Harnessing puppy power

Early obedience classes turn pups into desirable dogs

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AKRON, Ohio -- The first night of a puppy class can be hectic as excited little ones age 8 weeks to 4 months begin to learn acceptable behavior and how to properly socialize with other dogs.

While getting some "grown-up" help from Caleb, who has been ranked one of the top obedience Labrador retrievers in the nation and belongs to Susan Jenkins, owner of Papp's Dog Services in Akron, Ohio, instructor Jennifer Durst began the class by talking to owners about what is considered acceptable behaviors and what they could expect to learn in the four-week, hourlong sessions.

"Supervision is the key," Durst told them. When not supervised, puppies should be in a totally empty crate to prevent them from choking on toys, blankets or chew strips.

"Treats are an earned privilege," said Jenkins. Toys should be given only while the puppy is supervised to make sure it can't break off pieces of rubber or fabric, she said.

During the first class, puppies and their owners focused on behavior issues they are dealing with, such as housebreaking and biting, a puppy's way of communicating. The joyful pups were having a great time and had no idea they were absorbing new lessons.

Most owners in the class said they were having issues with housebreaking.

"If you are supervising your puppy properly, you will pick up on the signals when they need a potty break," Durst said.

Durst, a member of Cuyahoga County, Ohio's Public Animal Welfare Society, explained that getting angry or frustrated with a misbehaving puppy is counterproductive.

"One of our goals here is to make your puppy comfortable in any situation and help you learn to be comfortable, too," Durst said.

The four-week curriculum is geared to helping owners raise the ideal pet. Jenkins has worked with veterinarians, vet assistants, groomers and therapy dog testers for the Delta Society, the largest national group that certifies therapy dogs in the U.S., to develop her curriculum.

Jenkins insists puppies begin learning limited recall -- to come when called each and every time they are called.

"In my opinion, (it is) one of the most important things you can teach a dog," Jenkins said.

Throughout each session, puppies will continue to learn how to get along with each other as well as the manners they need to keep their families happy.

Dogs who get a good foundation with early training stand a better chance of a good life. Trained dogs are more welcome in homes and don't end up abandoned in a shelter for bad behavior, Jenkins said.

"I've gotten a 5-year-old shepherd that was a biter that would probably never have gotten to that point if they had brought him to me sooner," Jenkins said.