So, you got a new puppy over the holidays or as a recent gift. It seemed like such a good idea at the time.
Since then, you've probably dealt with chewed furniture, fingers, shoes — and who knows what else. A demon has been brought into your life. Cute, but pure evil. And you have no idea how to deal with it.
The good news is there is still time to get your puppy — and yourself — trained and acclimated. Dynamo, our new, 14-week-old Dalmatian, has been going to puppy classes for five weeks. While still a nut at times (she is a puppy, after all) the classes have helped her learn positive behaviors and become more acclimated to stressful situations. And as owners, we have learned as well.
Whatever part of town you live in, there are lots of options in terms of places that offer training, including the big stores, PetSmart and PetCo. There is also no shortage of boarding and training services in Houston and all of those listed get good reviews on Yelp.
In the Galleria area, Meadowlake Pet Resort & Training Center has a program with both private and group lessons. They recently hosted a party for pets and owners at their new facility, and these bonding sessions are critical in a puppy’s — and owner’s — development. And that has been a huge part of our young puppy’s training.
Good karma, good dog
Dynamo started training with Karma Dog Training at eight weeks old at Urban Tails. The training focuses on socialization with other dogs and learning basic commands. James Clay, one of the dog trainers at Karma, has trained somewhere between 500 and 800 dogs.
“I wanted to start working with dogs because it helped me work on my own lack of patience in life, and when I was volunteering at the animal shelter Friends for Life it truly changed my life,” Clay says. He started working with Karma two years ago.
The good news is if you have not started training with a new puppy, there is still time. Clay says it’s never too late. But “anything past one, one-and-a-half years in age is going to become increasingly more difficult,” he says. “My Australian shepherd Rigby didn’t start training until he was one-and-a-half years old and it took well over a year to get him to the place I wanted.”
Dynamo, (who has her own instagram @dynamothedog), did her first three sessions with a small puppy group. When she got over 15 pounds, she moved up to the bigger group. It was an adjustment; she was accustomed to being the biggest dog, and she went to being the smallest. But Karma’s patient approach helped her adjust. Clay and fellow trainer Aaron Courtland emphasized a positive approach when she did not respond well and spent time coaching both Dynamo and us on how to deal with it.
The weekly classes emphasize both socialization and obedience, and the training so far has involved sit, stay, and loose leash walking. She has made remarkable progress in all of them. The training has also helped her in adjusting to our other dog, a 12-year-old ridgeback/boxer mix named Derby.
Dogs in the class often find one or two friends to play with. It’s almost like having toddlers again, complete with play dates. The training helps them learn how to focus, and to deal with different situations. With puppies, patience is critical, and it pays off.
“The most rewarding part of the job is when you have faith in a dog and they start to respond to the training, when that happens a little lightbulb goes off in a pet parent’s head and it’s magical,” Clay notes. “Dogs are incredibly perceptive and I think we discount their cognitive abilities at times.”
Not just for pups
The reality is the classes is they are as much — if not more — for the owners (or “pet parents” as Clay calls them) as they are for the dogs.
That part has been especially educational. Neither of us had owned a puppy in 25 years; all of our other animals are older rescues. And the puppies we had way back then were not trained. A skeptic (and cynic) by nature, I was not sure about training, since I had never had a dog go through it before.
However, after one session, I was convinced. We immediately learned things we had never thought of, which has helped with our older dog as well. It is now at the point where we look forward to the classes each week. The socialization of the puppy gives us a common ground with the other owners and training her at home has been fun.
Of course, she is still a puppy. At 13 weeks, it is like dealing with a 13-year-old kid. She pushes limits, has good days and bad. But she is so much more advanced than she would have been without training. It helps her with other dogs, and will be a big benefit when she has to be boarded down the road.
And yes, puppies require a lot of attention. But the effort now will pay off when she gets older.
The classes have been a godsend for all of us. At least the two old dogs — er, pet parents — have learned some new...well, you get the idea. And the new dog is learning as well. While Dynamo was not a rescue, all of our past and future pets are. And the training will be a part of any dog we get in the future.
“Have faith in your puppy,” Clay says. “Give them space to be themselves. But before you adopt make sure you ask the tough question: “Will this dog fit my lifestyle?”
While we both work long hours, our jobs allow us to work from home quite a bit. Not everyone has that luxury, so make sure you research the breed before you adopt or buy.
And no matter what dog you have, training will help both your animal and yourself. Clay and Courtland have been helpful, attentive and responsive, and we have all learned a great deal from them and enjoyed the process. If you are near downtown, Karma has been great for us. But there are good trainers all over the city. Research what is best for you and your puppy.
Whatever place you decide on, training classes will make a huge difference for your puppy.
Most importantly, for you as well.