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Mokena woman in dogged pursuit of excellence

Sandy Heimberg is an instructor with Superdog Obedience Training School Frankfort Square. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media

Sandy Heimberg is an instructor with Superdog Obedience Training School in Frankfort Square. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: November 5, 2012 6:02AM



Sandy Heimberg thinks every dog has the potential to be a “super dog.”

The 42-year-old Mokena woman, co-owner of a dog obedience school in Frankfort Square, will put her faith on display later this month when one of her dogs — Von Scheer’s Amazin’ Raisin CD, aka simply “Raisin” — competes in the 2012 Great Dane Club of America Obedience Invitational Novice Championship in Topeka, Kan.

The 104-pound, 21/2-year-old dog, recently ranked No. 2 by the Great Dane Club of America, will compete against nine other obedience Great Danes on Oct. 24.

Raisin also has earned an American Kennel Club Companion Dog title. Heimberg likes Raisin’s chances at the GDCA event even though she wasn’t bred for competition.

“I do know she’ll be up against two dogs bred out of champions,” Heimberg said. “Raisin was bred to be pretty.”

But Heimberg said her own attitude will “go right down into the leash” to her dog, and she’s determined to keep the competition fun for both of them.

Raisin isn’t Heimberg’s first successful attempt at dog training. She became interested in teaching after taking her first golden retriever to puppy obedience classes in 1996.

“I really enjoyed it. Once I transitioned from pet obedience to competitive obedience, that’s when I got interested in helping other people train their pets,” Heimberg said.

By 2008, she was teaching puppy and beginner obedience classes at Stone City Kennel Club in New Lenox. Now she and co-owner Tanya Mikolajczyk operate Superdog Obedience Training School, a cooperative effort with the Frankfort Square Park District, with classes in an out-building at Lincoln-Way North High School.

Heimberg, who has lived in Mokena for 12 years and is a secretary at Lincoln-Way East High School, also has trained and competed for 15 years with her own golden retrievers, Shadow, Dream, and Promise.

She said her dogs have been as much a part of the family for her and her husband Kurt, as her children, Michael O’Hara, 22, and Amber, 12.

While Heimberg always found her “golden girls” easy to work with, she said Raisin has been a challenge from the beginning. In fact, Heimberg marvels that any of this actually is happening.

“She did not connect with me as a puppy the first full year of her life,” Heimberg said. “From the get-go, Raisin did not choose me.”

Raisin instead bonded with Heimberg’s son, who had convinced her in 2009 that a Great Dane would be a great addition to their family.

When Heimberg took over Raisin’s training, she did it the way she trains all dogs — with positive reinforcement. But Raisin’s response was different.

“She struggled with dominance and submission with me,” Heimberg said. “I was alpha in my house, so if I said, ‘Do it,’ she’d do it.”

But Heimberg doesn’t train with a dominant approach but a “with me” approach so that dog and master work together.

Since Raisin couldn’t be “leader of the pack,” Heimberg said, the Great Dane saw herself as a follower only.

“The first year, there were a lot of tears,” Heimberg said. She said she could not motivate Raisin with toys or food.

“I knew if I could just train this dog to walk next to me, she’d be great,” Heimberg said. “Then one day, it just clicked, and it’s been a great ride ever since.

“That’s really our story,” Heimberg said of the bond that almost didn’t happen. “That’s why it’s incredibly special.”



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