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Amputee trains four legged companions

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BANGOR - Jason Howe never intended to be a dog trainer. However, this amputee fell into the role several years ago, and he hasn't looked back since.

"My career started not by choice," said Howe. "When I was 19 or so I got a dog from the shelter. A few years later, I had a woman come into my life and the dog just wouldn't listen to her at all, so I took him to obedience classes and courses and it just went from there."

Howe and his dog turned out to be quick learners. Right away he picked up on the techniques and skills needed to communicate effectively with man's best friend. Not long after that, he found himself training other people's dogs too.

"Luckily I was around great people who gave me great direction, and I paid close attention to what they had said and tried to follow to the best of my ability," said Howe.

When he lost his left leg in an automobile accident, Howe discovered an even bigger appreciation for his four-legged companion.

"Ten years ago when I lost my leg, my own personal dog didn't care. He still loved me," said Howe. "What was so interesting to watch was he was a lot more careful when he pressed up against me or where he laid down. I think that's been the other thing that has shown me a much deeper love and gratitude for these dogs. The love they have for us is that unconditional."

As he honed his craft, Howe soon realized he had a knack for training bully breed dogs such as pit bulls and bulldogs. That led him to working with different police agencies and patrol K9s, and earning various training certifications.

"What I learned really quickly was it's something you either have or you don't," said Howe. "I started to understand the dogs better and what my role was in those cases and how I could best get the dog to excel in the job they needed to do. Whatever their purpose may have been, whether it was tracking or narcotics work, it was very rewarding to see them process and excel at their jobs because they were taught correctly."

Howe, who now works at Carden Kennels in Bangor, takes on a lot of problem cases and behavior modification-type work.

"I think I'm the only one in the area that will deal with a dog that's aggressive, whether it's people aggression or other dog aggression. In those problem cases, I tend to find once we can reconstruct and change a lot of the habits of the owner, you've got a different dog," he explained.

Howe said often times a dog's poor behavior is due to a lack of exercise or the amount of protein in their diet.

"I often ask if the dog's getting enough exercise to wear them out. They need physical exercise but they also need to get mental exercise. What I mean by that is if you ask a marathon runner to go out and run a mile, they'll go out and come back and not even break a sweat or be breathing heavy. Our dogs can be the very same way. The more we give them things they have to think about and solve, the more laid back they're going to be," explained Howe. "Plus protein gives a dog energy. If they are not burning it off, they can't think properly and they have no other way to get rid of that energy unless it's acting crazy."

Crazy or not, Howe said he wouldn't trade in his line of work for the world.

"I found something different working with the dogs," explained Howe. "They've never felt like I owed them something like people sometimes do."

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