By Lauren R. Giannini
Marti Hohman had it all: a Ph.D. in English and American literature, a good job developing web content and riding at a barn just outside New York City. After four years, however, she let her life go to the dogs and followed her heart’s desire to be a trainer of canines and humans.
“I started over, literally,” said Marti. “I spent about three years in Texas animal shelters where I worked as a vet tech and surgical assistant. We evaluated the behavior and potential of each animal as an adoptable dog. It gave me the opportunity of hands-on experience with many dogs of different breeds and diverse backgrounds.”
After five years in Austin, Texas, Marti went to her first Winter Equestrian Festival, which inspired another major change. She went home, sold her house, packed her bags and, in 2008, moved to Florida.
Life in Palm Beach
“I love so many things about the horse culture in Palm Beach: It’s dog friendly, and we have access to the best professionals, vets, chiropractors,” said Marti. “I think the non-stop show season is exactly what I was looking for. I love how horse people love their dogs, but horses and dogs are two distinct species and very different to train. I love that I can be of some service to the horse people and their dogs.”
Marti rides and competes in dressage. She also competes in AKC obedience events with her dogs: Fizz, a standard poodle; Lark, a border collie and first dog in the country to earn the new AKC title “Urban Canine Good Citizen”; and Prue, a rat terrier. They deserve a stand-alone story.
“My dogs have learned to hang out at the barn when I’m riding,” said Marti. “Dogs need to learn to be safe around horses and, until they’re trained for being at the barn, they need to be on a leash or confined. If they go to shows, they must learn not to bark and to be unobtrusive. My primary concern is everybody’s safety — dogs, humans and horses.”
Marti makes house and barn calls. She’s the training director at the Obedience Training Club of Palm Beach County. In addition to the Harvard Ph.D., her credentials include graduation from San Francisco SPCA Academy for Professional Dog Trainers, Certified Professional Dog Trainer, Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA), AKC Canine Good Citizen Examiner (since 2004), and Therapy Dogs International Examiner.
In March 2015, the AKC honored Marti by asking her to serve as the first-ever Urban Canine Good Citizen Examiner. She gathered together a team of colleagues and supervised putting their dogs through the Urban CGC test of 10 elements, which she documented with a video for AKC to distribute to other examiners. Of course, Marti’s Lark was the first to undergo the challenge and passed every test with flying colors.
Dream Versus Reality
Marti keeps training simple. Her goal is for clients to have the nicest dogs in their neighborhoods. People often ask her to cure a specific problem, such as not pulling on the leash, which takes two or three sessions. Marti takes some dogs into her home for a week to work consistently in short sessions; after that, she recommends a few private lessons to train the owner.
Basic “learned behaviors” include training a dog to come when you call, walking on a leash without pulling, greeting visitors without jumping, and sit, down and stay. More advanced skills include walking on a leash through crowds without reacting to distraction. Marti’s website includes a complete list of what dogs need to know for the Canine Good Citizen test and/or Therapy Dogs International Exam.
“The first key to dog training is good management,” said Marti. “Before you fix your dog’s bad habits, you have to manage your dog better. Horse people like to keep their dogs at liberty. I ask new clients: Where’s your leash? They point to a lead rope. I say: Get the right equipment to manage your dog so they can’t practice bad behaviors, like chasing horses. The first step is the dog gets to be shown what to do and second, gets tested under different conditions in such a way that he gets it right nine out of 10 times. A good recall takes about 90 days to establish.”
Marti’s totally attuned to the way dogs think and what motivates them. She’s adept with their humans, too, who can be very indulgent when it comes to their darlings. Yet, even relatively well-behaved dogs can and will push boundaries.
“Sometimes I educate the owner on how to use food in order to reinforce training,” she said. “I want people to understand that they can use what they put in the dog’s bowl as a training tool. And short sessions are better than long ones, especially when you’re working with puppies and rescues. You can do so much in 10 minutes if you know what you’re doing.”
Horses & Dogs
Marti’s passion for horses started young, encouraged by her non-horsey parents who gave her riding lessons for her 7th birthday. They lived in Tidewater, a semi-rural area about 62 miles northeast of Richmond on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.
“We had access to backyard ponies, 4-H and hunter lessons in a sandy ring,” said Marti. “The ponies raised us — we rode bareback, gave them Mountain Dew and took them swimming. I mucked stalls to pay for lessons. I had responsibility for one school pony after another and later, when I grew taller, horses. We rode every day after school until I graduated from high school.”
She took a long break from horses during college and graduate school. When she started working in New York City, she found a place to ride about an hour away by train on Long Island. “I discovered the discipline of dressage as an adult. I still remember the day I rode a dressage canter for the first time — it changed my life,” said Marti. “I couldn’t believe how perfect the world felt, even if only for a few seconds.”
Marti had trained with John Zopatti when she had Don Bellissimo, Prix St. George schoolmaster, and Supeman, the 18-plus-hand Dutch horse who encouraged high hopes until he needed early retirement. “When John relocated for part of the year to North Carolina, he referred me to Bent Jensen,” said Marti. “Bent had a competitive schoolmaster named Cassidy (Blue Hors Cavan–Red Rose) who needed a mom. Cassidy challenges me to ride with less leg and more finesse. I’m lucky to have him.”
As for training with Bent, Marti said, “He’s quiet and kind. During a lesson, he only speaks when he has something important to say. The one thing he mentions is the very thing that saves you. He sees the big picture, so I trust him to move me forward, in spite of my mistakes. I got my USDF silver medal this year with Cassidy — Bent would say that I’m working on my gold medal now. I’m so excited about that — it’s a dream come true.”
Photos by Sara Hellner