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Making It
If your dog's barking so loud it'shurting your head -- who ya' gonna call?

By by Elizabeth Chang
Sunday, October 19, 2008

There are many similarities between Marsha Engel's old career and her new one. Dangerous offenders? Check. Focus on rehabilitation? Check. Firm approach? Check.

In her old career, however, the risks were not likely to include an offender peeing on her shoes.

Marsha, 49, was employed with the Montgomery County Department of Corrections for 20 years, many of them managing a program supervising offenders, from DWI violators to rapists, who lived at home on electronic monitoring. She loved her job, but when there were changes in her program, the Kensington native decided to prepare for a second career in another area of interest: dog training.

Marsha had wanted to work with dogs since she was a child, and although she had taken some classes in dog training, "I didn't get how the money would come to me," she says. Then she learned about an Australia-based program called Bark Busters. Though suspicious at first -- "I thought they were going to take my money and disappear" -- she now believes it's an "incredible" company.

In 2005 Marsha took out a $65,000 home-equity loan to cover the costs of attending Bark Busters training in Colorado, purchasing a franchise territory including Gaithersburg, Damascus, Clarksburg and Howard County, and stocking supplies. For three years, she continued to work part time for the county and conduct Bark Busters lessons on evenings and weekends, making about $40,000 annually in dog-training income, which allowed her to pay back the loan. She went full time in February and expects to make more than $100,000 this year.

A divorced mother of two who has seven dogs and two birds and lives on a large property in Scaggsville, Marsha works with all kinds of dogs. She combats behaviors that range from barking every time the phone rings to being poorly housebroken, though aggression is the most common problem. "Similar to the criminal population, I like to work with the worst of the worst," Marsha says, laughing.

Bark Busters approaches bad behaviors in a way dogs understand, she says. "We correct them the way a dog would correct them," using strategies from growling to clapping to imitating the sound of a dog snapping by throwing down a beanbaglike object filled with metal. Training costs $650 and usually consists of one house call and a follow-up if needed; Bark Busters guarantees the training for the lifetime of the dog.

Carol Young of Gaithersburg says she hired Marsha to help her teach her Doberman "who was going to be the alpha." Her dog would tug on the leash, bark at passersby, rush up the steps ahead of her and jump into her bed uninvited. All of those behaviors have ceased since Marsha showed her "how to make a deep growl-bark that would get his attention and that he would recognize as a correction," Carol says. "To end up with a dog that is so well-behaved and everyone absolutely adores him is just great."

Though she was devoted to her old job, Marsha says one of the perks of her new career is the higher rehabilitation rate. "Every dog is a success," she says. "Every criminal is not a success." Her customers are people "who have gotten their dogs for enjoyment and they were not enjoying their dogs. And now they are, so their dogs are fulfilling their purpose in that family."

Are you succeeding with a creative and profitable endeavor? E-mail changb@washpost.com.

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