Thursday, May 2, 2013

GUEST POST-Cooper the Puppy!!!

by Seanna Miller

Long before Cooper came home, I had placed the call to Dogs in the Park. Dogs in the Park was known to me – I had played at Sue and John Alexander’s wedding, many, many moons ago. As a matter of fact, Sue Alexander was my supervisor during my high school co-op – even more moons ago! I wanted puppy classes, and I wanted to make sure Cooper had a spot in a class with my good friends. I still remember the first reaction from Sue – “you got a what? A welsh terrier? What interested you in that breed?”

And so I told her. I wanted a breed that was independent, smart, small, feisty, with a sense of humor. I wanted a terrier specifically because I wanted a training challenge. Sue agreed that I would definitely get that. And I did – you can check out the blog post on Cooper here.

Back to puppy class! It had been about 10 years since I had a puppy. Chance, my heart dog, was a brilliant old man. I knew that because he was so easy, because we got each other, that I was in no shape to handle an unpredictable bundle of energy that would be Cooper the Puppy, and then Cooper the Dog.

Sure, long before Cooper came home, I had a crate, toys, food bowls, leashes, collars, harnesses – everything was worked out. I had dogs before, I knew what they were about, but I also knew that I needed help. I knew that puppy development was extremely important and puppy socialization was critical. And, I reasoned, a puppy is like a baby, and if new moms get help and support through all of the social programs out there, why couldn’t I get that same kind of help with my new puppy to ensure he had the best start possible to become the best dog he could potentially be?

Our timing was a little off. Cooper was due home a couple of days after the first puppy class, but that would be no problem – The Puppy Guy (aka John Alexander) would take care of us with a private catch up lesson – free of charge! I was also surprised to find out that the classes were an hour and a half long.

Feeling well prepared, Cooper and I went to our first class. He was so small! And the room so big! We went to our first class when he was 8 weeks old – Dogs in the Park takes great care to ensure that the puppy room is bleached to eliminate concerns around parvo, and that the toys are all sanitized. Cooper had a blast, because the puppy room – a nice sized room, was filled with toys, a rocking chair, crates, water bowls – all kinds of things to encourage a puppy to explore.

In our first lesson I learned all kinds of tips to help with toilet training, crating, and nipping. I was able to ask all kinds of questions about some of the odd things that Cooper was doing (I had one of those dogs that did not have any issues with peeing or pooping in his appropriately-sized crate). The Puppy Guy answered them thoroughly, and patiently, and delighted in my little Cooper stories (when Cooper first came home he loved to carry his metal food bowl around). I learned that we now know that choke chains are dangerous for dogs (and why). I trained Chance on a choke chain because that’s what we did 12 years ago – now I know differently, and I do better. Yet another reason why going to puppy class was the right decision for me!

Puppy class became the best fun I would have all week. Cooper loved going to puppy class, because there were other puppies to play with, lots of fun things to do, and of course, he loved his Puppy Guy, from whence all good things came (treats, toys, you name it!). Puppy class would go something like this:

  • ·         In the first class, puppies come in and they would have the opportunity to run around and play, often to the sound of a CD filled with all kinds of strange sounds (this is to help them learn that strange noises are OK!)
  • ·         In the second and following classes, puppies learn that they have to work before they play (following my favorite rule with Cooper – NILIF – Nothing In Life Is Free) by being tethered to the wall and asked for behaviors before getting their first play session.
  • ·         After a short play time, we would pick up the toys, put them away, then work on sits, or downs, or “leave it”. Some days we would have competitions for the longest down stay – Cooper never won those, but we tried hard nonetheless.
  • ·         After this short obedience time, we would let the puppies loose to wreak havoc on the puppy room again. The rule was that the two legged folk would have to constantly be moving around, doing body and collar grabs, immediately feeding and then returning the puppy to play. Puppy class sometimes tired me out more than Cooper!
  • ·         We would toilet the dogs a couple of times during class, outside. The Puppy Guy was always on hand to answer questions, and we learned how to train our pups how to eliminate on cue (so useful!)
  • ·         Finally, my favorite – “Pass the Puppy” where we would sit and talk about various topics related to puppy raising, and handle puppies throughout (examining feet, ears, eyes, paws, etc). Of course, it was also a good time to cuddle those cuties.
  • ·         The class would bounce between these activities so that neither puppies nor people would get bored, or overexcited.

There was always homework to do between classes but handouts describing how to approach the homework were very helpful. The Puppy Guy also answered questions between classes, and I can’t count the number of times we were leaving and there would still be some discussion going on. Dogs in the Park definitely went above and beyond to make sure that the puppies that were entrusted to their class had the support they and their owners needed.

And yes, it did take me FOUR weeks to teach Cooper to lie down on cue. Every one of those four weeks I would come in to class, feeling like I had failed in teaching this essential skill to my puppy (not the lying down part, the lying down ON CUE part), describing in great and – I’m sure – boring detail to The Puppy Guy every single frustration and tactic I had tried. It’s as if Cooper knew what I was up to, and spent much of his time staring off into space, standing rock still, ignoring me completely. The Puppy Guy was sympathetic, and encouraging. I hadn’t failed, he said, I just had to keep trying. Cooper and I would figure it out. His confidence and encouragement kept me going. I still remember the night when Cooper looked at me, sighed, and went into his down. I clicked, I treated, I jackpotted, I partied! I still remember it as my single biggest success during Cooper’s puppy days.

Cooper and his Puppy Guy!  Welsh Terriers love to snuggle....until they see something they want more, which is often almost immediately!

As I write this on the anniversary of Cooper’s arrival into my life, I am reflecting on the amount of time I have spent on my dog – most of it during his puppyhood. Thanks to Dogs in the Park and puppy class, and following on that, their equally impressive Levels classes, I am reaping the dividends of that early work. Cooper is a quintessential welsh terrier, with all of the independence and sense of humor that I was looking for, and he’s a great dog.

I’ve since moved countries and I miss Dogs in the Park terribly. A puppy class at Dogs in the Park is not a simple puppy class. It’s an entry ticket to a wonderfully supportive and accepting community, one that I continue to visit every time I go home. Cooper and I are always welcomed. I have yet to find a dog training school or dog training community that offers everything that Dogs in the Park does.

Puppy class was the single most important decision I made in my dog’s life to date, and it made me my Puppy’s Superhero. What are you doing to be your puppy’s Superhero?

(PS – you can follow Cooper the Dog on facebook, here)

From Sue:
Thanks Seanna for guesting my blog today!  We cannot wait for Dogfest and hope to see you there again this year!


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