Good Dog

Dog school lets mutts strut their stuff.

Brody is a total monster.

When we brought him home just over a year ago, he was an adorable, cuddly, thirty-pound ball of furry love. Now he's a hulking, 125-pound yellow Lab who firmly believes that he is king of the world. Shoes, underwear and furniture are his three favorite food groups, busy streets are his ideal playground, and his 6 a.m. barking is our daily wake-up call.

Which is why we knew it was time for obedience school; the flier passed along by a co-worker was like a gift from the gods. "A New Leash on Life," it read. "Training Friends for Life, One Step at a Time."

Terri Desnica high-fives a friend at Hounds on the Hill.
Anthony Camera
Terri Desnica high-fives a friend at Hounds on the Hill.

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Hounds on the Hill, 960 Lincoln Street
$90, 303-830-1226

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Done. Brody was signed up for seven weeks of doggie boot camp.

"My number-one philosophy is to keep it fun for both the owner and the dog," says teacher Terri Desnica, a professional dog trainer with over ten years of experience. "If you keep it positive for the dog, they'll learn at a much faster rate."

So every Wednesday night, we traipse into Hounds on the Hill, a doggie daycare center on Lincoln Avenue, for an hour of intense behavior modification via dog biscuit. The basic commands: heel, sit, stay, down, come, leave it.

"Okay, people, our goal this week is to get your dog to sit in the stay position for one minute," Desnica shouts over the barking of Max, an adorable golden retriever puppy with some attention issues.

One minute doesn't seem like a very long time, does it? Well, it is. Twenty seconds after Desnica issues her order, Oberon, a 130-pound blue Dane, is lying down, while Brody is sniffing around the black rubber floor for dropped treats.

"The most common behavioral problem that I see is jumping," says Desnica. Solution? Hold the dog's paws until it gets uncomfortable for him, then say "away" in a stern voice.

"In Colorado, people want well-behaved dogs that they can take running in Cheesman Park or snowshoeing and hiking in the mountains," she adds. "You want to be sure that your dog isn't going to run away when you're in the middle of the woods."

And when in town, you want to know that your dog isn't going to take a bite out of the mailman. "You have to establish that you're the top dog in the house," Desnica insists.

To that end, she offers a variety of classes, including Puppy Kindergarten, Advanced Obedience, private lessons and even behavioral counseling in the privacy of your own home if Rover is really out of control.

"Libby was a total spaz," says Julie Allen, animal guardian of a yellow Lab/golden retriever mix in our class. "We have a fifteen-month-old baby, so it's really important that she behaves, and this is definitely making a big difference."

The adage "You can't teach an old dog new tricks" doesn't hold for Desnica. "Dogs are like people," she explains. "Their brains grow as they grow. I've had a fourteen-year-old dog come to class before. Dogs are actually very, very smart. Once they learn to use their brains, they love it and want to keep doing it."

It's humans who often have a hard time breaking bad habits. With each class comes a homework assignment, everything from practicing the "stay" command to working on leash handling. Desnica also dispenses advice on which foods canines should eat, what kind of toys they should play with and how to deal with their basic ailments. "There are a lot of misconceptions out there, so usually it's teaching the people more than the dog," she says, laughing.

Yes, obedience school has helped both of us. But if you swing by my house sometime -- it's the one with the huge Lab standing tall, with his paws through the front-porch screen -- you'll realize that Brody still has a ways to go.

 
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