Dog’s Best Friend

Aaron Terwiske poses for a portrait with his brood of canine companions at his home near Wickliffe. His dogs are, clockwise from lower left, Marcel, a 13-year-old Belgian Tervuren; Bella, a 3-year-old Doberman; Lily and Lucy, 6-month-old Chinese crested puppies; Puggie, a 9-year-old puggle; Ruby, a 6-year-old Doberman; Glory, a 6-year-old Doberman; and Dealer, an 11-year-old border collie. Aaron also has a 1-year-old Doberman named Storm that is not pictured.



Story by Alexandra Sondeen
Photos by Rachel Mummey

Her eyes zeroed in on her master, 6-year-old black-and-tan Doberman Glory gives the man she loves every possible smidgen of her attention. She sits erect to his left with her shoulders brushing his calf, completely ignoring other people and dogs nearby.

She’s ready.

Heel. Speed up. Slow down. Sit. Turn left. Sit. Stay. Turn right. Back up. Circle right. Down. Come front. Around. Heel. Sit. Stay.

“Good girl!”

Aaron Terwiske, 61, praises Glory and rewards her with a few quick strokes while the judge finishes making his notes. At every command, Glory had hopped to, eager to follow her owner’s lead at the Evansville Obedience Club’s event on June 8.

Aaron, who lives in a cabin off Patoka Lake northwest of Wickliffe, is well known in the Dubois County area for his dog obedience training. But his reputation extends well beyond the county lines.

Hayden Bromley of Owensboro, 8, center, and Brieana Bateman of Dubois, 9, Aaron’s granddaughters, held the newest additions to the family, two 6-month-old Chinese crested puppies — Lucy, left, and Lily — at his home June 17.

In addition to training and showing four of his nine personal dogs in area shows, he runs several eight-week obedience classes four times a year. Dog owners have come from Evansville, New Harmony and Illinois to take his classes. He also trains 4-H’ers each year.

“I wanted to become a vet, but it was just too intense and I didn’t have the money back then to go to vet school,” he said. “There was no way I could afford it. But I always liked animals and I’ve had all kinds of them. Dogs can be in the house with you, be with you all the time and you can work with them.”

When he lived in Dubois, Aaron owned and bred horses for a while. He also raised sheep and goats. But dogs and dog training have been his passion since his former wife gave him a gift named Bo Jack in 1973.

Aaron knew the Great Dane puppy would soon be huge and easily could become a terror if he didn’t start training early. So he enrolled in an obedience class for beginners.

“It just went from there,” he said. “I never stopped.”

He had found his hobby and devoted his free time to reading books, watching videos and attending seminars. He taught himself all the ins and outs of dog training and began showing.

“If I can do something myself, then that’s the way I’ll do it,” he said. “I’ve always been that way. I learned how to shoe my own horses and trim their hooves when I had them. Why call someone else to do something I can do just as good or better myself?”

Aaron placed first in an advanced rally with his Doberman named Bella during a show at the Evansville Metro Sports Center on June 8.

For a time, Aaron showed Akitas in a discipline known as confirmation, where dogs are judged on how well they fit the ideal standards for their breeds. He also showed his best obedience dog, an 11-year-old blue-and-white border collie named Dealer, in confirmation and earned a champion title.

But after a while, Aaron grew tired of confirmation and decided to stick to obedience.

Confirmation is “very political,” he said. “Each judge has their preferences and you have to keep track of what they like, what they don’t like. When you go into obedience, rally and agility, it’s how well you and your dog do, not how pretty he is or anything about his gait or structure. It’s about how smart he is and how well he listens.”

Aaron trains in all three classes of obedience — novice, open and utility — where a judge tells handlers what to do with their dogs. He also trains in the novice, advanced and excellent classes in rally, an obedience event where the handlers follow signs with instructions through a course and the judge observes.

He dabbled in search-and-rescue training and in schutzhund, a German guard dog sport complete with bite training.

“But there wasn’t much around here for that stuff,” Aaron said. “I was always on the road driving to go to things.”

About 25 years ago, Aaron started training in dog agility, where dogs run through obstacles and jumps. He set up an agility course at his cabin and has trained in novice, open and excellent classes in that event as well.

“There’s lots of different levels and categories you can put your dog in,” he said. “Each class has subdivisions and you work your way up through them.”

Judge Fred Buroff of Mokena, Ill., right, evaluated Aaron and his border collie Dealer during an obedience show in the highest class at the Harrison County 4-H Fairgrounds in Corydon on June 3. Aaron says perfection is the most important thing to him when he shows his dogs.

Mary Walker and her husband, Jim, travel from Evansville with their two black standard poodles, Shelby and Lucy, to train in Aaron’s classes. They started dabbling in competitive obedience training a few years ago and needed someone with experience to help them learn to work their dogs. They spotted Aaron at several shows and sought his help about a year ago.

“He was always winning and his dogs looked so happy working with him,” Mary Walker said. “That was one of the things that attracted us to him. He does a great job helping you understand how you are communicating with your dog, what signals you might be giving them that are confusing them.”

Shelby had a problem with paying attention. Walker said the dog is a bit of a clown and often would leave her side to wander around the show ring.

“She’s doing a lot better now,” she said.  Aaron has “a really good, critical eye. He can size you up and help you out.”

Fellow competitors and students seek Aaron out when they have questions at shows. He helps them read rally signs, gives them pointers and watches and reviews their performances to help them improve the next time around.

“He just knows everything,” Walker said. “He can definitely give you extremely useful tips and is always willing to help you out.”

Aaron is helping Sharon Frank of Huntingburg, a student of his for about 15 years, work out a problem with her 6-year-old Pembroke Welsh corgi, Zip. Zip is an appropriate name for the dog that is well known in Aaron’s more advanced training classes for her speed and maniacal love of agility.

“When she sees the agility obstacles, she just thinks it’s time to run and won’t stay and wait,” Frank said. “I’m not doing agility with her right now so we can work more with her doing off-leash obedience to see if that will help calm her down.”

Aaron cautions his students not to get discouraged when their dogs don’t seem to respond to training right away.

“Each dog doesn’t necessarily respond to a particular kind of training,” he said. “You have to try different styles and find what works. When you find what works, they figure things out pretty quickly if you’re consistent with what you do.”

Seth Hartwick of Jasper, 9, led his 4-month-old puppy, Rio, through an agility tunnel with help from Aaron during a beginning obedience class at the Centennial Park shelterhouse in Jasper on May 16.

The proof of his methods is his own dogs, which he often brings to his classes for demonstrations, and the scores of titles they’ve earned over the years. Dealer has earned the most titles with 25 to his name and he’s working on five more. Marcel, a 13-year-old Belgian Tervuren, retired with 20 titles.

Aaron and Glory left the June 8 rally trials in Evansville with a first-place score of 96 out of 100 in an excellent class and a second-place score of 97 out of 100 in an advanced class. The team earned plenty of praise and Aaron garnered some additional teasing from the other dog handlers.

“He wins a lot,” Frank said.

Aaron smiled and laughed, though Glory now has earned eight titles. Three-year-old Doberman Bella, whom Aaron showed later at the Evansville trials, has earned five titles. One-year-old Storm, one of Bella’s pups, is a monster-size Doberman at about 110 pounds and is also getting started in obedience with his first show coming up in October.

“My dogs do flunk sometimes,” he said. “But they usually score pretty high. They get perfect scores sometimes, too. But I have had a few of my students beat me at a coupe of shows.”

Dealer failed a couple of obedience trials in a utility class in early June at the annual Southern Indiana Kennel Club show in Corydon.

Aaron had rubbed his scent on both a metal and a leather dumbbell, which were then placed in a grouping with several other dumbbells. On both days of the trials, Dealer was instantly disqualified when he retrieved the wrong dumbbells.

“I don’t know what was wrong with him this morning,” a disappointed Aaron said after the first day’s flunking as he received condolences from fellow competitors, including a few a of his students.

Jasmine Curtis of Ferdinand, 14, received a grand champion ribbon for dog obedience with her pug, Rocky, at the Dubois County 4-H Fair on July 19. She and Rocky are students of Aaron’s.

But the old dog redeemed himself somewhat by passing the open-class trials he also competed in that weekend.

“Dogs have good days and bad days just like we do,” Aaron said. “And a lot of times, it’s the handler that makes the mistake or wasn’t quick enough.”

That attitude shows how much he cares for his dogs and his dedication to good training, said Zach Newton, president of the Evansville Obedience Club that Aaron is a member of.

“He doesn’t immediately put the blame on the dog when there’s a mistake in the ring,” said Newton, who has known Aaron for about 10 years. “A lot of people are quick to jerk a leash or scold their dog, even when the handler is really at fault. Aaron thinks about if he did something to cause a situation first and doesn’t punish his dogs for something that wasn’t their fault.”

The dogs respond to that, placing their full trust in Aaron and making them eager to please him. Their attention rarely wanders from him while in the ring and they stay glued to his side.

“I’ve never seen a dog that didn’t like Aaron,” Newton said. “He takes pride in what he’s doing. He puts a lot of time and energy into his dogs and it shows. He really has a great bond with his animals, the kind of bond everyone wants with a dog.”

Outside of his job as a hair stylist at M’aaron’s, the salon he co-owns in French Lick, Aaron continues to work with his dogs at home three to five times a week. His classes remain full, too.

 “It’s a lot of work,” he said. “But I enjoy it. I’m not entirely sure what I’d do if I wasn’t doing this.”

Contact Alexandra Sondeen at




More on

  • High Pursuits

    For 200 years, higher education in Dubois County has responded to community needs. That...
  • The Voyage of Life

    A photo essay by the Herald photography staff inspired by the paintings of Thomas Cole.
  • All-Star Team

    Away from fans, the talented Montgomery family learns and grows in its own huddle.
  • Looking Back: Dubois County 4-H Fair

    To mark the end of the 2020 Dubois County 4-H Fair, which was held virtually this week due to...
  • Prayers Answered

    After years of planning and discussion, St. Mary Catholic Church in Ireland dedicated a new...
  • Life On The Porch

    A lot of life happens on a front porch. While porches have changed through the years, they...
  • A Day At The Lake

    Patoka Lake State Park reels in nature lovers of all kinds from across Indiana and beyond. Last...
  • Inside the Fence

    Herald photography intern Kayla Renie's decided to photograph residents in their fenced-in...