Her second-grade teacher spotted Mary Lee “Marly” Whiting’s early dedication to animals.
As a student at Christ the King elementary school in south Minneapolis, Whiting wrote an essay about her dog, Velvet.
Despite “smooth” writing, she only got a B. Her teacher commented: “I wish you could learn to write as well about at least one other subject. You should make a determined effort to broaden your horizon a bit.”
Whiting never heeded that advice.
Instead, she became an internationally recognized dog trainer who founded Canine College, a Richfield school that taught scores of dogs the sport of obedience and sent many clients — and their handlers — to competitions.
Whiting, of Edina, died Nov. 3 at the age of 84.
“She was born to work with animals,” said Roberta Cole, a friend and a trustee of Whiting’s estate.
Born in 1932, Whiting showed an early interest in training dogs during her Linden Hills childhood. She was only 12 when she won her first competition, with her cocker spaniel, Chloe.
There were no courses for an aspiring professional dog trainer at St. Catherine’s, so she took college classes in theater and speech to help her in her future business.
“She was so single-minded in all of it,” said Sheryl Juhl, a longtime friend who brought her dog to Whiting for training in 1977.
Whiting became a licensed handler with the American Kennel Club in 1955 and amassed a clientele that had her working with up to 10 different dogs a day. She competed at the Westminster Dog Show in 1956 and her dog, Blarney, was named the top obedience dog in the country.
Later, she became a judge at the prestigious show.
In 1962, Whiting opened Canine College, where she taught obedience in her signature style. She eventually wrote two books on the subject.
“She was very particular about her training,” Juhl said. “No one else could do it like she could.”
Whiting took a stern approach to dog training, encouraging handlers to dress sharply, to always keep their dogs groomed and, above all, to practice. She could easily spot when a dog hadn’t trained between classes.
“She didn’t miss a trick,” said Robin Derrickson, who trained her dogs with Whiting since 1974. “The example she set for the standard was just about more than anyone else could attain.”
Even outside of work, dogs were her life. She raised as many as 15 of her own.
“If she went to a house with dogs, the dogs would be at Marly’s feet,” said Sarah Ann Sexton, another friend. “She just had a magnetism for dogs.”
Whiting had no siblings or children. But as she gained fame in the canine world, those who trained with her forged a kind of family.
“Dog obedience training during those years was our community, our social outlet,” said Derrickson, now of Prescott, Ariz.
Whiting’s second family came from her other love: horses. She was an accomplished rider, and showed American Saddlebreds at the Minnesota State Fair into her 80s.
No more than 5 feet 4, she was “a tiny person on this huge horse,” Juhl recalled. And, Sexton added, “she rode that horse like the wind.”
One of her proudest achievements, according to her friends, was winning a “Fido” award in 1980 for her contributions to the sport of dog obedience.
The bronze statue of a dog always had a prominent place on Whiting’s mantel.