Hoffman's Houston
new dog, new tricks

Ken Hoffman fetches a Heights 'dog whisperer' to save his sanity

Ken Hoffman fetches a Heights 'dog whisperer' to save his sanity

Ken Hoffman new puppy Citizens for Animal Protection
Can a Heights "dog whisperer" save Hoffman's sanity and smarten up his pup? Photo by Getty Images

For the first time in my ever-lovin’ dog life, all my tricks, all my patience, all my kind words … have failed.

Last week, I enrolled my dog Sally in training school. Why? She’s nuts.

I adopted Sally last New Year’s Eve from Citizens for Animal Protection. I had to pick her up and put her gently into my car. She was woozy from being spayed that morning.

Sally was 8 months old, a pretty blond Schnauzer/terrier, at least according to the sign on her cage. She was brought to CAP as a stray, and weighed 28 skin-and-bones pounds.

Too much pup
That was then. Less than three months later, Sally weighs 50 pounds and when we play tug-o-war, she wins. She could drag me through the dog door if she wanted to. She eats her breakfast and dinner like every day is a cheat day. I’ve had to buy a trick dog bowl with hidden compartments and grooves so she won’t inhale dinner in one gulp.

That Schnauzer/Terrier sign on her cage? Yeah, right. I swabbed her mouth and sent the Q-tip to one of those doggie ancestry companies. Her DNA report came back Collie and poodle (if that’s even physically possible) with some Maltese in the double helix.

No chance. I’m guessing a jackal/kangaroo mix. You should see this dog jump — straight up. If they ever make another Air Bud basketball movie, Sally’s your girl. Every morning, I wake up when she gets a running start and flies onto my head like Superman’s dog, Krypto.

The barking., the jumping...the biting
She bites, jumps on people, barks when nobody’s in front of my house, tore up my living room couch … the total package. When I leave the house, even if it’s just to drag the garbage to the curb, she jumps on me when I come back in, like I was never returning. I happen to like this, think it’s funny, but I can see where other people would find this annoying. And it might ruin my fabulous dinner parties, which are the highlight of the social season in Houston (right, Shelby Hodge?)

Sally also happens to be my favorite dog ever. I love Sally like crazy. She’s hilarious. She is so sweet … when she wants to be. Like now, for example. As I write this on the couch, she’s cuddled up next to me. She watches TV almost as much as I do, and never hogs the remote. 

I know, she’s a puppy. It’s her job to get in trouble. And it’s my job to get her to behave — a little.

Sally, meet the dog whisperer 
So off we went to Believe in Dog training school “and enrichment center” in The Heights. The school is run by Stephanie Bennett, named Best Dog Trainer by the Houston Press. She’s also the personal trainer of Channel 2’s Tex, star of daytime's Houston Life

Bennett is a swami, using holistic techniques to get your dog to behave. Her approach is “for your dog’s mind and spirit.” She promotes “communication, mutual respect, consistency, and real-life training.”

She is a “dog whisperer.” During our admission interview (and no, I didn’t have pay a $500,000 bribe to get Sally accepted), Bennett said “thank you” when Sally sat, and “no thank you” when Sally practically bowled her over. Sorry about that.

Our class is every Monday night. So far we’ve worked on “sit” and how to walk calmly on a leash. More important, Bennett gave me a tip on how to tire Sally out. She said, “Five minutes with a flirt pole, and she’ll want to sleep.”

A flirt pole sounds like something from the Men’s Club gift shop. No, it’s a stick with a long string and a dog toy at the end. It looks like a fishing pole. I swing it back and forth and in a circle and Sally sprints after it like a greyhound chasing the cotton bunny at the dog track. When she catches the toy, it’s like trying to bring Moby Dick into the boat.

Bennett advises that dogs should start training “immediately, up to four months.” So Sally is behind the curve, playing catch up. Her free ride ends in one month. We’re told to bring “high value” treats. I bring a pocketful of peanut butter chewies. I do not keep the treats in my mouth, like those freak dog owners at the Westminster Dog Show. If I ever get to that point, I’m getting a goldfish.

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Thinking of adopting a dog? Ken Hoffman showcases a CultureMap pet of the week every Thursday.