and don't use them, your car won't get fixed. And if you don't use the tools I give you, your dog won't get trained, either!'”
This remarkably vibrant, energetic, youthful lady, who still plays tennis regularly and leads a very active life, does not look even close to the 80-plus years she has achieved. She has an obvious love and understanding of dogs and loves every minute of her work with them, both her own and those whose owners she helps in training their pets. “I have had a good life,” she exclaims, “one that has been made even better by ALL my doggies!”