Four years ago, Sandra Strassman-Sundy, a behavioral biologist from Springfield, purchased a tiny black Newfoundland puppy, which she named Ursula.
Ursula grew quickly into an uncontrollable hulk. She ate two pairs of Amalfi shoes, which retail for between $80 and $120 at Bloomingdale's. "We sacrificed several dozen doughnuts and angel food cakes and two Christmas trees to her," Strassman-Sundy said.
Desperate, Strassman-Sundy thumbed through the Yellow Pages under "pet training" and called Bob Maida of Vienna. "I remember sniveling into the phone -- 'What am I going to do with my beautiful puppy?' Bob calmed me all down and indicated that yes, Ursula was a sweathog, but that no, she was not beyond repair."
Today, Ursula weighs 148 pounds and is so big she sleeps in a bathtub. But she is controllable. "She's just wonderful," said Strassman-Sundy.
Solving an animal's behavioral problems is not new for area dog trainers, but Maida is taking his counseling one step further. He has started his own public access television series, "The Pet Counselor," to spread the word in Fairfax County that no dog has to be a problem dog.
"We'll be trying to give people the information that's not in the dog books," said Maida, who works in partnership with his wife, Karin. "And we'll be going into other pets."
The idea for the Maidas program came from Ruth and Irving Lind, an Annandale couple who had taken television training workshops. The Linds' shepherd-husky, Daisy, was trained by the Maidas.
Today, the Linds are the executive producers and the Maidas are the associate producers. Both couples hope that if the program accomplishes anything, it will cut down on the number of abandoned and mistreated animals in the county. Last year, the Fairfax Animal Shelter took in 14,000 dogs and cats, and 6,000 of them had to be killed.
On their first program, which aired Oct. 1, the Maidas instructed the audience on how to select the right breed of dog.
Consider, for instance, the Cairn terrier. "If your idea of a dog is having something that will just lie by the fire -- good old Blue -- don't get a Cairn, because his idea of relaxation is to chase a ball and kill it," Maida said.
Or the Siberian husky, which the couple says was bred to run in front of a sled, behind a whip, and which sometimes can be "crazy."
"You'd have to be a crazy dog to do that kind of work," Bob Maida said. "No dog in its right mind would get up and do that."
Or large dogs versus small dogs, especially in households with children. "The larger dogs are not as pain-sensitive as some of the smaller ones," Maida said. "They just don't get hurt as easily. I mean, if you step on a Chihuahua, it knows it's been stepped on."
On a program that aired the following week, the Maidas visited the Fairfax Animal Shelter, where they told viewers how to select a puppy whose personality suits theirs.
"I have asked every person I have seen lately why they picked the puppy they did," said Karin Maida, "and I've found that about 90 percent pick for color."
"And that is really dumb," her husband said. "There's no other word to use."
The Maidas will also address dog behavior problems. "Even the original Lassie was a problem dog," said Bob Maida, who was once a professional dog-walker.
Women sometimes encourage behavior problems in their dogs, the Maidas say, "by treating them as a cross between a Barbie doll and a baby."
Men, on the other hand, sometimes have trouble with what the couple refers to as "macho problems." Explained Bob Maida: "The husband will say, 'Oh, I have no trouble with this dog. I just smack him across the head.' "
"The other thing," he added, "is the people who have had little poodles that then go out and buy a big dog. With a poodle, they normally let it get away with murder and do what it wants. But they go out and get a doberman, and they're in trouble . . . . This is something that can drag them down the street."
The couple will also discuss the advantages of neutering animals in hope that the advice will prevent more unwanted litters.
"We do have a problem with macho men and their macho dogs," said Bob Maida. "They don't want to neuter their dogs. They wouldn't have any objections about spaying a female. I think there's a little transference problem there. A lot of men see themselves in their dogs."
As letters in their scrapbook attest, the Maidas have developed special techniques to help in certain situations, and some of this advice will be imparted over the air.
"Dear Mr. Maida . . . . The pennies in the bottle method has been extremely helpful in eliminating the unnecessary barking that was driving us crazy. . . . Margaret Goldman." (Maida suggests you throw an empty plastic one-gallon bleach jog bottle filled with pennies outside near the barking dog to startle him and get his attention and then tell him "no.")
The Maidas have also used ice cubes to stop teething dogs from chewing and venetian blind cords to teach dogs to come.
"There are five different ways to teach a dog to lie down," Maida said. "You have to take into consideration the dog you're working with. The only hard and fast rule is that there are no hard and fast rules." However, the Maidas do not believe in physical punishment, electric collars or similar devices.
Sarah Brady, wife of White House Press Secretary James S. Brady, brought Molly, her yellow labrador retriever, to the Maidas when Molly was a puppy.
Sarah Brady had never had a dog before, and her husband had had them only as a child. What would life have been like without dog training? "I think I would have gone crazy," she said.
Said Strassman-Sundy, the owner of Ursula: "Karin and Bob, to the best of my knowledge, speak Dog."