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Back to (Puppy) School

This week, I stopped by Joyce Jaskula’s puppy obedience class, which she teaches through the Nantucket Community School. My training has come a long way since I was a puppy and I’m better than I used to be. I don’t chew as many sneaker or bark at people who come to the house, but it’s good to get back to basics sometimes.

It was exciting to see all the puppies there with their moms and dads. They ranged from 8 week to 18 months. Jack, a chocolate lab, was a bit shy and his dad had to give him some encouragement to get in the door. Meanwhile, there were two rambunctious Portuguese water dog puppies who became fast friends.

Frankie: “Hey, you look like me!”
Ivey: “I know isn’t that cool?”
Frankie: “Yeah! You wanna wrestle?”
Ivey: “You bet!”

Just before class started Stella, an 8-week old yellow lab was carried in by her mom. They quickly set up her bed and got settled.

As class went on, the dogs maintained varying levels of attention to the task. Some were earnestly watching Joyce trying to figure out what they were going to learn next. Others just sat and fixated on the bag of treats their parents brought. The rest were too distracted by all the other dogs to pay any attention to Joyce or their parents.

Tonight parents were working on hand signals and verbal cues to get their dogs to come to them. Joyce showed the parents how to hold a treat between their fingers and hold it out to their side. The dogs needed to touch their noses to the hand to get the treat. Eventually the parent does the same gesture without the treat and the dog learns that touching its nose to the hand is rewarded.

Joyce said this training tool is great for wide open spaces where the dog and parent are within sight of each other, but far enough apart that the dog won’t hear commands. For instance, when my mom and I go to the beach I can see her from the water, but I can’t hear her voice over the crashing waves.

To work on the verbal command for “come” Joyce had everyone partner up. Many of the puppies had both their parents there, so they stood across the room from each other and took turns calling their puppy and saying the word “come” only when the puppy was headed in the right direction.

Boy, I wish my mom and I had worked on this when I was younger. It would have saved a lot of miscommunication, arguments and yelling. We got there, but we definitely took the long way around.

I especially liked what Joyce said about finding the right reward for your dog. Not all dogs are food motivated (weird, right?) so if your dog seems disinterested in training, maybe you need to work with a tennis ball or a Frisbee. If you offer a mediocre reward, you’ll get mediocre behavior.

Most of the dogs were able to catch on to the training, but it’s not easy when there are nine other puppies running around. Before long the hour was up and all the puppies were sent home with their parents to work on their lessons from this week and get ready for next week’s class.