Mike Arnold has a rare gift.
Helping dogs with serious behavioral problems can be “ruff,” but with the help of Mike and his wife Annie, it’s a walk in the park. Local dog owners have turned to the couple when nothing else has worked.
Carrboro residents Mike and Annie Arnold are the founders of Hickory Hounds, a rehabilitation and training service for dogs to help improve their behavior and relationship with their owners.
They work with over fifty dogs each week, and most Carrboro dwellers have probably seen Mike or Annie walking a large group of them — all strikingly well-behaved — around town on a leash.
Mike says that the idea for the business originated with his old dog and some books on training from the library.
Mike and Annie adopted a five-year-old beagle named Ollie in 2007, and Ollie, who died in 2016, became the original Hickory Hound as Mike began working with him on his behavior.
“Some of the things (I read) made sense and some didn’t at the time, but eventually someone noticed and said ‘I wish my dog would do that’ so I offered to help them, and that’s how it all started,” Mike Arnold said. “It was a hobby.”
The business blossomed in a very organic way, he said. When it was in its beginning stages, he had no idea what it would look like in the future.
“I learned how to work with dogs, so I just started one dog at a time doing whatever it took to get the dog where the owners wanted them to be,” Mike Arnold said.
“Eventually more people started calling in, and we had to recalibrate our approach and our attention based on how many people were calling in per week.”
The training was a trial and error process until they found out what worked, Annie Arnold said. But she said she believes that Mike has an intuitive sense with dogs, which gives him the ability to understand their emotions.
“It’s a skill that can be learned, but for Mike it’s a gift, and I’m happy to help him with it,” she said.
“You could take a puppy class, but this is a full behavioral approach, because some dogs when they go to training they learn how to do things. But this is learning how to be.”
Even though Mike has been working with dogs informally since adopting Ollie, his favorite part these days is actually working with the human owners he meets. Understanding the dynamics of a home or family are often integral to managing a dog’s behavior.
“If you see enough dogs, you start to see the same problems over and over, but when you work with people in their environment you start to see all of the different variables,” Mike Arnold said. “Some people have a lot of dogs, or kids, or stuff going on in their family, and working around that isn’t always fun, but it is rewarding.”
JoAnn Sciarrino has been taking her dog, Charlie, to Hickory Hounds for over a year. She said that at eight months old she was struggling with her dog’s high energy.
“I had been through a couple of other trainers that didn’t seem to understand my dog and that I wanted to improve my relationship with my dog,” Sciarrino said. “Until I met Mike I really didn’t know anyone who was so advanced in canine cognition, how canines think and how to build that relationship of human and dog in a really wonderful way that decreases their anxiety and their fear if they have that.”
Ever since Charlie has been working with Mike, Sciarrino said she has noticed that he is no longer as anxious as he was before.
“When the doorbell rang before it would be a trigger for Charlie for very high energy and high anxiety, but now, because he is in such a calm state and because the relationship between me and him is so good, he knows what I want,” she said.
“When the doorbell rings he still gets excited, but now he knows he needs to go to the door and wait and I ask him to lay down.”
Stephanie Grubbs has also been taking her dog, Moose, to Hickory Hounds for over a year, because he becomes overly excited.
“I was buying leashes because Moose would get so agitated and chew up the leashes, but then one day I asked the people at the pet store if they knew anybody who could help my dog and they told me about Hickory Hounds,” Grubbs said. “I got Mike’s information from his website and set up a consultation.”
After the consultation Mike began working with Moose to help with his agitation, and in the last year Grubbs said she has noticed a huge improvement.
“Moose doesn’t act nearly as severe now; I can control him now,” she said. “No one could help me before the way that Mike has been able to.”
Both Sciarrino and Grubbs continue to see Mike for weekly dog walks so that they can continue to improve their relationships with their pets. Sciarrino said Mike is the most honest dog trainer she has ever met.
“He will tell the person whether or not he thinks he can help them, and what’s required and needed,” Sciarrino said.
“My recommendation is that if you have a dog that you need a better relationship with or if you are seeing any behaviors like anxiety or excitability or fear or aggression, do a consultation with Mike Arnold.”