McClane, a 7-year-old English Bulldog with an attitude, has found himself back at Boss K9 for a check-in with business owner Anna Rencz. The family pet of Jeff and Nicole Kelleher has developed issues around boundaries and control. When things don’t go his way, the generally lovable mutt turns irascible and stubborn.
“McClane has a very pushy, cocky and confident personality,” says Rencz. “The dog knows the weaker of the two. He senses it.”
Though Jeff raised McClane from puppyhood, Nicole is the more regular presence. “He respects Nicole more," Jeff says. “He likes to challenge me.”
McClane spent five to six weeks in Boss K9’s board and train program learning behaviors to make him a successful family pet. The facility, which recently expanded to a new location in the Superior‑St. Clair neighborhood, specializes in behavioral training.
“We lay down the foundation of communication, so we can clearly let them know what we want, what we don’t want, and do the bond-building work that builds trust and respect.”
(Photo courtesy Anthony Rencz)
Dogs were bred for specific purposes and require mental and physical stimulation as much as they need to learn how to relax and do nothing. “Our dogs are so smart,” says Rencz, “way smarter than we give them credit for.”
Taking McClane by the leash, Rencz feels him out, starting with a basic heel command. Pressed for more, McClane expresses displeasure with a toothy snarl and a warning snap meant to intimidate. Rencz doesn’t flinch. Her job is to remain neutral, redirect and guide.
Boss K9 exists because of a dog named Bubbles, a struggling foster pit bull, that changed everything for Rencz. “I realized I had an instinctual gift. I could see how impactful communication could be.”
(Photo courtesy Alisha Uguccini)
Despite the hard work and compassion, Rencz is keenly aware that not every story has a positive outcome. Bubbles’ image is the focal point of the company’s branding and yet, after years of managing the dog’s severe, irreparable behavioral issues, Rencz made the decision to choose behavioral euthanasia.
“She brought me into this world of dog training. I was the one who had to take her out of this one,” says Rencz. “It was the hardest decision, after seven years of hard work.”
Though difficult to talk about, Rencz believes her transparency can help others. “Not all dogs will be successful.”
A lot of the work done at Boss K9 involves mending relationships.
The “prescription” for McClane is more focused time with Jeff and a regular schedule of behavioral work that will reestablish their relationship through routine, and mental and physical stimulation.
“Structure first," she says, "so you can have freedom later."