GTPulse: Join the Pack

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Six months ago, in the midst of a statewide stay at home order, my husband and I decided to get a dog. We began our quest with great organization—meticulous notes were taken about the demands and exercise requirements of specific breeds. We spent hours pouring through articles, the product of a series of internet searches about caring for our future dog, his dietary needs, introducing him to our cats and prepping our home for a new four-legged family member.

Then, we met JoJo Mario—a young rescue whose previous owner was no longer able to care for him. And, after one look, all of our research and planning went out the window and JoJo Mario, the tiny rat terrier with a big personality, walked through the door of our home. We were in love.

Having a rescue pup introduced us to a whole new world of dog training, as well as downright weird dog behaviors, which led us to seek help from an expert. That expert was Jennifer Loup of Loupine LLC. Jen provided tangible tactics and science-based methods of positive reinforcement training for dealing with some of the idiosyncrasies of our peculiar pooch.

Jojo Mario

Like most trainers, Jen offers group classes, behavioral consultations and in-home training.

But, three years ago, Jen decided to take some of this training to the streets for twice weekly pack training walks. “I started these walks to give students an opportunity to practice in distracting environments,” Jen says, “That’s really the trick of training—you have to get out and practice. Plus, it’s just a good opportunity for dogs that might need to gain some social skills. They get to be around a rotating group of dogs in their class but with a drop-in walk different dogs might show up week to week.”

Jen says the key to these pack-walks is to recognize that there will be multiple distractions present for both the dogs and their humans. Walking downtown Traverse City, dogs are adjusting to every environmental distraction—the wind rustling leaves, sounds of traffic in the distance while shoppers cross the street and bicyclists whiz along the bike lanes.

“The dogs are learning to listen around each other and learning to share space. We walk with a sense of purpose, stopping periodically for some training in different locations. This allows some of the more reactive dogs to calm down and the other dogs learn to practice some patience.”

Jen leads the pack, starting at the Open Space in Traverse City, where some of the more reactive dogs are able to practice commands like “stay” with other dogs walking around them. Many dogs may start coming to the group barking and lunging at the other dogs, but, after a few weeks, those dogs are able to walk next to each other without problems. I ask Jen if that means the dogs become friends and she laughs, “I do think dogs are able to form individual friendships. Just like people. But, also like people, some of the dogs might not particularly like each other, so it’s more about learning to tolerate and be around one other.”

Jen’s favorite part of the training walks are the reactions of people who encounter the pack.

“They often ask what the group is doing. Seeing so many dogs walking downtown together definitely draws attention. I think it’s a great representation of dogs being polite in public, and, being polite with other dogs.”

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With Jen’s help over the past six months, it has been amazing to see the progress our special needs pup has made. But, I think it’s my husband and I who have made the most progress.

We’ve learned to remain calm and consistent with JoJo Mario, to recognize that his training has no real end date, and, to understand that he is not our pet; he is member of our family and his only desire is to love and be accepted by us.

When we started to look at JoJo the way he looks at us, with unfettered loyalty and unconditional love, we realized that we weren’t just training our dog to be a better dog—our dog was training us to be better humans.

As a spectator of the pack walks, watching so many dogs confidently walk down Front Street and beyond isn’t just a sight to see—it’s a goal to achieve. I’m hoping one day we can join the pack, JoJo Mario can build friendships with other dogs, and even learn to tolerate the ones he doesn’t really like. Truth be told, we all might need a refresher course on that type of acceptance. And, who better to teach us than our dogs.

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Notes:

Jennifer Loup invites all dogs—even those who are not attending a Loupine class—to be a part of the Pack Training walks with the prerequisite of meeting Jen one-on-one prior to attending a class. Jen can be reached at 231-392-3253 to schedule.

Pack walks meet at the Traverse City Open Space on Sundays at 12:30 and Wednesdays at 5:30. A $12 drop-in fee will be charged.

Loupine LLC offers a variety of obedience classes—from Puppy K to Advanced Communication Fundamentals and even K-9 Good Citizen prep courses— at its training facility at 10789 E. Cherry Bend Road, Studio 9 (the former Norris Elementary School Kindergarten room).

More information about in-home training, behavioral consultations, upcoming classes and more can be found here.

Categories: GTPulse