Puppy Kindergarten trains owners as well as dogs

By The Associated Press

MATTOON, Ill. – Owning a dog means more than offering Fido an occasional pat on the head or a quick game of fetch.

So, with the help of Lake Land College and one of its noncredit courses, Melinda Gill teaches area pet owners how to have a good canine companion with a basic course called Puppy Kindergarten.

The classes are intended for both large and small breeds less than 1 year of age. The dogs and owners meet at Peterson Park once a week.

Puppy Kindergarten is for the dogs, but it also is for the pet owners.

“I tell the pet owners on the first day of class, I don’t teach your dog. I teach you to teach your dog. If you won’t devote at least 20 minutes each night to training, this class won’t be productive for either you or the dog,” Gill said.

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The class offers tips and information related to owning a dog, such as its typical behavior, socializing techniques, handling, basic health care, basic pet grooming and teaching basic commands.

While it was difficult for some of the pets to keep from playing with other “students” in the class, the owners at a recent class seemed pleased with the results of techniques taught.

“She doesn’t do exactly what I want her to do, but she’s certainly coming around,” said Lula Wilson of rural Mattoon, about her 7-month-old miniature schnauzer, Minnie. “We believe that you can’t learn too much.”

Gill starts out with an introduction to the pets’ breeds in the class. “I try to explain why each breed behaves the way it does,” said Gill, who has been teaching the class for three years and is the owner of Lindsay, 10, and Ellie, 7 months, which are both Shelties.

Each week she works on different area for the canine and owners. For example, one week she teaches about the dog’s natural instinct to sniff or to herd.

“If you can’t get your basset hound’s nose off the ground, here’s why. The breed’s long ears allow it to hold in scents and help them to be able to hunt.

Also, good grooming techniques begin with puppy care, Gill said. Grooming your pet helps with bonding with the puppy or older dog. It helps the owner to get to know their pet, and helps it get used to being handled.

“You want them to get used to being handled. Having your hands on the pet early on is good to help the dog get used to going to a groomer and to the vet,” Gill said.

Stacey Root, owner and groomer of Soggie Paws in Mattoon, brought along some basic grooming tips for the dog owners and pets at a recent session.

“To start out I recommend brushing the puppy or dog a little at a time – say one leg at a time. Or while watching television, devote one commercial to brushing; then give the dog a break. This helps the dog and helps you get to know your pet better,” Root said.

And, at least two or three times a week, devote time to brushing the entire dog.

Root believes in positive reinforcement while working with the dogs. Give them a treat and plenty of praise when they’ve behaved well.

Chances are a groomer might notice something on your dog that needs attention, in between vet visits.

Root said it is helpful to start a puppy out by fondling its feet and ears, so the animal gets used to being handled by professional groomers and vets.

“If you can’t get control of your pet over time, you can’t expect a groomer to be able to in one session,” Root said. “All dogs need grooming, but some dogs need grooming more often.”