North Salem dog trainer Raquel Stone says this is the most effective way to train your dog.


Raquel Stone runs Mountain Bound K9 with her Labrador Retrievers, Elroy and Alaska. (Benjamin Allen / HudValley Photo)

Raquel Stone’s co-workers are furry, four-legged and more effective than any human. Stone, the founder and owner of Mountain Bound K9, a North Salem-based business offering dog training, boarding and hiking, partners with her two Labrador Retrievers to help her train the “untrainable.”

Stone and her pups, Elroy and Alaska, welcome dogs with severe behavioral issues into their North Salem home for intensive training. “Having a confident dog who’s great with people sets an example for dogs who are with me long term for rehabilitation,” Stone said.

When a dog comes to Mountain Bound K9 for behavioral rehabilitation, Stone first works to establish a relationship of trust. That foundation, she stresses, sets the tone for all future training, which is rooted in play rather than rewards.

Photo by Benjamin Allen, HudValley Photo

Stone is certified through Ivan Balabanov’s Training Without Conflict elite dog training course, which teaches how to improve communication between owner and dog through play. The program, which costs $10,000 for the professional-level certification, requires participants to complete an intensive online course before attending a live, three-day practical exam.

The program, Stone says, completely changed her perspective and approach to training. “It teaches you how to create the relationship where a dog wants to work with you, instead of you relying on some form of leverage.” Structured play, she says, builds cooperation, impulse control, a sense of authority and a genuine bond.

Stone says that play taps into something that is instinctually fulfilling for dogs. "Then when I add rules to the game, it requires cooperation between us and authority within our relationship, so it really paints the whole picture and brings everything together," she said. "It's about building a relationship with the dog so that when we do have to address the bigger issues the dog is struggling with, there's respect and understanding between us."

Stone’s Instagram page features videos of dogs she’s successfully trained through her approach. Her posts emphasize the power of play to help build a dog's confidence. A more confident dog is less likely to engage in negative behaviors. In one post, Stone shares, “when [Shadow] first showed up four days ago he had absolutely no expression about anything. He was indifferent to any affection I gave him. But once I offered play, he was shocked and a switch flipped in his mind.”

Photo by Benjamin Allen, HudValley Photo

While Stone has been using the Training Without Conflict method for just three years, her work with dogs goes back to early childhood. She received a Labrador Retriever as birthday gift when she turned five. “He was my favorite dog ever. Labs just were always meant to be in my life,” she said. Early in her career, Stone worked as a licensed veterinary technician before obtaining a bachelor’s degree in Animal Science with a concentration on canine behavior.

Today, Stone’s Labs, Elroy and Alaska, work side-by-side with her on all manner of dog-related tasks. Elroy, 5, is the main helper for Stone’s training work. In his free time, he participates along with Stone in duck and pheasant hunting at hunt clubs in Dutchess County. His job is to help guide the hunters. Alaska,2, is a Department of Defense-certified narcotics detection dog. During the fall, she and Stone can often be found working at Army football games at West Point Military Academy.

“Alaska is trained to detect marijuana, heroin, cocaine, MDMA and a couple others. She can find any of those,” Stone said, explaining that narcotics dogs are very driven by the reward of play.” If a dog finds anything, we’ll play a really good game of fetch.”

Stone has accomplished what many people only dream of, finding a way to build a business out of her biggest love. And even when she's not working, her dogs are still a key part of her life. "Labs are also willing to sit on the couch," she said with a smile.

Raquel's recommended dog toys:

  • Flirt pole - good for dogs who aren't overly interested in everyday dog toys. The flirt pole taps into the dog's desire to chase something
  • Chuckit! brand balls - attach the ball to a stick and throw longer distances
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