Indoor cardio for canines

A new gym opened in Huntington Beach this week, but it's a place where leashes and chewable treats are preferred over iPods and water bottles as workout companions.

It's called Zoom Room, and it's a YMCA of sorts for dogs.

The company, founded by dog trainer Jaime Van Wye in 2007 in Culver City, is now welcoming pets and their owners to the first Orange County location, inside a strip-mall at 19069 Beach Blvd.

At the grand opening Saturday, clients waited behind a waist-high concrete wall for instructor and franchise co-owner Blane Dydasco to begin the introductory agility class, his first of five.

Dogs remained on leashes while owners rewarded them with treats, emphasizing positive reinforcement, said Dydasco, who trained Dalmatians when he lived in Hawaii.

Huntington Beach resident Michelle Martin and her 2 1/2-year-old miniature, white-haired poodle Gracie made up one of seven owner-pet couples in the class.

Martin, with leash in hand, guided Gracie up and over a portable bridge. She held a treat to keep the dog from slipping off.

Gracie calmly followed Martin's lead and passed the test.

Elsewhere, dogs jumped over a horizontal bar, like a hurdle, and weaved around a maze of vertical plastic poles.

Besides improving her footwork, Martin hoped Gracie would gain confidence around her canine classmates.

"When I got her (1 1/2 years ago), she was afraid of being around other dogs," Martin said. "Obedience classes were great, so I want to maintain that. I don't want her to be afraid. She also needs to move more."

Activities like walking up and down a ramp help dogs with their balance and movement in tight spaces, Van Wye said.

"It's good for brain development in close spaces and for stepping on things that wobble," Van Wye said.

Specific classes help shy dogs become more social and rambunctious dogs to calm down and mind their manners.

"The teaching is reward-based, keeping everything positive," Dydasco said. "We have no choke collars and set dogs up for success, little by little."

Zoom Room has several types of group and private classes focused on obedience and agility, as well as an "urban herding" course, in which dogs push medicine balls across the floor with their noses.

The exercise is supposed to develop off-leash obedience and self-control, according to the Zoom Room website.

A package of four classes costs $120, while a private, one-hour training class costs $95.

Van Wye started the business because he wanted to hold dog training indoors. The idea may spread to locations in Irvine and Costa Mesa, according to the website.

"All [training places] were outside on Thursday morning at 11 a.m.," Van Dye said of the time, which could be inconvenient for people who work during the day. "This is air-conditioned, a safe location, and you don't have to have your dog off-leash."

Dydasco has always owned a dog — or two, as he and his wife, Mel, now do.

He used to work on movie and television sets as a lighting technician before learning about Zoom Room and realizing he could do something with dogs full-time.

One challenge is getting dogs accustomed to being inside without fear of a person lurking nearby with a needle or clippers.

"Most dogs that are indoors think they are at the vet or groomers," said Blane, who lives in Huntington Beach. "It usually takes one session for them to get accustomed to their surroundings. We introduce them to agility and work one step at a time."

The 2,700-square-foot space also serves as a retail store, where customers can purchase leashes and treats such as bison wafers, which resemble beef jerky.

The grand opening was also a fundraiser for the Orange County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Proceeds from a silent auction held Saturday and Sunday netted $800 for the nonprofit, Blane said.

For more information about Zoom Room, call (714) 794-9663.

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