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nbai courtneyGroomer Courtney Harrigan (left) takes a quick break while Owner Melissa Gianonne says hello to a client

Have a look at the No Barks About It website and you think, at first, you have somehow stumbled onto a college site.  'There's always something happening on campus' is prominently displayed, and a college coat of arms is shown in the upper left corner.  Look closer, and you see that coat of arms has a puppy, grooming tools, a paw print and a graduation mortarboard, and the real purpose comes into focus.  This is a school and grooming facility for dogs.  Owner Melissa Giannone says the focus went from doggie day care to training six months ago when she moved her business to the corner of Triphammer Road and Route 34B.

"We added a really strong training focus," she says. "Previously day care was a highly supervised dog park.  But now, on top of group play there is a heavy emphasis on manners, obedience training... dogs have to sit in front of every door before they can go through it.  We work on them sitting in groups, their recall, their name recognition, advanced obedience... we have agility equipment, and food puzzles for dogs that like to use their brains.  We try to exercise them mentally as well as physically."

The business was located in the big shopping plaza in front of the Ithaca Mall, but it had outgrown the storefront long ago.  Last November she saw that the current building was for lease, and decided to make the leap.  The building had been an auto parts shop for years, and later a kitchen counter store. The last tenants were dog enthusiasts who imprinted their bulldog's footprints in a concrete slab outside the warehouse door.  That turned out to be a good omen for the new tenant.

nobarks trainingroomThe former auto parts warehouse has been cleaned up and partitioned to create separate training spaces for big and little dogs, which also have separate outdoor areas for training and recreation

"We were running at maximum capacity for day care, and we had a waiting list.  Not only is this a bigger space, but we have outdoor space, too.   Our old facility was indoor only.  This has outdoor space on both sides of the building, so we have big dogs on one side and little dogs on the other side."

No Barks About It offers grooming and washing for dogs and cats -- mostly dogs, as well as training/day care.  While many clients use the professional groomers on staff, a popular feature is the 'Self Wash' room.  The do-it-yourself pet bathing room is first come, first served, no appointments taken.  The business provides shampoo, conditioner, aprons, and other supplies so owners can just bring their dogs and wash them.  Prices depend on the size of the dog except on Wednesday, when any sized dog can be washed for a reduced price.  It is most popular on Saturdays.

Occasionally the business has attracted unusual clients.  Two goats came for a self-wash bath, and a guinea pig got a pet-icure.  But Gianonne says she wants to keep the focus on dogs and cats.

"Having someone come in with a guinea pig in a lobby where there are dogs coming and going can be a little bit risky," she worries. "It's natural for a dog to think, 'Oh, that's something I can eat.'  So we don't want to mix the species too much."

A native of Skaneateles, Gianonne says she wanted to be a veterinarian her whole life... until it was actually time to apply for veterinary school.  After graduating Cornell with a bachelors degree she took various jobs in the wine industry and a store at the mall.  She says she developed management skills during the mall experience, and the wine industry jobs were a lot of fun.  When a job opened up at 'Those Dirty Dogs' it was a perfect match.

"I grew up riding horses and working on horse farms," she says. "I didn't really know doggie day care was a thing until I was an adult.  We had one dog for about two years when I was growing up. Otherwise we had horses and cats and donkeys.  So I didn't specifically want to work with dogs, but once the position became available I realized how much I enjoyed doing it."

She had been working there for nine months when the owner told her he was closing his business.  That was an opportunity for Giannone.  She bought the business in 2011,  renamed it, and continued the services in the same location.  The new location has a lot more space that not only facilitated the training area, but allowed more separation between that and the grooming rooms.

nbai melissaMelissa Gianonne - Photo courtesy of No Barks About It

Giannone says there was a learning curve when she found herself a business owner, but that the industry is a tight-knit community with other animal day care owners in the US, Canada, and Australia.  She has embraced the business part, and continues as the lead dog groomer. 

"I know how to dog," she says. "That part comes naturally.  It's the knowing how to run a business part that was a crash course!"

She also manages 12 employees, including a groomer, a bather, a general manager, day care manager, a receptionist and day school attendants.  While a few clients dropped off when she moved, she says most were from Lansing anyway, and the business is thriving.

"We have a lot more room, so we can take a lot more dogs," she says. "We're looking forward to being able to grow the numbers in day care.  We have about the same amount of space for grooming.  We'd really like to build the obedience classes and puppy obedience, but I'd really like to become a part of the community.  I want it to be a place where owners can come to get guidance and support and meet other dog owners.  We want to help owners appreciate dogs for being dogs, and all that encompasses.  We want to help them learn how to live harmoniously with their dogs so they can enjoy their dogs, and the dogs can enjoy them.  We like working with owners on all the different aspects of training."

nbai diyBring your dirty dog and yourself -- everything else is provided in the Self-Wash room

For the future, Giannone is considering doggie graduation ceremonies for dogs whose owners are leaving the area after they finish their own school years.  She also hopes to host dog-related community events, including adoption days, when local rescue organizations showcase some of their animals, and pack-walks, where multiple owners meet at a different location each week to get exercise for themselves and their dogs, and meet other pet-friendly people in their community.  In that vein she says she and her staff love helping pet owners with advice on issues like separation anxiety, crate training issues, and potty training.

Gianonne has two Dobermans of her own, one of which comes to work with her every day, and a cat she says is a "dog in a cat suit".  She says she loves seeing dogs who are nervous about being washed or groomed become comfortable after a few visits, and loves seeing the dogs succeed at learning impulse control and manners.

"I really like seeing the successes and seeing the owners' successes," Giannone says. "When an owner comes to pick up their dog and their dog offers to sit at the door for them, and the owner is delighted to see that behavior, it's a success for everybody.  I like seeing the dog succeed.  I like seeing the owner succeed.  Those little successes are the best part."

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